Federal Judge Refuses to Block New California Vaccine Law
Parents and anti-vaccine groups sought an injunction
September 1, 2016
A federal judge has refused to block a new California vaccination law, which eliminates an exemption based on the parents' personal beliefs. The law requires children in both public and private schools to be inoculated against 10 contagious illnesses.
"Society has a compelling interest in fighting the spread of contagious diseases through mandatory vaccination of school-age children," said U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw of San Diego. He noted in Friday's ruling that the California Supreme Court had upheld mandatory vaccination for schoolchildren as long ago as 1890.
Seventeen parents and four anti-vaccine organizations sought an injunction against enforcement of the law.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit say 33,000 students in California whose parents oppose vaccinations will be denied enrollment unless they agree to be vaccinated, and argued that they were being denied the right to freely practice their religion. Sabraw countered that their religious right "does not outweigh the state's interest in public health and safety."
He cited a 1944 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prohibited a young girl from distributing religious literature on the streets in violation of a Massachusetts child-labor law. The family's claim of religious freedom in that case "does not include liberty to expose the community or the child to communicable disease," the high court said.
Although the right to an education is strongly protected by California law, Sabraw said that right must give way to the public interest in protecting children's health.
The new, stricter, law was prompted by a measles outbreak in 2014 that was traced to Disneyland visitors who hadn't been vaccinated. Implemented just last month, the measure makes California one of only three states, along with West Virginia and Mississippi, to require all students to be vaccinated against illnesses such as measles, mumps, tetanus, and rubella, regardless of their parents' religious or personal opposition. The only exceptions are for children with doctor-certified medical exemptions and for disabled students in individualized education programs.
California parents are now required to provide immunization records when their child is entering kindergarten or the seventh grade. That means an elementary-school student who already has a parental exemption will not need to be vaccinated until the seventh grade, and students in the eighth grade or higher won't require any vaccinations.
In announcing the suit on July 1, plaintiff's attorney Robert Moxley said the law "has made second-class citizens out of children who for very compelling reasons are not vaccinated."
Opponents went to court after they failed to qualify a state ballot referendum to undo the law.
State Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, one of the sponsors of the vaccine law, praised the ruling for helping to make schools safer. The law was also sponsored by Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica.
Plaintiff's attorney Kim Mack Rosenberg said they are planning an appeal.