Statewide effort to halt Senate Bill 277 mandated vaccinations

These days, it seems nothing in the law is ever final. Michelle Tryner of Antioch and Amy Van Linge of Oakley are determined that Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature on Senate Bill (SB) 277 isn’t the final word on mandating vaccines. These two local ladies are leading a state-wide movement in East County that is spreading like California’s current wild fires.

“We are in the process of collecting signatures to put this bill on the ballot in 2016,” said Tryner. “People should be able to vote on this. We need 365,000 signatures to get it there. We have dozens of people collecting signatures in East County alone, and guess what – most of them are pro-vaccination.”

Tryner and Van Linge are part of SB277 Referendum, a volunteer-based organization founded by former Assemblyman Tim Donnelly. Donnelly, who has chosen to vaccinate his children, vehemently opposes any government-mandated vaccine law. He filed paperwork to reverse SB277 the day after Brown put his signature to it.

Between them, Tryner and Van Linge have collected more than 2,000 signatures in East County. Both ladies have been vocal opponents of the bill from its beginning, leading freedom rallies from Brentwood to Sacramento to show their opposition, and they haven’t been alone. 

“People are searching us out, they want to sign this petition,” said Van Linge. “They care about their personal freedoms. My husband did not serve in the military for 20 years so we could come home and have our children denied their education.”

Should referendum volunteers be successful in their efforts to collect the required 365,000 signatures by Sept. 25, the law, which is currently scheduled to go into effect January 1, will be paused until voters have their say in November 2016. Tryner says the race for signatures will go down to the wire.

“Really, it will be hard to get a state-wide exact count ahead of time,” she said. “We have more than 4,000 people collecting (signatures) across California and new volunteers are being added daily.”

Tryner and Van Linge, who have both chosen to vaccinate their children, stress that they aren’t trying to stop parents from inoculating themselves or their families.

“This isn’t about the vaccines themselves,” said Tyner. “We’re not trying to change people’s mind about them. We’re concerned with personal freedom and parental rights, both of which are violated by this bill.”

Van Linge agrees.

“Vaccine rates are at an all-time high,” she said. “There is no compelling reason for this legislation. You can’t deny children an education; you can’t use that as a bargaining chip.”

When Brown signed the bill into law last month, California became the third state to ban personal- and religious-belief exemptions for vaccines. SB277 prohibits any unvaccinated or partially vaccinated child from attending public or private school or a licensed day care.

California State Sen. Dr. Richard Pan, who authored the bill, believes this move is necessary to protect children. 

“To prevent future outbreaks, I authored (this) legislation to require school children to be vaccinated, unless a physician believes vaccination is not appropriate for the child,” he said.

Controversy has surrounded this bill since Pan first introduced it in February. Pan explains that he has always felt strongly in favor of full vaccination, but the rash of measles cases that began in Disneyland in December of 2014 spurred him into action. Data from the California Department of Public Health shows that of the 131 cases of measles recorded that resulted from the Disneyland outbreak, at least 25 were individuals who had received one or more doses of the measles vaccine (MMR); 56 were undocumented.

Supporters of the bill insist that all current vaccines are safe, touting studies by the Rand Corporation and health organizations, which claim that vaccines are unequivocally safe for all children. For those few youngsters whose pediatricians feel a particular vaccine is unsafe, a detailed medical exemption can be filed explaining why the child hasn’t received all recommended vaccines. This medical exemption would allow a child who is  not fully documented to attend school.

Children who are going into the 2016-17 school year without all of their shots and boosters will be permitted conditional entry, provided their parents intend to get them caught up. They will be allowed approximately one year to do so. 

Leah Russin, co-founder of the organization Vaccinate California (VC), is grateful for the passage of this law, and feels it will make schools safer by raising vaccination rates. In a press release from June 30, she admitted that the debate was neither fun nor easy, but that it was important.

“We appreciate the coalition of groups including … California School Nurses Association, California Black Health Network and others that stood shoulder to shoulder with us to advocate for a better public -health measure,” she said in the release.

Savannah Miles, Brentwood resident and mother of three, applauds the bill.

“Kids are dirty, they pass germs around and things are resurfacing - things that were gone,” said Miles, who keeps herself and her family current on all recommended shots and feels doing so is part of being a responsible citizen. “I don’t think it’s necessary to be all-natural. Vaccines were made to protect us.”

However, Monica Walser, a resident of Discovery Bay, is concerned.

“I worry about outbreaks of diseases from years ago, but I also worry about it being mandated,” she said. “I’m not sure that’s right. I have three friends who pulled their kids out of school because of this law. I like the idea of having a choice, not being forced.”

Walser is just one of many parents whose concern is teetering between a pro-vaccination stance and a freedom-of-choice position. 

Jessica Hupman, also of Discovery Bay, feels people should vaccinate, but at their own pace and by choice.

“I think vaccines have made things safer, but I want to vaccinate because I choose to, not because I have to,” she said.

State Assemblyman Jim Frazier, whose official position is “no comment,” did vote in favor of the law. His offices have issued no press release on this subject.

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