With the new school year underway, California is cracking down on parents who refuse to vaccinate their children.
Since a new law took effect in July, no longer will a child be able to attend class unimmunized on the basis of a parent’s objections.
In the past, parents could sidestep vaccine mandates by declaring that the injections were contrary to their religious or personal beliefs. This occurred despite overwhelming evidence from doctors and public health officials that they are safe and effective in preventing infectious diseases.
Tens of thousands of vaccine-refusing parents across California now face three options: yield, tutor your children at home or pack up and leave the state.
But if there is to be any exodus from California schools, expect it to unfold slowly.
The law, known as SB 277, only requires proof of immunizations as children enter school for the first time or the seventh grade. That means many won’t have to vaccinate for years or, if they’re in eighth grade and above, at all.
In 2015, parents of incoming kindergartners in California filed more than 13,000 personal belief exemptions. It’s unclear how the latest crop of vaccine-wary kindergarten parents are responding to the law.
Schools took steps to ensure that parents understood the rules and even helped coordinate vaccine clinics, said Robert Oakes, a spokesman for the California Department of Education.
“It’s the right thing to do for public health, and it’s the law in California,” he said.
Still, opponents say a trickle of defectors has been leaving California since the middle of last year, when the bill was signed into law in the wake of a measles outbreak, which began at Disneyland and was attributed, in part, to diseases being spread by children who had not been vaccinated.
Stefanie Duncan Fetzer, an opponent in San Clemente, said she personally knew of roughly 200 families who have fled. Many went to Oregon, Colorado or Texas, she said, states seen as unlikely to impose strict vaccine rules.
Other parents are in a sort of limbo, unable to make other arrangements for their children. Ms. Fetzer described one family that sold their house, bought a camper and “just took off.”
“They don’t know where they are going to land,” she said. “They are just going to drive around the country and home-school their kids and hope to find a place to go.”