California vaccine law is a healthy measure

In this Dec. 10, 2014, file photo, Julietta Losoyo, right, a registered nurse at the San Diego Public Health Center gives Derek Lucero a whooping cough injection while in his fathers Leonel's arms as his brother Iker, 2, looks on in San Diego. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson, File)

On Tuesday, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law one of the nation’s toughest vaccination laws, requiring nearly all of the state’s schoolchildren to get shots. Two days later, a regrettable loss proved the measure justified.

On Thursday, a Washington state woman became the first recorded measles death in the United States since 2003.

The woman was already in the hospital when she contracted the disease, and she suffered from a weakened immune system, according to the Washington State Department of Health. But that death nonetheless shows the potential severity of a disease that, until recently, had been nearly eradicated nationwide.

Unfortunately, pockets of unvaccinated children have allowed measles and some other preventable diseases to come roaring back.

Last winter, more than 100 people across several states contracted the disease, many of whom caught it while vacationing at Disneyland. And 2014 set a new record for measles cases since the disease was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000.

Unvaccinated people also helped spark mumps and whooping cough outbreaks in California and other states in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Until this week, Californians could choose not to vaccinate their children for religious or philosophical reasons, in addition to medical exemptions. That standard put them in line with about 20 other states. Other states, including South Carolina, allow exemptions only for religious beliefs.

Only three — West Virginia, Mississippi and now California — require all schoolchildren to be vaccinated absent proof of a medical reason barring them from getting their shots.

California’s sensible legislative move represents a particularly striking blow against the anti-vaccine movement, much of which is concentrated in that state. The bill drew highly public criticism from celebrities like Jim Carrey, who decried it as an assault to parental rights. More generally, anti-vaccine critics claim that immunizations have been linked to disorders like autism.

But dozens of independent studies show absolutely no link between vaccines and autism — or other disorders for that matter. There is, however, a very strong link between vaccines and healthy, disease-free childhoods.

Parents deserve the freedom to make most choices for their children, and government should be loath to interfere with those decisions. But the health and well-being of others must, in certain cases, trump those freedoms.

Vaccinations are safe, effective and can save lives. California’s decision may infuriate a vocal minority, but it will protect many millions more from terrible, preventable diseases.