In other hotbeds of anti-vaccine sentiment, centrist conservatives who’ve championed similar bills have also been conspicuously missing from this year’s midterm ballots. Replacing them are candidates backed by well-financed organizations made up of members who either entertain the fraudulent science linking vaccines to autism, who believe their kids have had adverse vaccine reactions, or think the government shouldn’t dictate what goes in their children’s bodies.
In the 18 states that currently permit parents to send their unvaccinated children to public schools on the grounds of philosophical objections, “Vaccine Freedom” PACs are increasingly flexing political muscle to keep it that way. By making a broader appeal to parental rights, some groups are now pushing agendas that would eliminate vaccine mandates of any kind. And as they shape this year’s election ballots to be more favorable to their cause, the nation creeps ever closer to an infectious disease outbreak as inevitable as it will be tragic.
On Tuesday, Americans will head to the polls to cast their votes in what may be the most consequential midterm elections in modern US history. While all eyes will be on the national races that could shift power in Washington, just as crucial are the state legislative elections taking place further down the ballot. States are the battlefields where the Trump administration’s war on science, regulations, the environment, and the rights of minorities are increasingly being fought. They are where decisions about vaccines as a cornerstone of 21st-century public health policy get made.
The good news is that laws work. When California got rid of personal belief exemptions in 2015, only 90.4 percent of kindergartners in public schools were fully immunized. In the 2017-18 school year, 95.1 percent of kindergartners had all their immunizations, according to the California Department of Health. The bad news is, California is one of only three states to have such strict requirements.
As vaccine freedom PACs move from the margins to mainstream, more and more kids are going to school unvaccinated. Data released in October from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that while national exemption rates remain low at 2.2 percent, this is the third year that exemptions have increased. At least where vaccinations are concerned, where California goes, the nation does not seem to be following.