Should public policy enforce childhood immunizations?

By Austin Price | September 24, 2019

Photo by Davizro/iStock

On Thursday, September 26, a panel of renowned scholars and policymakers will engage the UC Berkeley community on the question of legislating childhood immunizations. 

Vaccine-preventable diseases are currently at the forefront of public health and policy debates as the public wrestles with the question of childhood immunizations. Should vaccinations be required by the state, or left up to the choice of individuals? This year has seen the worst measles outbreak since 1992. According to the U.S. Centers for Prevention and Disease Control, there have been 1,241 measles cases in 31 states to date this year. Many of those cases occur in communities with pockets of unvaccinated people. 

California has seen more than 50 of those cases as state legislators draft policy to combat the outbreak. On September 9, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 276, known as the “vaccine bill,” that would tighten the rules on medical exemptions for childhood vaccinations. The bill aims to keep immunization rates in schools high, with support from physicians who say that people are best protected from outbreaks if at least 95 percent of a community is vaccinated. 

But the bill has spurred protests and opposition, particularly from vaccine critics who say that enforcing childhood immunizations violates bodily autonomy and lends power to pharmaceutical companies.  

Thursday’s panel of experts will include Berkeley Public Health’s Arthur Reingold, head of the division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, who has worked for more than thirty years on infectious disease prevention and control, as well as lecturer Rohini Haar, who focuses her research on harmonizing public health and human rights discourse. They will be joined by colleagues from the public health and law community to discuss the current state of immunization policy. 

The panelists will discuss the obligations of the public health community to children and the means of enforcement of public health laws. They will also examine the impact of the current immunization policy debates on other public health laws. Speakers will include:

  • Dean Blumberg MD, Associate Professor and Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University of California, Davis
  • Lawrence O. Gostin JD, University Professor at Georgetown University and the founding director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law
  • Rohini Haar MD, MPH, lecturer at the School of Public Health and research fellow at the Human Rights Center, UC Berkeley
  • Arthur Reingold MD, Professor and Head, Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at UC Berkeley School of Public Health
  • Dorit Reiss JD, Professor of Law at UC Hastings College of Law
  • Matt Willis MD, MPH, Marin County Public Health Officer since 2013

Students, faculty, alumni and others interested in this nuanced discussion can attend this event  in the first floor colloquia of 2121 Berkeley Way on Thursday, September 26 at 5 p.m. Light refreshments will be served. Click here for more information.