After the measles outbreak that began last December at Disneyland–infecting 147 people in the U.S., and another 159 in Canada, all thanks to anti-vaxxers–California passed a law that banned “personal belief” exemptions for vaccines.
In Canada, the province of Ontario is taking a different approach. As part of proposed changes to the publicly-funded immunization program, the government wants to start forcing parents who refuse vaccines for their children to take a science class.
“The intent of the proposed new requirement is to ensure that parents seeking non-medical exemptions for their children are properly informed about the risks involved in not having their child immunized and to better support them in making an informed choice,” says David Jensen, spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. “It will also be an opportunity to address the concerns these parents have about these required immunizations.”
The government plans to work with public health experts and other stakeholders to decide exactly what the “education sessions” will include.
Unlike Californians, guardians in Ontario will still have a choice to refuse immunizations for their children after taking the class (in California, parents can avoid vaccinations only if they homeschool their children, or if there’s a medical reason that a child can’t get the vaccine). It’s somewhat similar to Oregon, Michigan, and Washington, where parents can refuse immunizations only after getting educational counseling from a health care provider.
A study published earlier this year suggests that California’s stricter approach might be politically viable in more locations. West Virginia actually started requiring vaccinations in 1905; Mississippi followed in 1979. While some experts have argued that this type of policy might stir up anti-vaccination advocacy–eroding trust in vaccinations more generally–the study found that hasn’t happened in either state. In California, now the third state with the policy, the majority of the public supports the new law.