Parents still have time to get their children vaccinated for the new school year. (Photo courtesy smchealth.org)

A lawsuit has been filed seeking to overturn California’s strict new law requiring mandatory vaccines for school children.

The suit filed by a group of parents and the nonprofit Education 4 All was filed in San Diego federal court on July 1, the same day the new law took effect.

It says that the law violates children’s right to an education as guaranteed under California’s constitution, and asks for a judge to suspend the law while the suit plays out.

The law “has made second class citizens out of children who for very compelling reasons are not vaccinated,” according to federal regulations, plaintiff’s attorney Robert T. Moxley said in a statement. “We are hoping the court will grant us an injunction while the judicial process takes place to see if this law is constitutional, which it most certainly does not seem to be.”

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the vaccine measure, Senate Bill 277, into law last year amid fierce opposition from some parent groups who argued the state should not force their children to be vaccinated.

Brown said at the time that despite a growing movement among parents to withhold recommended vaccines from their children, the science is clear that vaccines “dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases.”

The bill was introduced after a measles outbreak at Disneyland in December 2014 sickened over 100 people in the U.S. and Mexico, spurring new worries about the dangers of an under-vaccinated population.

The new state law struck down the personal-belief exemption for immunizations, a move that requires nearly all public schoolchildren to be vaccinated. It also applies to private schools and day care facilities.

Under the law, children whose parents refuse vaccination can try to obtain a medical exemption or be home-schooled. Otherwise, school-age children who previously attended public schools under a personal belief exemption will need to get fully vaccinated by kindergarten and seventh grade, the state’s two vaccine checkpoints.

State Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) authored the original bill and he said proponents of the law foresaw the likelihood of legal action and drafted the law to specifically withstand the kinds of challenges being brought in the suit.

“The courts are a good place to adjudicate disputes and I’m sure there will be arguments on both sides, but the law is in a strong place to be defended,” he said.

Allen said the law was subject to scrutiny during the legislative process with several legal briefs determining the rules were constitutional.

“There’s longstanding legal precedent for this,” said Allen. “Courts have decided that there is a public health imperative associated with vaccinations and the state is within its right to require people to get vaccinated.”

Allen said the rules allow unvaccinated children to be homeschools or attend independent study and children with legitimate medical reasons for skipping a vaccine can receive a medical waiver.

He said the rule could actually benefit individuals who have legitimate medical reasons for skipping vaccines because doctors could be more comfortable issuing the medical exemptions if they know the state is requiring everyone else to receive vaccinations.

“I’m hoping with this law that doctors will feel more comfortable with [medical exemptions],” he said. “The concern was doctors wouldn’t give them out because the proliferation would lead to a health crisis. Now with the law in place doctors will know that it will be harder for people to get exemptions so those with a legitimate reason can get them.”

Allen said he felt compelled to draft the rules following the local measles outbreaks and because his family has a history with preventable diseases.

“My father suffered from polio as a child and he comes from a generation that can’t believe we’ve allowed communicable diseases back into society,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...