American Medical Association Announces New Mandatory Vaccine Policy

Movie star Salma Hayek administers a polio vaccination to a Syrian refugee child. Sebastian Rich/UNICEF/Reuters

The American Medical Association (AMA), one of the largest and most influential associations of medical doctors in the country, today endorsed putting an end to religious exemptions to immunization requirements.

"Under new policy, the AMA will seek more stringent state immunization requirements to allow exemptions only for medical reasons," the organization said in a press release.

The AMA joins others in the fight against religious and "personal belief" exemptions for vaccines. Among those already opposed to non-medical exemptions is a group of California legislators who in April put forward a bill designed to eliminate personal belief exemptions in the state. But that bill, SB277, has faced an uphill battle, nearly dying in committee and being besieged by those who are against childhood vaccinations, called "anti-vaxxers," every step of the way. Crowds of protesters have gathered outside the state legislature in Sacramento, hoping to convince state legislators to scrap the bill.

Largest crowd yet for anti-mandatory vaccine bill #SB277 ahead of today's hearing

— Melody Gutierrez (@MelodyGutierrez) June 9, 2015

The California bill came in response to an outbreak of measles last year at the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 173 people from 21 states were infected with the vaccine-preventable disease. The AMA addressed the outbreak when announcing its new policy: "As evident from the recent measles outbreak at Disneyland, protecting community health in today's mobile society requires that policymakers not permit individuals from opting out of immunization solely as a matter of personal preference or convenience," said AMA board member Dr. Patrice Harris.

The AMA issued recommendations to state health departments and physicians designed to banish non-medical exemptions from the landscape of American medicine. But the group, while large and powerful, is not a government body, and while it can (and does) lobby the government, it does not make policy. Ultimately, it will be up to state legislators to remove non-medical exemptions to immunization.