TIME vaccines

Seattle Flunks Vaccine Science

Northwest nonsense: Vaccine rates in Seattle are dangerously low
Edmund Lowe Photography; Getty Images/Moment RF Northwest nonsense: Vaccine rates in Seattle are dangerously low

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

In the same week Nigeria frees itself from polio, vaccine rates continue to fall in the Pacific northwest

Nothing says First World city like Seattle does. Come for the cachet, stay for the Seahawks, and give a nod to the Starbucks and the Amazon and the mothership that is Microsoft just to the east. There’s nothing this so-hip-it-hurts town lacks, it seems—except perhaps for common sense. If you’re looking for that, the developing world is a far better bet.

That’s the inescapable conclusion on what should be a very good week for public health—and childhood health in particular—with the World Health Organization and other groups announcing on July 24 that Nigeria has gone a full year without a single reported case of polio. Pending further certification, the country will be removed from the dwindling list of countries in which the disease is endemic, leaving just Pakistan and Afghanistan. If Nigeria’s caseload remains at zero for two more years, it will be officially declared polio free.

How did the country that as recently as 1988 saw 30,000 children—a stadium’s worth—paralyzed or killed by polio every year achieve such a stunning turnaround? No surprise: vaccines—the same vaccines that have saved the lives and health of millions of children around the world, and the same vaccines that saw polio eradicated entirely in the U.S. in 1979.

So it came as a head-slapping development that earlier this month, Seattle news outlets reported that polio vaccination rates in their city have hit a low of just 81.4%, or worse than the rates in Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Algeria, El Salvador, Guyana, Sudan, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Yemen, according to the WHO. Why? Because Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Algeria, El Salvador, Guyana, Sudan, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Yemen may have a lot of problems, but they don’t have the anti-vaccine crazies.

Vaccine denialism is a perverse affliction of people who should be smarter than they act—the well-educated, high-income folks who know just enough to know too much, and to assume that simply because they haven’t seen a disease in a long time it’s gone away. And hey, if it does turn up, they’ve surely got the resources to deal with it.

That’s the reason that in the U.S., anti-vaxxers tend to cluster in wealthy, blue-state communities like Silicon Valley, New York City, Columbus, Seattle and it’s down-coast little sister Portland. It’s the reason too that the nonsense that animates the anti-vaxxers—the idea that vaccines are toxic or overprescribed or nothing more than a cash grab by big pharma and big government—is a lot likelier to gain traction in other wealthy countries around the world than in ones that have only recently done away with scourges like polio or are still struggling with them, and either way have images of sick or dying children still fresh in their minds.

“Polio is nonexistent in the states, so if you’re going to travel, it makes sense to do it,” said one Washington State resident interviewed by Seattle’s KUOW radio station on July 14. “We are doing vaccines based on our family’s needs, not based on what doctors say we need to follow.”

Never mind how abjectly ridiculous that thinking sounds if you shift its frame even a little: “We are fire-proofing our home based on our family’s needs, not based on what the fire department say we need to follow,” or “We are fastening our seat belts during turbulence based on our family’s needs, not based on what flight attendants say we need to follow.”

Never mind, too, that that the very reason polio is non-existent in the states is because people have been good about getting vaccinated and that, as an outbreak in an unvaccinated Amish community in 2003 showed, there is no virus in the world that isn’t just an incoming airline flight away. If it lands in a community where vaccine rates are low, it will find plenty of people to infect.

What’s more, while polio may indeed have been KO’ed in the states years ago, measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough and more are all very much still at large, and outbreaks of those diseases have been on the rise thanks to the anti-vaxxers. The vaccination rate for measles, mumps and rubella specifically is below 90% among Seattle kindergarteners, dangerously short of the 95% rate needed to keep communities as a whole protected.

For most people, living in the developed world is a mere accident of birth and geography—a demographic freebie that gets you started in life far ahead of people born in less lucky places. Privilege can be part of that first world birthright, as can wealth and freedom and the opportunity for good heath. But smarts, it seems, have to be earned. That, clearly, is something Nigeria and Rwanda could teach Seattle.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME vaccines

This Is How Nigeria Beat Polio

Goodbye to all that: Computer-generated model of a poliovirus
Calysta Images ;Getty Images/Tetra images RF Goodbye to all that: Computer-generated model of a poliovirus

A quarter-century campaign brings the world tantalizingly close to eradicating a disease

It’s easy not to notice a negative. A house burns down on your block and it’s all you can talk about. But a house doesn’t burn down? Where’s the news?

Still, absence can be the stuff of headlines, and that fact has rarely been truer than it is in Nigeria today—where health officials are celebrating a full year without a single case of polio. A polio-free Nigeria means a polio-free Africa, since it was the only country left of the 47 on the continent where the crippling disease was still endemic. The virus, which as recently as 1988 was endemic in 128 countries, crippling 350,000 children per year, has now been cornered in just two places—Afghanistan and Pakistan, and it’s barely hanging on there. Wipe polio out in those last two redoubts and it will become only the second disease in history—after smallpox—to have been vaccinated out of existence.

“We are celebrating the first time ever that Nigeria has gone without a case of polio, but with caution,” said Dr. Tunji Funsho, who leads Rotary International’s anti-polio campaign in Nigeria. “Surveillance takes place in every nook and cranny of this country, even in those areas that have been free for years.”

The victory in Nigeria did not come easy—and it almost didn’t happen at all. For more than a generation, it has been Rotary that has led the drive to eradicate polio, administering vaccinations to 2.5 billion children in 122 countries at a cost of $1.4 billion. With the help of UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other groups, the effort paid off comparatively fast. As long ago as 2003, the virus had been chased out of all but six countries and the global caseload was down to just 732. There was talk of eradication by as early as 2005.

But Nigeria scuttled those plans. In the summer of 2003, Muslim clerics in the country’s northern regions halted all vaccinations, spreading the fiction that the vaccines contained HIV and were designed to sterilize Muslim girls. Quickly, the poliovirus did what all viruses do when they’re given that kind of running room: it spread, and fast. By 2005, cases consistent with the Nigeria strain were appearing in a 16-nation band that stretched as far away as Indonesia, before the outbreak could finally be contained.

“This is a disease that can’t be controlled,” said WHO spokesman Oliver Rosenbauer at the time, “it has to be eradicated.”

While the current victory in Nigeria was a huge milestone, things remained dicey right to the end—again due to politics—when Boko Haram fighters killed nine polio workers and abducted three others earlier this year. But the vaccine program was already too far along for the attacks to reverse things, and as the July 24 anniversary arrived, victory was at last declared—albeit tentatively.

Nigeria is now officially off the list of endemic countries, but the poliovirus can lurk in sewage and elsewhere, and since there can be up to 200 asymptomatic cases of the disease for every paralytic one, there is no telling how many human virus reservoirs are still at large. Only after two more polio-free years pass will Nigeria be declared officially done with the disease.

That leaves Afghanistan and, most troublingly, Pakistan. Currently, there have been only 33 cases of polio recorded worldwide in 2015—28 in Pakistan and 5 in Afghanistan. At the same point last year, those two countries had already had 107 infections, and the Pakistani strain had turned up in at least six other countries.

Progress has been slowed in Pakistan by often-deadly attacks on polio field workers carried out by local Taliban fighters. Since 2012, however, the government has been providing help, committing its military to protecting the vaccinators and recruiting religious leaders to speak out on the moral imperative of ensuring the health of children.

National pride plays no small role too. India—Pakistan’s mortal rival—has not had a case of polio since 2011 and was declared officially free of the disease last year. That the Indians accomplished this in a country with four times the landmass and seven times the population of Pakistan has been galling to many Pakistanis. The dramatic reduction in new infections in Pakistan from 2014 to 2015 has been a point of national pride.

Protecting children should not, of course, be a matter of international bragging rights. It should just be something human beings do. We’re a species smart enough to have invented a vaccine and brave enough to go delivering it in very dangerous places. The effort to eradicate polio has been a halting thing, and we have too often gotten in our own way. But at last, sometimes despite ourselves, we appear to be on the brink of winning.

TIME space

The Pluto Encounter Means More Than You Think

Yes, the mission is about the science, but it's also about humanity's—and America's—ability to do things right

This week at least, let’s call Pluto a planet. You’d better get used to it, because given the kind of love the little world is getting, it’s an honorific that might be sticking around.

Pluto was always a cosmic screwball, a ball of rock and ice smaller than our moon that tumbled out of the Kuiper Belt, fell in with a group of eight legitimate planets well above its station, and hung around along enough that it became, de facto, one of the gang. That was never a sure thing. While the planets from close-in Mercury to distant Neptune orbit in the flat, more or less around the sun’s equator, Pluto dive bombs the solar system at an inclination of 17 degrees, plunging below and above the equatorial plane. Its orbit is an ellipse, with a maximum distance of 4.59 billion miles (7.38 billion km) from the sun and a minimum of 2.76 billion miles (4.44 billion km), while the other planets orbit in more or less a circle.

Until 2006, Pluto was called a planet, before sticklers at the International Astronomical Union, who decide such things, busted it down to a dwarf planet, for a whole lot of reasons that made perfect sense astronomically but none at all sentimentally. But never mind now, because Pluto, the runt of the solar system litter, is currently everybody’s favorite.

The reason, of course, is the New Horizons probe, which after a nine-year, 3 billion-mile (4.8 billion km) journey, just passed within 7,750 miles (12,472 km) of Pluto’s frozen surface, snapping pictures and taking readings all the way. The images and the data took 4.5 hours to reach Earth even moving at light speed, and most of the time the ship has been in space it has simply been storing what it’s learned in on-board computers. The data dump that finally began when the probe passes Pluto will take up to 16 months to complete.

But the pictures come first and the best that have been returned so far showed a brown and tan world with a range of curious features, including four Missouri-sized dark spots along its equator. In the southern hemisphere is a vast, pale region shaped exactly like, yes, a heart, because while science doesn’t always go all serendipitous on you, when it does, it makes the most of the moment.

In some ways, however, the bigger deal is that New Horizons is where it is at all. The probe, which is one of the smallest ever built—about the size of a grand piano—and easily the fastest, at 31,000 mph (49,900 k/h), arrived at its closest approach to Pluto just one minute later than was forecast by the trajectory planners when it was launched. And it nicely hit the 36 by 57 mile (60 by 90 km) window it was aiming for—the equivalent of a commercial airliner landing within a tennis ball’s width of its target, as NASA likes to boast.

Today especially, boasting is something NASA is entitled to do. New Horizons completes a half-century reconnaissance of all nine planets in our solar system, with some—Uranus and Neptune—getting just one visit each, while others got many. Mars is currently so well-populated by probes that it has something close to a mini-infrastructure. And not to put too fine or jingoistic a point on it, but the overwhelming majority of spacecraft ranging anywhere in the solar system carry the NASA decal and the American flag.

That matters. It will be a while—many generations—before human beings truly become a multi-planet species. And the world we’re likeliest to stake our first claim to, Mars, is a forbidding place that at best will serve as a cosmic equivalent of the McMurdo Station in Antarctica—a research base that is far more a work station than a home.

But humanity—led by the U.S.—has made a start, sending our buoys throughout the solar system where they bob and drift and teach us things we never could have known if we didn’t have the smarts and the will to spend the money and build the machines. The points the species puts on the board when one of these improbable ships gets where it’s supposed to go and does what it’s supposed to do are the hardest-won of all. Our opponent in these cases isn’t another nation-state with which we’re competing for land or influence or wealth, it’s the laws of physics themselves.

Difficult as our terrestrial challenges seem, they are all parts of a system we created. There was no such thing as the laws of economics until we emerged from the swamp and created them. Ditto the laws of politics. We are always free to change the rules—and we often do.

The laws of nature have always been here and beating them—climbing out of the gravity well of Earth, keeping a machine like New Horizons powered in the deep freeze and deep black of space—is not the kind of thing that can be settled over a negotiating table in Vienna or Geneva. Physics won’t compromise; it won’t relent on one of its points if you relent on one of yours. Playing its game by its rules is the only way to win.

It is both good for the world and a bit sad for science that on the very morning New Horizons made its rendezvous with Pluto, the biggest headlines are going to the much-awaited international nuclear deal with Iran. Peace is undeniably a good thing, but it’s something we can make happen any old time if we simply choose to. Interplanetary travel is something else.

Surely, it is just coincidence that among the many Tweets sent out by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani about the nuclear deal is one that reads, “#IranDeal shows constructive engagement works. With this unnecessary crisis resolved, new horizons emerge with a focus on shared challenges.”

Rouhani’s new horizons, of course, is very different from NASA’s New Horizons. Both are historic; both are extraordinary news. But with due applause for the peacemakers, today belongs to the explorers.

Read next: NASA Just Debuted This Amazing Pluto Image on Instagram

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TIME vaccines

Why Science Is Winning the Vaccine Wars

Nothing to fear: More and more babies are being protected as more and more parents smarten up
Miodrag Gajic; Getty Images Nothing to fear: More and more babies are being protected as more and more parents smarten up

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

A new survey shows that common sense is trouncing fear-mongering

You can’t poll a scientific fact. The speed of light is the speed of light (186,282.4 miles per second) whether 90% of people believe it, 25% believe it or 100% have no opinion. The same is true for the heaviest element, the size of the Earth and the number of cells that make up the average human body (37.2 trillion, in case you’re counting).

And the same is true, too, for the safety and efficacy of vaccines: They’re extraordinarily effective and extraordinarily safe, no matter what the folks in the anti-vaccine fringe have been saying. But in this case, popular opinion makes a difference—potentially a life and death one. That’s because parents who have bought the anti-vax line are far less likely to vaccinate their children, putting those kids at risk as well as anyone in the community who can’t be vaccinated due to age or a medical problem.

It’s the reason there was an outbreak of vaccine-preventable measles earlier this year triggered by a single unvaccinated visitor to Disneyland, and an outbreak of vaccine-preventable mumps in and around Columbus, Ohio. And it just might be the reason an immune-compromised woman—who relied on the protection that a well-vaccinated community ought to provide its few unvaccinated members—recently died of measles in Washington state, the first U.S. measles death in over a decade.

So it’s the best possible news that a new poll conducted by doctors at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital found that across the country, parents’ views on vaccines are changing fast—and for the better.

Assembling a sample group of 1,416 randomly selected parents with at least one child 17 years old or younger, researchers posed a series of questions about the benefits of vaccines, the risks associated with vaccines, and the wisdom of laws, like the one Gov. Jerry Brown of California signed last month, requiring nearly all children attending schools in the state to be fully vaccinated. They also asked about the parents’ perception of the risks of measles and whooping cough.

In all five categories, the parents seemed increasingly to be aligning themselves with the sense and safety of the basic science camp and less with the misinformation and fear-mongering of the anti-vax camp. Overall, only 7% of parents thought vaccines were less safe than they did a year ago, while 25% thought them more safe than they once did; 68% were unchanged. Similarly, only 6% of parents were less supportive of vaccine requirements for students than they used to be, while 35% were more supportive. And 40% and 37% of all parents believed the risk of measles and whooping cough, respectively, have risen for U.S. kids in the past year, while only 15% in both cases thought the danger has decreased.

“For a quarter to a third of parents to say that their views on the safety and benefits of vaccines have shifted in just a year’s time is quite remarkable,” Dr. Matthew Davis, the director of the poll, said in a statement.

Actually, it’s more than remarkable. It also confirms what a lot of health-policy experts have been saying for a long time—that once parents started seeing the consequences of vaccine denialism in the form of flash-point epidemics like the Disneyland and Columbus outbreaks, they would come rushing back for the protection vaccines offer. An epidemic of any illness may be a terrible way to learn a lesson, but it’s a decidedly effective one.

Davis partly credits media coverage of the epidemics for helping parents wise up. That’s not just because of the reasonably responsible way news outlets reported the outbreaks, but also because of they way they’ve been edging away from the nonsense coming from anti-vaccine celebrities like Jim Carrey. Yes, Carrey got more press attention than he deserved after the vaccine law was approved in California, when he called Brown a “corporate fascist” and proceeded to recycle old myths about the dangers of mercury in vaccines. But he was also blow-torched for his know-nothingism in both mainstream and social media—a sign that the popular consensus is changing. The same kind of global opprobrium has at last caused Jenny McCarthy—the anti-vaxxers’ Earth mother—to go dark on the topic of vaccines altogether.

None of this means the vaccine fight is over—and it never will be as long as there is an Internet and an anti-vax community willing to fill it with silliness. But as the new poll suggests, that community is steadily growing smaller, and a larger community of parents committed to protecting the health of their children is taking its place.

Science, which has never sought to be a popularity contest, is winning this one all the same.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME vaccines

Jim Carrey, Please Shut Up About Vaccines

Actor Jim Carrey arrives at LACMA's 50th Anniversary Gala at LACMA on April 18, 2015 in Los Angeles.
Axelle/Bauer-Griffin—Getty Images Actor Jim Carrey arrives at LACMA's 50th Anniversary Gala at LACMA on April 18, 2015 in Los Angeles.

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

The erstwhile Ace Ventura sounds off about vaccines. Spoiler alert: he's wrong

Say this for the anti-vax clown car: it never seems to run out of new punchinellos to climb inside. If it’s not scientific fabulist Andrew Wakefield, he of the fraudulent study that got the whole vaccine-autism myth started, it’s Jenny McCarthy, she of the supposedly vaccine-injured son whose autism was cured in part by—yes!—a gluten-free diet because, um, gluten is bad, very bad.

After McCarthy, there was Saturday Night Live alum Rob Schneider—because when you’re looking for guidance on the wisdom of vaccines, who are you going to trust: the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health, or the man who gave us Deuce Bigelow, Male Gigolo? I mean, hello, the movie was huge.

Now, to this group of board-certified jesters add Jim Carrey—the ex-Mr. Jenny McCarthy—who rose on July 1 in all his orange-wigged, floppy-shoed, seltzer-down-the-pants fury to condemn California Governor Jerry Brown for the high crime of common sense, after Brown signed a law that requires virtually all kids in the state to be fully vaccinated as a pre-condition for attending public school. Carrey took—no surprise—to Twitter to air his peer-reviewed views.

“California Gov says yes to poisoning more children with mercury and aluminum in manditory [sic] vaccines. This corporate fascist must be stopped,” said the erstwhile Ace Ventura, Pet Detective. That was followed by:

“They say mercury in fish is dangerous but forcing all of our children to be injected with mercury in thimerosol [sic] is no risk. Make sense?” Which was followed by:

“I am not anti-vaccine. I am anti-thimerosal, anti-mercury. They have taken some of the mercury laden thimerosal out of vaccines. NOT ALL!”

And there was more too, but really, it doesn’t matter. Never mind that Carrey does not understand the difference between ethylmercury and methylmercury or the fact that there is virtually no mercury of any kind left in vaccines. Never mind that he doesn’t seem to know that to the extent that aluminum is in vaccines at all, it is there only as an adjuvant—or immune system stimulant—and is well-handled by the body, especially in the trace amounts that it’s found in vaccines. And never mind too that if you’re going for the ad hominem attack—a staple of anti-vaxxers—calling a man like Jerry Brown, better known as Governor Moonbeam, a “fascist” is a bit wide of the argumentative mark.

The anti-vax crowd has never been about reasoned argument or a cool-headed look at clinical science. They’ve been all about rage, all about echo-chamber misinformation. For every sensible action to boost vaccination rates, they have long been there, like a sort of perverse bit of Newtonian physics, with an equal and risible reaction.

Maybe that’s the reason they roll out pratfall comics like Schneider and Carrey to plead their case—a bit of misdirection to hide the tragicomedy of their message behind the larger comedy of the messenger. Or maybe they’re the best they’ve got.

That matters. A movement that begins with a study conducted by a doctor so thoroughly discredited that he’s not even allowed to practice medicine in his native United Kingdom anymore (Wakefield) and takes flight thanks to the prattlings of a Playboy model and talk show guest (McCarthy) ought not to have a chance against the informed scientific opinion of virtually every medical group on Earth. That it does says something about the hucksters’ ability to sell their nonsense and the human tendency to pay more attention to famous but wrong-headed people than to unglamorous but smart ones.

But that’s finally changing. The anti-vax act has at last gotten old, and it’s gotten tired and the cost—sick children, lost school days, outbreaks of diseases like measles, mumps and whooping cough—has gotten too high.

Like all fringe groups eventually do, the anti-vaxxers are now entering their rump-faction stage, dwindling to an angry, dense, immune-to-reason core. Soon enough, they’ll be gone. The likes of Carrey—today’s foghorn, tomorrow’s footnote—will vanish with them. And America’s children—not for nothing—will be better for it.

Read next: California Governor Jerry Brown Signs Mandatory Vaccine Law

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME vaccines

Why Jerry Brown Was Right to Sign the California Vaccine Bill

Bad choice: Anti-vaxxers protesting the California vaccine bill
Rich Pedroncelli—AP Bad choice: Anti-vaxxers protesting the California vaccine bill

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

The governor had a chance to protect thousands of children—and he did

Updated: June 30, 2015, 2:32 PM EDT

California does not often make common cause with Mississippi and West Virginia. America’s blue-red divide doesn’t come any wider than it does between the liberal laboratory of the Pacific West and the conservative cornerstones of the old south. But with a single signature on a single bill, California Gov. Jerry Brown ensured that the largest state in the nation joined the two far smaller ones in what ought to be a simple, primal mission: keeping children healthy.

The law, which passed the California legislature with bipartisan majorities, does a straightforward job—removing the religious and personal belief exemptions that allowed parents to refuse to vaccinate their children. The legislation leaves standing the medical exemption—the waiver families receive when a child has a manifest medical condition like a compromised immune system that would make vaccines dangerous. Under the new rules, families without the medical waiver face a choice: get your kids the shots or prepare to home-school them, which ensures they get an education but protects other children from whatever pathogens they may be carrying.

Mississippi and West Virginia are the only other states in the country that currently have such no-nonsense rules and they’ve got the stellar vaccination rates to prove it: fully 99.9% of the states’ kids are up to date on all their shots. California was right to follow the example of those southern-fried smarts. Only 90.4% of the Golden State’s kindergarteners had their full complement of vaccinations in the 2014-2015 school year. The worst offenders are the parents in the too-rich, too-famous, too-smart by half provinces of Silicon Valley, where vaccination rates in some day care centers struggle to crack the 50% mark.

That matters—a lot. When vaccine coverage falls below 95%, communities begin to lose what’s known as herd immunity, the protection a fully inoculated population provides to the relative handful of its members who can’t be vaccinated. California has suffered the consequences of that, with outbreaks of whooping cough and mumps across the state. Earlier this year, more than 100 cases of measles in California and Mexico were traced to a single unvaccinated visitor to Disneyland. That outbreak, at one of the state’s most iconic destinations, at last got Sacramento’s attention, and the new law, though hotly debated, passed.

Brown was vague at first about whether he would sign the bill and that left a lot of health policy experts worried. He had signed an earlier bill that preserved the personal belief exemption but at least made it harder for families to claim one. No longer could parents simply check a box on a form—an awfully easy thing to do without giving the matter much thought. Under the previous law, they would have to visit a health care provider who would sign a statement confirming that the parents had been informed of the benefits (too many to enumerate) and the risks (vanishingly small) of vaccination. Once they’re in the doctor’s office, plenty of parents come around. But Brown, a one-time Jesuit seminarian who has made no secret of his spiritual side over the years, carved out an exception in that law for religious beliefs.

He was right not to make the same mistake this time. There was a time when religious exemptions were no cause for worry. The share of Americans whose faith forbids vaccinations is exceedingly small, and as long as the herd remained intact, those kids would remain safe. But that was before the nonsense factory of the anti-vaccine community went into operation, churning out all manner of misinformation about autism and brain damage and big pharma conspiring with big government to inject unsuspecting children with toxins. The result: Vaccine rates have plummeted nationwide, and children have paid the price.

The tension between religious liberty and civic responsibility is hardly a new issue in the American system. If your religion does no harm to anyone else—least of all kids—you ought to be free to practice it in peace. But if that faith requires prayer to treat pediatric cancer or laying on of hands as a cure for severe pneumonia, the state ought to be able to intervene and provide proper care if you won’t and prosecute you if your child is injured or killed. In some states that’s indeed possible but in others it’s not, and a complex patchwork governs the level of care each state will or won’t mandate.

Mandatory testing for lead levels in blood? OK in most places, but not if you live in Delaware, Maine, Kansas, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island, where religious exemptions are available. Mandatory eyedrops to help prevent blindness in newborns? An important preventive for kids born to mothers with certain kinds of STDs—but they may be out of luck if they’re born in Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, or Pennsylvania.

The kids, it’s worth noting, did not choose to be born in states with weak protections. And they don’t choose either to be born to parents who look at vaccines and see in them something sinister or dangerous or strangely unholy.

Anti-vax parents came into a world of medically rational adults who had seen the wages of polio or diphtheria or smallpox or whooping cough and were grateful for a preventive that could eliminate those horrors. Jerry Brown himself came into that world too. Contemporary children deserve the same kind of wisdom and the same kind of care the grown-ups around them enjoyed. And California children deserve a governor who will see to it that that they get it.

Today Brown lived up to that responsibility.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME A Year In Space

How Serious a Setback Is the SpaceX Rocket Explosion?

A dramatic accident just minutes after launch could mean problems for the International Space Station

There are uncountable laws of physics and engineering that govern the launch of a rocket. But there’s one that supersedes them all: Ultimately, stuff will blow up. Always has, always will.

Elon Musk had never come face to face with that rule before — at least not in space travel — but Sunday morning he did in a very big way, when his Falcon 9 rocket and unmanned Dragon cargo vehicle exploded just two and a half minutes after launch. The rocket came undone before its first stage had even shut down and separated, blowing itself to pieces and auguring into the Atlantic just off the Cape Canaveral coast.

NASA, as NASA does, initially framed the failure as clinically as possible, describing it as a “non-nominal” liftoff. But NASA administrator Charles Bolden later described the agency as “disappointed” by the loss of the mission. “We will work closely with SpaceX to understand what happened, fix the problem and return to flight,” he said. “This is a reminder that spaceflight is an incredible challenge, but we learn from each success and each setback.”

Musk himself was more candid, if a little oblique:

But the most poignant and most apt response came from astronaut Scott Kelly, currently completing the third month of his marathon year aboard the International Space Station:

And so space is—very, very hard, and it’s the International Space Station (ISS) that has recently been paying the price. In April, a Russian Progress cargo vehicle carrying thousands of pounds of equipment and supplies reached orbit but spun out of control and eventually plunged back through the atmosphere, incinerating itself and its cargo. In October 2014, an Antares rocket—built by Musk’s cargo competitor Orbital Sciences—exploded just six seconds off the pad.

But it’s the SpaceX explosion that will prove the most costly. The key piece of cargo the now-destroyed Dragon was carrying was the first of a pair of International Docking Adapters (IDA) that was supposed to connect to the station’s Harmony module and serve as the attachment node for private crew vehicles that are scheduled to begin flying in 2017. Two companies won the contracts to build the new craft—SpaceX, which is modifying its Dragon craft to make it habitable; and Boeing, which is building a new vehicle dubbed the CST-100. Boeing built the lost IDA as well, but both companies are designing their craft to be compatible with it.

How big a setback this will be to the future of station operations is not clear. The current three-person crew—which will increase to six when the next expedition launches from Kazakhstan in July—is in no danger of running out of essential supplies like food, water and breathable oxygen. But luxuries like personal packages from family members and perishables like fresh fruit can make it aboard only as often as the cargo runs succeed.

The docking adapter is another matter, however. One of the biggest action items on the astronauts’ to-do-list for the next few months is reconfiguring ISS’s various modules to ready the station for the new crew vehicles. Kelly and soon-to-arrive crewmate Kjell Lindgren will be embarking on their first spacewalks to help get that job done. Without the IDA, however, the work can only proceed so far.

Worse, the Obama White House and NASA itself have bet their space reps on NASA’s ability to make a smooth transition to private suppliers for trips to low Earth orbit, freeing the space agency to focus on unmanned missions to the planets and, eventually, manned trips to deep space. Serial failures by Orbital Sciences and SpaceX do not do much to boost confidence in that plan.

Geopolitics play a role too. American leverage in the increasingly strained relationship between Washington and Moscow has not been helped by the fact that, since the grounding of the shuttles, the U.S. has been entirely dependent on the Russian Soyuz rocket to carry astronauts to space.

In response to the U.S. and European measures to clamp down on Russian banking and overseas assets in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin snarkily Tweeted, “After analyzing the sanctions against our space industry, I suggest to the USA to bring their astronauts to the International Space Station using a trampoline.”

Rogozin was bluffing. Russia charges the U.S. more than $70 million per seat for trips on the Soyuz and a cash-poor Kremlin is not inclined to say no to the ready pocket money. But it was galling at least for the U.S., and nobody in Washington or at NASA wants America’s dependency on the Russians to go on any longer than it absolutely has to go.

That, however, is for tomorrow. Today, Musk, who is experiencing his first major launch failure, must dig into his telemetry and the remains of his rocket and see what in the world went wrong. He’s not the first to have to conduct such a post-flight autopsy and he won’t be the last. Space is always hard—and on some days it’s too hard.

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