California Healthline Daily Edition

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Calif. Assembly Approves Vaccine Bill; Opponents Vow Legal Action

On Thursday, the California Assembly voted 46-30 to approve a highly debated bill (SB 277) that would end all personal belief exemptions to the state's childhood vaccination requirements, the San Jose Mercury News reports (Seipel/Calefati, San Jose Mercury News, 6/25).

Background on SB 277

SB 277, by state Sens. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) and Ben Allen (D-Redondo Beach), would only allow children who have received vaccinations for certain diseases, such as measles and whooping cough, to be admitted to schools in the state.

The bill would allow exemptions for medical reasons (California Healthline, 5/15).

In addition, the bill was amended to:

  • Allow unvaccinated children to enroll in private home-schooling programs that serve multiple families, rather than programs that serve just one family;
  • Permit such children to participate in independent study projects that are overseen by school districts but do not include classroom time;
  • Remove a provision that would have required schools to inform parents of immunization rates (California Healthline, 6/25); and
  • Allow physicians to consider family histories when determining medical exemptions (Medina, New York Times, 6/25).

The bill also includes a provision that would give unvaccinated children with existing exemptions more time to comply with the rules (Bernstein, Reuters, 6/25). Under the "grandfathered" exemption provision, unvaccinated children would be allowed to stay in school until the next "grade span," provided that their exemption is filed before Jan. 1, 2016. Unvaccinated children would not be allowed to enter preschool, kindergarten or seventh grade without immunizations, but they could continue attending school between those grades (Brooks, "State of Health," KQED, 6/25).

Next Steps

SB 277 now returns to the state Senate for a concurrence vote to include amendments made in the Assembly (Plevin, "KPCC News," KPCC, 6/25). According to the Mercury News, the state Senate is expected to approve the amended bill on Monday.

If approved by the Senate, the bill will head to Gov. Jerry Brown (D) (San Jose Mercury News, 6/25).

Brown has not said whether he would sign the measure. However, it is "widely expected" that he will do so, the New York Times reports.

If the bill is signed into law, California would join Mississippi and West Virginia to become the third and largest state to only permit medical exemptions for vaccinations.

Reaction

Public health officials and state lawmakers said they hope other states will follow California in strengthening their vaccination rules.

Pan said, "We hope and expect we will be a model to get us back to where we should be, which is that cases of measles and other preventable diseases do not need to be something we live with" (New York Times, 6/25).

Meanwhile, Jay Lee, president of the California Academy of Family Physicians, said, "To make a decision not to vaccinate [a child] is actually to make a decision to potentially harm the community," adding, "The health of the public is going to be protected by this measure."

Meanwhile, opponents of the bill have denounced its passage, the Los Angeles Times' "L.A. Now" reports (Lin, "L.A. Now," Los Angeles Times, 6/25).

For example, Christina Hildebrand -- founder of A Voice for Choice, which has lobbied against SB 277 -- said, "Parental freedom is being taken away by this [bill] because the fear of contagion is trumping it" (New York Times, 6/25).

Further, Assembly member Melissa Melendez (R-Murrieta), who voted against the bill, said, "Today's vote was not about whether or not you support vaccines. It was about the freedom to make our own choices as citizens" (Reuters, 6/25).

According to the New York Times, opponents have vowed to take legal action against the bill. In addition, they have initiated various recall campaigns against lawmakers who supported the measure (New York Times, 6/25).

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