Brown’s Shift Ends Current Vaccine Debate

Gov. Jerry Brown’s (D) signature on a bill ending personal belief exemptions marks a turning point in California’s policy requiring schoolchildren to be immunized.

Brown’s approval one day after the Legislature passed the bill — SB 277 by Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) — did not come with any caveats or signing-message additions, unlike his 2012 approval of a related bill. Three years ago, the governor signed another bill authored by Pan, AB 2109, which required a provider consultation before a personal belief exemption could be granted.

In his 2012 signing message, Brown established a new exemption that allowed parents to opt out of immunizations for their kids without a provider consultation by citing religious concerns.

That religious exemption was eliminated with Tuesday’s signature from the governor, along with the personal belief exemption. Brown effectively ended the exemption he created.

“What it means is his views have changed, I think,” said Leah Russin, co-founder of a pro-immunization group called Vaccinate California.

“Since AB 2109 was enacted [in January 2013], several things have happened,” Russin said. “There was a measles outbreak, the one that originated in Disneyland, and there was a groundswell of support to eliminate the personal belief exemption.”

Brown did include a signing message on Tuesday, but it struck a different tone from the one in 2012:

“The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases,” Brown wrote. “While it’s true that no medical intervention is without risk, the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community.”

Russin said it made sense Brown approved the bill quickly.

“He didn’t want his phone lines burning up over this for the next few weeks, that’s my guess,” she said. “I mean, he’s followed this bill for months. He didn’t just start thinking about this.”

Last year’s measles outbreak, in which 134 Californians contracted the disease, may have influenced the governor.

There’s one other difference between the two bill signings, in 2012 and Tuesday, Russin said. Three years ago, there was much less public battling. With the ratcheting-up of loud resistance to SB 277 this year came a response from supporters of the measure, she said.

“Pressure this time was from both sides,” Russin said. “I mean, we had letters to the governor from every county in the state, all asking him to sign the bill. That’s not nothing.”

The new regulations go into effect Jan. 1, 2016.

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Capitol Desk Public Health