Panel Votes To End Vaccine Exemption

On Wednesday, lawmakers took the first step toward passage of a bill that would end the personal-belief exemption for childhood immunizations in California.

The Senate Committee on Health on Wednesday voted to approve SB 277 by state Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento). It would stop California parents from opting out of immunizations for their schoolchildren unless there is a medical or religious reason to refuse vaccination.

Pan, a pediatrician, said the recent outbreaks of measles and whooping cough could be prevented if a higher percentage of children were immunized against the diseases. 

“I’ve personally witnessed the suffering caused by vaccine-preventable diseases,” Pan said. “All children deserve to be safe at school. The personal belief exemption is now putting other schoolchildren and people in our community in danger.”

Wednesday’s hearing was at times unruly and emotional, as anti-vaccine advocates sometimes made their cases loudly and with venom. One woman was removed from the hearing room after a loud and emotional outburst, and another person threatened to put a curse on lawmakers who voted for the bill.

“There’s no place for this [in a committee hearing],” said committee member state Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel). “I don’t want to take away from the people who made their points respectfully, but there is no place for this.”

The legislation was prompted, in part, by a measles outbreak that originated in California and spread to half a dozen other states, infecting 147 children. Last year, California had the largest outbreak of whooping cough in the past 70 years, with one infant death and more than 10,000 cases reported statewide.

“Let me be clear,” said Dean Blumberg, a Sacramento pediatrician representing the American Academy of Pediatrics and the California Medical Association. “There is no scientific controversy about vaccine safety and vaccine effectiveness. This is not open to dispute among mainstream doctors and scientists.”

The billed passed on a 6-2 vote.

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Capitol Desk Public Health