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Vaccine Requirement Goes to Governor

UPDATE: Gov. Brown signed the bill on Tuesday. 

The Senate yesterday passed a bill (SB 277) to end the personal belief exemption as a way to opt out of vaccinations for school children in California. The concurrence vote in the state Senate came after both houses approved the bill, and it now heads to the governor.

And there’s the rub.

Gov. Jerry Brown (D) not only has the power to veto the legislation if he chooses, but he also is allowed to add provisions to it — something he did in 2012 with an immunization bill that already included the personal belief exemption.

Representatives from the “I Heart Immunity” campaign in favor of stricter vaccine requirements, will meet with legislators and health care leaders today at William Land Park Elementary School in Sacramento to celebrate the bill’s passage and to urge the governor to sign it.

SB 277 by Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) would eliminate the personal belief exemption, and it also would reverse the religious exemption that Brown imposed in 2012.

Three years ago, when Pan was in the Assembly, the Legislature passed his bill AB 2109, which didn’t ask for an end to the personal belief exemption, but it did require parents to consult with a provider before they could be granted that exemption.

The governor signed the bill. However, in his signing message, he added two sentences:

“Additionally, I will direct the [Department of Public Health] to allow for a separate religious exemption on the form. In this way, people whose religious beliefs preclude vaccinations will not be required to see a health care practitioner’s signature,” Brown wrote.

At the time, Pan wondered aloud which religions were actually against immunizations. “I just don’t know any religions that have a policy of being anti-vaccine,” Pan said.

At yesterday’s Senate floor vote, Pan said the bill’s message is clear.

“The science remains unequivocal that vaccines are safe and vaccines save lives,” Pan said.

Elimination of the personal belief exemption was prompted by a fear that too many opt-outs by the parents of schoolchildren could compromise herd immunity and put other children in danger. That includes children too young to be vaccinated for dangerous diseases such as whooping cough and measles, as well as immune-compromised school kids who cannot receive the vaccine for health reasons, and are at higher risk for those diseases.

The Senate approved the bill on a 23-14 vote. The governor has 12 days to act on the bill once he receives it.

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Capitol Desk Public Health