UPDATE | Today, Governor Jerry Brown signed the mandatory vaccination bill SB277, which would eliminate Personal Belief Exemptions (PBE), into law. Just last week, Long Beach's Assemblymember Patrick O'Donnell voted with the California State Assembly in approving SB277, one of the most controversial items on the legislature’s agenda this year.
Co-sponsored by Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) and Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), the legislation was prompted by an outbreak of the measles that originated in Disneyland, spreading to more than 130 people.
"The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infection and dangerous diseases," Brown wrote in his bill-signing message today. "While it's true that no medical intervention is without risk, the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community."
Brown also noted that the bill exempts children from vaccinations if family medical history and medical reasons prompt a physician to not recommend an immunization. The family medical history stipulation was an amendment added by state lawmakers before the bill reached Brown's desk.
The legislation's opponents said the bill infringed on the rights of parents to make medical choices related to their children. Randy Thomasson, president of SaveCalifornia.com, said it "denies parents the right to exempt genetically susceptible brothers and sisters of vaccine-injured children, denies parents a religious exemption and denies conscientious objectors a public-school education."
Meanwhile, Los Angeles County Health Officer Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser and LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl praised the bill.
"Measles remains a serious health threat that is present in many parts of the world," Dr. Gunzenhauser said. "Attaining the highest vaccination rates possible in Los Angeles County will assure that our children and all residents are safe in the event that additional cases are imported in the future."
Dr. Divya-Devi Joshi, MD and chief medial officer of Miller Children's and Women's Hospital said vaccines were the best way to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, and she was "pleased" with its signing into law.
“The premier scientific advocacy group for childhood health, the American Academy of Pediatrics, strongly advocates scientifically-based schedules of vaccines for children at various ages," Joshi said. "All charges of vaccines being implicated in diseases such as autism have been disproven. Getting your child vaccinated is the right thing for the children and the Long Beach community at large.”
City News Service contributed to this story.
This story was updated at 4:48PM with Divya-Devi's comments.
PREVIOUSLY: O'Donnell Votes With California State Assembly to Approve Mandatory Vaccination Bill SB277
06/23/15 1:43PM | On Thursday morning, the California State Assembly approved SB277, one of the most controversial items on the legislature’s agenda this year. The measure, which creates one of the toughest vaccine mandates in the country, passed 46-30.
Long Beach’s Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell voted yes on the measure, after parents from across Southern California protested in his district to have the education committee, rather than the health committee, consider the bill.
“After careful consideration and hearing the passionate arguments both for and against, I voted in favor of protecting public health,” O'Donnell said. “The overwhelming consensus among health professionals is vaccines protect our school children from communicable disease. As a teacher and a parent, nothing is more important to me than ensuring our schools are safe places to learn.”
With the passage of the bill, California becomes the 32nd state in the nation to remove the Personal Belief Exemption (PBE) from its school vaccination requirements, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. SB277 eliminates the PBE and only allows for medical exemptions, such as documented diseases and family history, beginning July 1, 2016.
All children entering the next grade cycle at public and private institutions will be required to be fully vaccinated according to the CDC vaccination schedule, mandating proof of immunization status.
SB277 does not apply to students who follow independent study programs or are homeschooled.
“If I homeschool my son, how do I address socialization goals in his IEP [Individualized Education Plan]?” said Rebecca Estepp of the California Coalition for Health Choice at the June 4 rally against SB277. “SB277 ends up being a discriminatory bill that violates education guaranteed under the constitution.”
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) closed the debate before the vote.
“This is a bell-shaped curve, yes. And the outliers are those people who can’t get vaccines,” she said. “Those ones who truly can’t take the vaccines. That’s who we’re trying to help with all of this. Because two percentage points makes a difference. Just two percent in herd immunity actually has an effect on herd immunity.”
Assemblymember Beth Gaines (R-Roseville) stood in opposition to what she called a “de facto mandate on all of Californians, and all school-aged children.”
“As a mother of six children, I have had experience with the adverse reactions related to vaccines,” she said. “And we actually live with it every day.”
Southern California parents picket in downtown Long Beach June 4, urging Long Beach Assemblymember Patrick O'Donnell to consider SB277 within the Assembly's education committee.
Assemblywoman Dr. Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), who turns 67 in September, said her age gave her insight on the impact of vaccine adherence.
“I have the advantage of knowing what the world looks like prior to a lot of vaccinations,” Weber said. “I can remember as a child that measles, and german measles, they had gotten so specific because of the types—were rampant in our schools, and children missed weeks and weeks of school because the had the measles, and they had the mumps, and they had the chicken pox.”
Since January 1, 173 people in 21 states contracted the measles this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). A total of 125 of these cases were part of an outbreak linked to exposure to measles at Disneyland.
“My father has polio,” said SB277’s co-sponsor Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) in an earlier interview. “His generation can’t believe we’re allowing diseases back into [the country]. Unless we shut down airports, we’re still at risk.”
Dr. Richard Pan, a senator from Sacramento, introduced the bill with Allen.
Though the measure has already passed the Senate, it will return to their chamber for amendments before proceeding to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk to be signed into law.
According to a January Washington Post story, personal belief exemptions grew from 0.77 percent in 2000 to 3.15 percent in 2013, and back to 2.5 percent in 2014 after the state required parents to consult a health care professional before using the exemption. A map of certain regions of the state shows up to five percent of kindergarteners utilizing the personal belief exemption.
According to the Bloomberg data team, California is ranked 39th in the nation for number of vaccinated children in the state.