Editors’ Note June 30, 2015: California Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB277 into law today. In a statement, the governor said “the science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious ans dangerous diseases.”
Editors’ Note June 29, 2015: The state Senate today reaffirmed SB277 in a 24-14 vote. The bill now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature.
Editors’ Note June 26, 2015: The state Assembly passed SB277 yesterday. The bill now heads back to the state Senate for a conceurrent vote and then to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk for his signature.
A bill in the California State Legislature has garnered a lot of attention statewide because it centers on a polarizing topic — immunizations. Legislation passed in the state Senate in May that would eliminate the personal belief exemption and require nearly all children enrolling in public or private daycare or school to be vaccinated. Proponents say this bill is needed to increase immunization rates statewide to prevent outbreaks, while opponents fear it takes away the right of choice.
The bill, known as SB277, was introduced after a December measles outbreak in Disneyland, which infected 131 people in California. In its current form, the bill would no longer allow parents to obtain personal belief exemptions, including religious reasons, and send their children to school unvaccinated. Medical exemptions would still be allowed, although it is unclear what the specific requirements would be. Children who are not vaccinated can still be homeschooled. The bill’s authors have also pledged to “grandfather in” those students who have already claimed personal belief exemptions.
The legislation now moves to the state Assembly. If it becomes law, California would become the 32nd state to ban the personal belief exemption, and would join Mississippi and West Virginia as the only states to ban the religious exemption.
Co-authors Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) and Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) say they wrote this bill to increase vaccination rates in California. This school year, more than 13,000 kindergarteners, or 2.5 percent, and nearly 10,000 seventh graders statewide had personal belief exemptions.
To reach “herd immunity,” 90 to 95 percent of the school-age population must be vaccinated. There is debate on California immunization rates because both sides say the data is flawed. However, there are pockets throughout the state of mostly white and affluent areas where the immunization rates fall far below that threshold, including Nevada and Marin counties.
Locally, immunization rates for enrolled kindergartners in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District varied from school to school as of February. Truckee Elementary has the highest rates with 96.7 percent; Kings Beach Elementary has 93.7 percent; Donner Trail Elementary is at 85.7 percent; Glenshire Elementary at 84.7 percent; and Tahoe Lake Elementary has 83.6 percent of kindergartners vaccinated.
Opponents of the bill say it infringes on personal and parental rights. The American Civil Liberties Union of California has even raised concerns that the bill would violate the state constitution’s guarantee of access to public education for all.
Bill authors Pan and Allen have tried to appease opponents by amending the legislation, including limiting the required number of vaccines to 10, a decrease from the bill’s original requirement of all of the Centers for Disease Control’s required vaccinations. The bill has also been amended to remove a requirement for schools to notify parents of immunization rates. Parents who choose not to vaccinate their children can participate in a multiple-family, private home school, or homeschool their kids using a public school independent study program.
Despite the amendments, the immunization debate has reached a fever pitch statewide. Locally, the issue is being battled on newspaper opinion pages and websites. Now comes the waiting game to see how the issue will play out in the state legislature.
DR. CHRIS ARTH | PRO SB277
“I can personally attest to how well vaccines have worked. I also feel that the vaccines have aided in needing less in the way of drugs and other things.”
“We’ve forgotten the past, which left us with this bill that may seem Draconian, but somewhat necessary.”
“I think it will right some of our low vaccination rates. We do have some numbers in the Nevada County area that say we are only around 80 percent vaccinated for children who are going into kindergarten.”
“I think, following some of the other states who have passed similar laws, what we have found is that parents tend to vaccinate to keep their kids in public school … The community will also see that there will be a lot less in the way of outbreaks.”
“There are choices to homeschool or to vaccinate your child. Children would be required to be vaccinated to come into public school. The legal opinion so far on this has been favorable to vaccination. It has been found that the good of the community outweighs the good of the individual.”
“There is an economic burden to not vaccinate a child.”
DR. ANN SURA | CON SB277
“I am not anti-vaccine. I absolutely believe that there is a place for vaccines. Historically, though, if you look at the place where vaccines have come from, many of the diseases we have vaccinated against were eliminated through hygiene and other types of things.”
“If this bill is passed in its current form, everyone will be affected by this bill, and it is really just the beginning. We look at it as a gateway bill.”
“One of the foundations of our constitutional rights in California is the right to a free public education. Homeschooling is a great education option, but it’s not an equal option.”
“There are children who suffer adverse reactions to vaccines … Vaccines are unavoidably unsafe.”
“I am a very strong believer in parental choice and informed consent.”
“I don’t think we need to have a mandated law in place for a series of 10 vaccines.”
SB277: WHERE IS IT?
While Senate Bill 277 seems to be coasting through the state legislature, it still has some hurdles to overcome before becoming law. The state Senate approved the bill on May 14, then it went to the state Assembly. The Assembly Health Committee approved the bill June 9 as Moonshine Ink went to press. The legislation now will be heard by the full Assembly, then will have to be signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, who is expected to sign it. To keep track of the bill, visit leginfo.legislature.ca.gov.
VACCINES TO BE REQUIRED BY SB277
Haemophilus influenzae type b
Pertussis (whooping cough)