On June 30, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the controversial vaccination bill, SB 277, eliminating religious and personal belief vaccine exemptions. All California school children must now be vaccinated upon entering kindergarten, unless they have a medical exemption.
The bill was introduced alongside SB 792, which requires child care workers to be immunized against influenza (flu), pertussis (whooping cough,) and measles. SB 792 hasn’t passed yet.
In a signing statement addressed to the state Senate, Brown touched on the controversy and acknowledged the outpouring of public opinion surrounding this issue, but ultimately he came down in favor of vaccines.
“The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases. While it is true that no medical intervention is without risk, the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community,” he wrote.
The bill followed a 2014/2015 Disneyland measles outbreak in which 136 people were infected. California previously had one of the most lenient vaccination policies in the country, as well as one of the highest rates of unvaccinated children. Before the passage of SB 277, children entering kindergarten were expected to be immunized against nine communicable diseases: tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), hepatitis B, measles, mumps, rubella, poliomyelitis (polio) and varicella (chickenpox). However, parents could file personal or religious belief exemptions and medical exemptions.
Statewide, about 2.5 percent of kindergarteners remained unvaccinated in 2015, according to the California Department of Public Health. But vaccination rates vary dramatically from county to county. In 2014, about 8 percent of kids in SLO county public schools were admitted to local schools unvaccinated with personal belief exemptions. In 2015, that number fell to 5.5 percent of kids in local public schools.
With the passing of SB 277, California’s vaccination law is among the strictest in the country. Medical exemptions will still be available, but personal belief and religious exemptions will not. Two other states have mandatory vaccination laws with only medical exemptions.
State Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo) said in an email that the vaccination issue is a personal one, which should be decided by parents and pediatricians. Achadjian, who voted against the bill, worried about the legal ramifications of the bill.
“Government should be empowering parents to make informed decisions about their child’s health, not taking these decisions away. Also, I am concerned this bill will face constitutional and legal challenges in the courts on the basis that the law is denying children their right to a free education,” he wrote.