California bill to limit vaccine exemptions goes to governor

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 29, 2015 4:24 PM

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - California lawmakers on Monday sent Governor Jerry Brown a bill to substantially limit vaccine exemptions for school children in the most populous U.S. state, following last year's measles outbreak at Disneyland that sickened more than 100 people.

The bill, which would make California the third state to eliminate religious and other personal vaccine exemptions, passed the state Senate on a vote of 24-14 in its final form, which included amendments that would give some parents years to comply and make it easier for parents to obtain medical exemptions from doctors.

Brown, a Democrat, who had in the past opposed dropping the religious exemption, said through a spokesman Monday he would give the bill careful consideration.

"The Governor believes that vaccinations are profoundly important and a major public health benefit and this bill will be closely considered,” Evan Westrup, Brown's press secretary, said in a statement.

The measure sparked angry opposition from some religious conservatives and from parents who are worried about the side effects of vaccinations.

In recent years, vaccination rates at many California schools have plummeted as parents, some of whom fear a now debunked link between vaccines and autism, have declined to inoculate their children.

The legislation was prompted by a measles outbreak last December traced to the Disneyland theme park in Southern California.

Most children are vaccinated, but at some schools, many in affluent and liberal communities, vaccination rates are well below the 92 percent level needed to maintain group immunity that can protect those who are not vaccinated or have weak immune systems.

The bill was amended in the Assembly last week to give children with existing exemptions more time before they must be vaccinated against such diseases as measles, polio and pertussis. Another amendment allowed doctors to consider family history when deciding whether to grant children medical exemptions from vaccinations.

The Senate vote on Monday was a concurrence vote, in which senators gave the bill final approval by accepting those assembly amendments.

Under the bill, personal beliefs exemptions filed before Jan. 1, 2016, would remain in effect until children complete their "grade spans," defined as the years from birth to preschool, kindergarten to sixth grade, and seventh through 12th grades.

Children with medical exemptions would not be affected.

In testimony on the bill, opponents said they feared their children would be harmed and that the bill would deny them their right to public education.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Peter Cooney and Eric Beech)