By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - A plan to ask voters to repeal a new California law tightening vaccination requirements for school-age children may falter due to a shortfall in signatures needed to put the referendum on the ballot.
The effort is part of a backlash against a bill signed into law this summer by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown that requires pupils to be vaccinated against childhood diseases unless they have a medical reason to refuse. It was passed after a measles outbreak among unvaccinated people at Disneyland last year.
"The misguided effort to repeal SB 277, my law to boost vaccination rates, appears to have fallen short," said State Senator Richard Pan, a pediatrician who represents the state capital of Sacramento. "That would be good news for public health and particularly California's children."
That law, which goes into effect next year, makes California the third state to eliminate religious and other personal exemptions to vaccinations. It generated strong opposition from some parents, many who feared a now-debunked link between childhood vaccinations and autism and others who feared intrusion on the religious exemption.
Opponents, who had packed legislative hearings and targeted lawmakers with advertisements, petitions and telephone campaigns, reacted swiftly, some threatening lawsuits while also quickly beginning work on the proposed referendum.
Supporters of the referendum had until Monday to turn in 365,880 valid signatures from registered voters in California in order for the measure to appear on the November, 2016 ballot.
California's decentralized laws for signature-gathering require them to be submitted county by county, making it difficult to know immediately how many were turned in.
But as of Wednesday, only about 25,000 had been counted by the state, and Twitter was alight with proclamations of victory by Pan's supporters and complaints of sabotage by backers of repeal. The state has until Oct. 8 to provide an official count.
Tim Donnelly, a conservative former lawmaker who spearheaded the referendum bid, complained in a statement sent to reporters that special interests, including pharmaceutical companies, had "gone to great lengths to thwart campaign efforts."
"The SB277 Referendum was sabotaged from without and within by powerful forces from its very inception," Donnelly said. Donnelly did not say how many signatures had been gathered, or immediately return requests for clarification on Wednesday.
The Sacramento Bee newspaper said on Twitter that signature gatherers indicated that the effort would fall short, but did not name the source of that information.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)