Hypodermic Syringe

Capitol Alert
By Jeremy B. White
June 25, 2015

  • Legislation would require pupils to be fully vaccinated
  • Vote follows furious protest from some parents
  • Bill now returns to the state Senate, then to Brown

The state Assembly passed a closely watched bill Thursday compelling schoolchildren to be fully vaccinated, approving the measure on a 46-30 vote that blurred party lines.

The legislation, which sparked furious protests from worried parents, heads next to the Senate for a vote on amendments taken in the Assembly before it can go to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. The bill passed the Senate by a comfortable 25-10 margin in May, and while the Democratic governor has taken no official stance, he has called vaccines “profoundly important.”

Perhaps no bill this year has fomented the same level of passion as Senate Bill 277, which would erase the broad personal belief exemption that allows California parents to enroll children who have not received the entire range of recommended shots. Proponents argue it would protect public health by shoring up a key bulwark against the spread of disease, while its critics say it removes parents’ ability to decide which vaccines their children receive.

The vaccine debate has raged nationwide, with millions of parents questioning the safety of what had long been considered routine vaccinations.

“I understand that the decisions we make about our children’s health care are deeply personal,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, who voted for the bill. “While I respect the fundamental right to make that decision as a family, we must balance that with the fact that none of us have the right to endanger others.”

Spurred by the measles outbreak that began at Disneyland and rippled outward, as well as by the resurgence of eradicable diseases like whooping cough, legislators and public health allies moved this year to close the personal belief exemption. They argued that high rates in personal belief exemptions helped spur the Disneyland outbreak spread, and warned that unvaccinated children endanger others who are too young or sick to be vaccinated.

“This isn’t just about Disneyland and this isn’t just about the need to make sure we wait for a crisis,” said Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, R-Dublin. “I’ve heard that from some of my colleagues: ‘This isn’t a problem right now, we should wait for a crisis.’ Colleagues, do you hear how unreasonable that argument is?”

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