Lawmakers in California have approved a vaccine bill that will force parents to vaccinate their children.
The controversial SB277 bill is intended to boost vaccination rates following the measles outbreak at Disneyland earlier in the year. It has prompted emotional and lively debate, with huge protests from parents and vaccination opponents who say the new proposed law is an imposition on freedom and detrimental to health.
The Assembly Health Committee approved the legislation 12-6 with one lawmaker abstaining, sending it to the full Assembly for its final legislative hurdle.
The bill would eliminate the personal belief exemption that allows parents to send their unvaccinated children to school. Students who cannot be immunized because of medical problems can still attend, while others must be home-schooled.
If the bill becomes law, California would join Mississippi and West Virginia as the only states with such strict requirements.
“SB277 is about freedom,” said Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, one of the bill’s authors. “Freedom from deadly, crippling contagions that are now preventable through the science of vaccination.”
Opponents of the legislation say they should have the freedom to decide what’s best for their child and that the bill would unfairly deny students a public education.
Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, said he was not convinced that there was a health emergency because of insufficient vaccinations.
“I think that really stretches the facts to the point of really almost being sort of a scare tactic,” he said before voting against the bill.
Some experts say the legislation would likely increase immunization rates because fierce opponents of vaccinations aren’t representative of parents who seek personal belief exemptions. They point to an uptick in immunized kindergartners after the state required physicians’ notes before opting out as evidence that not all parents are fundamentally opposed.
Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, has not taken a position on ending exemptions. His spokesman, Evan Westrup, has previously said the governor believes vaccinations are “profoundly important.”