Almost all school children in the Southland and across California will be required to be vaccinated against diseases such as measles and whooping cough under legislation signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Jerry Brown.
SB 277 was co-sponsored by Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, and Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento. Pan is also a pediatrician. The legislation was prompted in part by an outbreak of measles traced to Disneyland that began in late December and ultimately spread to more than 130 people across the state.
Cases were also reported in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nebraska, Oregon, Utah and Washington state.
The legislation eliminates vaccination exemptions based on religious or personal beliefs. It will require all children entering kindergarten to be vaccinated unless a doctor certifies that a child has a medical condition, such as allergies, preventing it.
“I want to thank all of the parents, families and my colleagues and Governor Brown for their advocacy and thoughtful deliberation of this legislation,” said Allen, former president of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District board. “Today is a good day for California.”
Brown, in a bill-signing message sent to the state Senate, acknowledged there was opposition to the bill, but said children’s health is important to protect.
“The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infection and dangerous diseases,” Brown wrote in his message. “While it’s true that no medical intervention is without risk, the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community.”
Brown noted that the legislation exempts children from immunizations if there are “circumstances, including but not limited to, family medical history for which the physician does not recommend immunization.”
Los Angeles Unified School District officials said last week they supported the bill’s intent of “boosting vaccination rates through the state,” adding that the requirement “will ensure a safer and healthier environment for our schools.”
Opponents criticized the bill as infringing on the rights of parents to make medical decisions for their children. Randy Thomasson, president of SaveCalifornia.com, said it “denies parents the right to exempt genetically susceptible brothers and sisters of vaccine-injured children, denies parents a religious exemption and denies conscientious objectors a public-school education.”
Interim Los Angeles County Health Officer Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser countered that the recent measles outbreak “highlights the importance” of ensuring as many people as possible get vaccinated.
“Measles remains a serious health threat that is present in many parts of the world,” he said.
“Attaining the highest vaccination rates possible in Los Angeles County will assure that our children and all residents are safe in the event that additional cases are imported in the future.”
County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl hailed the bill, saying it will protect “our children and our communities from a host of entirely preventable communicable diseases.”
Leah Russin, co-founder of Vaccinate California, an advocacy group that pushed for the legislation, said parents can now “breathe a sigh of relief knowing our children and others will be better protected from preventative diseases.”
Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction, said vaccination rates have dropped in schools in recent years, raising the risk of disease outbreaks.
“The bill protects the health of our children and our communities, especially those too young or too ill to receive vaccines,” Torlakson said.
“The bill protects against the outbreaks of debilitating, crippling and costly preventable diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella and chicken pox. It will help keep students healthy so they can attend school, learn and succeed.”