SB 277 to Protect Every Student’s Right to a Safe School Passes Assembly Health Committee

Senate Bill 277 by Senators Pan and Allen will end California’s Vaccine Exemption Loophole and Boost immunization rates at California Schools

June 9, 2015

SACRAMENTO, CA – After emotional testimony about a child who is currently in hospice care due to complications of the measles, Senate Bill 277, authored by Dr. Richard Pan, a pediatrician and Senator representing Sacramento and Senator Ben Allen, the former Board President of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District was passed by the Assembly Health Committee on a vote of 12 to 6.  

“Years of anti-science, anti-vaccine misinformation have taken its toll on immunization rates to the point that the public is now endanger,” said Dr. Richard Pan, a physician and senator representing Sacramento and West Sacramento. “Children, pregnant women, seniors and people with cancer, organ transplants, and other conditions are counting on us to make sure science prevails. 

“Government has a role to play when one person’s actions affect other people’s safety.   It is our role as legislators to ensure public health in our state -- that is why we brought this bill forward, and we believe it is the right course to take,” Senator Allen said.

During the Assembly Health Committee hearing, members heard about a four-year old child who is currently in hospice care in the state and will die in the next several months of

Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), a complication of measles. The patient was only 5 months old when he was hospitalized with measles --- too young to be immunized. A letter from Catherine Sonquist Forest, MD MPH, the family’s physician, which was read at the hearing said, “The mother of my patient told me last week, ‘my child is dying because someone who chose not to be immunized exposed my vulnerable baby, and nothing can be done to save him.’”

Last week, the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank released a pull that showed that two-thirds of Californians (67%) and public school parents (65%) say children should not be allowed to attend public schools unless they are vaccinated. “This poll shows overwhelming majorities of California parents support SB 277, understand that vaccines are safe and believe the personal belief exemption is putting our kids and communities at risk of preventable diseases.  Some people would like for this bill to appear more controversial than it really is, but California parents are saying loud and clear: keep California healthy, pass SB 277,” added Dr. Pan.

Currently, a parent may choose to opt their child out of school vaccine requirements that bi-partisan legislative majorities passed to protect students. SB 277 will remove that option, so that only a medical exemption would remain.  SB 277 will not remove a parent’s choice to vaccinate his or her child.  However, if a parent makes the choice to not vaccinate, they would have the responsibility to home-school their child, participate in a multi-family private home-school or use public school independent study that exists in current law and is administered by local education agencies. 

SB 277 has received broad bi-partisan support from a long list of education organizations, school boards, parents, superintendents and principals, school employees, school nurses, health care organizations, child advocacy and community groups, cities and counties, business groups, unions and elected officials. Most recently, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson and the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) have supported.  Others include the American Academy of Pediatrics, Vaccinate California, California State PTA, California Medical Association, California Immunization Coalition Health Officers Association of California, the Los Angeles Unified School District, Solano Beach School District, the San Francisco Unified School District, the Counties of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Marin, Yolo and Santa Clara.  For a complete list: http://www.vaccinatecalifornia.org/endorsements2

When a contagion spreads in a community with immunization rates below 90 percent, the protection provided by ‘'herd immunity’ can be at risk. This means many people are at risk of becoming infected including people who cannot be immunized, including infants, chemotherapy patients and those with HIV or other conditions.

The hesitation to vaccinate on the part of a growing number of parents stems from misinformation such as the now retracted 1998 study that falsified data to purport a link between autism and the measles vaccine.  The study was authored by Andrew Wakefield who was later found to be lying. Also, numerous subsequent studies worldwide involving hundreds of thousands of children have proved that vaccines are safe and do not cause autism. 

If SB 277 becomes law, California will join thirty-two other states that don’t allow parents to opt out of vaccination requirements using a personal belief exemption.

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