Senate Bill 277 Introduced to End California’s Vaccine Exemption Loophole

February 19, 2015

SACRAMENTO –Dr. Richard Pan, a pediatrician and Senator representing Sacramento, Senator Ben Allen, the former Board President of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalaz who represents San Diego have introduced Senate Bill 277 to repeal the personal belief exemption that currently allows parents to opt their child out of vaccines in our schools. 

“It is our duty and responsibility to protect all children who attend schools in California,” said Dr. Richard Pan, a State Senator representing Sacramento who has been working legislatively to get vaccination rates up while in the State Assembly. “SB 277 was introduced because parents are speaking up and letting us know that current laws are not enough to protect their children. As a pediatrician I have personally witnessed the suffering caused by diseases that are preventable, and I am very grateful to all those parents who are speaking up as a result of the recent measles outbreak.”

“It is easy to forget what it was like before we had broad-based vaccinations and there was a lot of suffering and even death from serious infectious diseases,” said Senator Ben Allen. “We cannot risk returning to those days.  Parents should not have to live in fear of their child contracting a potentially fatal disease at school or in the grocery store because of another parent’s choice not to vaccinate their child.”

“As a mother, I know the decisions we make about our children's healthcare are deeply personal," said Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), the Assembly’s principal co-author of SB 277. “While I respect that fundamental right to make medical decisions for your own family, when a parent's decision to ignore science and medical fact puts other children at risk, we can't as a state condone it.”

SB 277 will require that only children that have been immunized for various diseases, including measles and Pertussis (whopping cough), be admitted to a school in California. The bill will also require schools to notify parents of immunization rates at their child’s school.

Under current law, a parent may choose to opt their child out of school vaccine requirements using the California’s personal belief exemption.  For the last year, a law authored by Dr. Pan has been in effect which now requires parents who utilize the personal belief exemption to first talk with a licensed health care practitioner about the impacts to their child and community. 

Statewide statistics showed that Dr. Pan’s 2012 change in law has led to a dramatic 20 percent decrease in parents opting out of vaccinating their kindergarteners, reversing a decade-long trend. However, in many communities across the state, immunization rates are still below 90 percent. In such communities, the protection provided by ‘'herd immunity’ can be at risk. When a community has lost heard immunity protection, many people are at risk of becoming infected including people who cannot be immunized such as infants, chemotherapy patients and those with HIV or other conditions.

Co-Authors of SB 277 include: Senate Pro Tem Kevin De Leon, Senators Beall, Block, Hall, Hertzberg, Hill, Jackson, Leno, McGuire, Mitchell, Stone, Wieckowski and Wolk and Assemblymembers Stone, Baker, Chu, Cooper, Low, McCarty, Nazarian, Rendon, Wood and Daly.

“I am pleased to coauthor legislation to get serious about immunizing our children from completely preventable deadly diseases,” said Senator Lois Wolk. “A good start is removing the personal belief exemption for those who deny proven science, refuse to vaccinate their children, and still send them to public schools, endangering other children and the community at large,” said Senator Lois Wolk.

“We have some of the lowest immunization rates in the nation and now we are seeing increases in preventable diseases.  We can do a better job of protecting children by listening to the medical experts and increasing our vaccination levels.  This bill will help us accomplish that goal,” said Senator Bob Wieckowski. 

“With the news of the current spread of Measles here in California, it is vitally important that people become vaccinated against this deadly disease.  We must all take the necessary steps to ensure we stop the spread of Measles, Whooping Cough, and numerous other highly-contagious diseases.  I want to thank Senator Pan for introducing this bill, and I am proud to join him as a co-author,” said Senator Jeff Stone, Pharm. D.

“The decision not to vaccinate is a personal choice, but it is a decision that affects everyone.  By allowing these potentially deadly communicable diseases to persist we are putting innocent and unsuspecting children and their families at risk,” said Assemblymember Jim Wood.

If this legislation is passed, California will join thirty-two other states that don’t allow parents to opt out of vaccination requirements using a personal belief exemption.