Bill to Protect Every Student’s Right to be Safe at School Passes First Legislative Hurdle in Senate Health Committee

Senate Bill 277 by Senators Pan and Allen will end California’s Vaccine Exemption Loophole

April 8, 2015

SACRAMENTO – Following a measles outbreak that infected 147 people nationwide, a measure 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 to abolish the personal belief exemption that currently allows parents to opt their child out of vaccines in our schools was passed by the Senate Health Committee today on a vote of 6 to 2.

“As a pediatrician and a father myself, I respect the very personal decisions that parents have to make for their children every day,” said Dr. Richard Pan, a State Senator representing Sacramento. “But I’ve personally witnessed the suffering caused by vaccine-preventable diseases, and all children deserve to be safe at school.  The personal belief exemption is now putting other school children and people in our community in danger.”

“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. “It is unacceptable for children to contract potentially fatal diseases at school or in the grocery store because we failed to act.” 

Under California’s personal belief exemption, 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 and only a medical exemption would remain.  SB 277 will not remove a parent’s choice to vaccinate his or her child.  However, choice brings with it responsibility, and under the proposed measure, parents who decide not to vaccinate will have to home-school their children. 

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. 

Because Dr. Pan has been concerned about the anti-vaccine movement for a long time, he authored a measure in 2012 that required parents who exempt a child from school vaccinations to first talk with a licensed health care practitioner about the impacts to their child and community. In the first year the state law was implemented, 20 percent fewer parents used the personal belief exemption.  However, in many communities across the state, over 10 percent of parents are using California’s personal belief exemption.

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.