Senate Judiciary Committee Agrees: Public Health and School Safety are Priorities for Vaccine Law

Senate Bill 277 has now been vetted by Senate Health Committee, Senate Education Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee

April 28, 2015

SACRAMENTO 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 to boost vaccine rates by closing California’s vaccine exemption loophole, was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a vote of 5 to 1. 

While most bills are heard in one or two policy committees, SB 277 has had the benefit of being scrutinized by three separate policy committees and has received overwhelming support along the way as well as co-authors from both parties.

“A child should never have to suffer through and possibly die from a vaccine-preventable disease,” said Dr. Richard Pan, a State Senator representing Sacramento. “The personal belief exemption is now putting other school children and people in our community in danger, and if we fail to act, we will continue to see outbreaks just like the one at Disneyland.”

“I am pleased that today the Judiciary Committee voted for SB277, underscoring what the courts have recognized for over a century: that there is a compelling state interest in protecting public health by taking reasonable measures to increase vaccination rates and protect public health,” said State Senator Ben Allen of District 26.  “This measure seeks to protect kids and their families and prevent the likelihood of outbreaks, and the state has the right and arguably the responsibility to take action when public health is threatened.” 

 “It is ridiculous and infuriating that in 2015 I have to worry that my son might get measles or whooping cough,” said Leah Russin, a mother from Palo Alto who is advocating for passage of SB 277 to protect her 18-month old son from vaccine-preventable diseases. “These diseases should not come back and parents who don’t accept medical science should not be allowed put my child at risk of potentially fatal diseases.”

“I believe in the safety and efficacy of vaccines. I also believe the state has an obligation to protect the public health of its citizens. SB 277, of which I’m a co-author, strikes a balance between individual rights and the common good, and responsibly strengthens our vaccine laws to protect children and keep our schools safe in the wake of recent outbreaks of serious diseases like measles and whooping cough,” said Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara).

A long list of school boards, education groups, local governments, health organizations and parent and child advocacy groups support SB 277.  The list includes: the California Medical Association, Vaccinate California, American Academy of Pediatrics, California State PTA, 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:

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.  Under the proposed measure, parents who decide not to vaccinate will have to home-school their children, 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. 

When a contagion spreads in a community with immunization rates below 90 percent, the protection provided by ‘'herd immunity’ can be at risk. Children who cannot be vaccinated because they are too young or are being treated for cancer or other conditions that suppress the immune symptoms depend on high vaccination rates.

As the number of unvaccinated people increases, diseases are returning.  For example, in 2010, there were 9,120 cases of pertussis reported in California – more than any year since 1947.  Ten babies died as a result of that outbreak.  Measles infections have risen from 37 in 2004 to 644 infections in 2014; and this year, there was the outbreak that began at Disneyland, which has infected 147 people in the United States.  

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.  Andrew Wakefield who was later found to be lying authored the fraudulent study. 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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