On June 25th, California’s assembly voted to approve a bill that would end religious and personal belief exemptions from vaccinations for school children. To officially pass, Gov. Jerry Brown will have to sign off on the bill as well.
The bill would make California the 32nd state to ban exemptions based on personal beliefs, but only the third, after Mississippi and West Virginia, to ban religious exemptions as well. If it were to pass, exemptions could only be made on the basis of medical complications such as severe allergies or family medical histories.
The bill would ultimately require that all children without exemptions receive the ten recommended vaccinations for diseases such as measles, varicella and pertussis in order to enroll in California public schools. Parents who choose not to vaccinate would be required to “home-school their child, participate in a multifamily private home-school or use public school independent study.”
The movement to eliminate exemptions gained momentum after a measles outbreak at Disneyland spread to infect 147 people across six states, Mexico and Canada last December. Those infected included individuals who opted out of vaccinations for religious, personal and medical reasons as well as those who were too young to receive the vaccination. Overall, 2014 was a record year for measles cases, with 668 reported incidences in 27 states—the greatest number since the elimination of measles in the U.S. in 2000.
The incident highlighted the risk posed to people who are unable to be vaccinated by those who choose not to vaccinate. Those who are unable to receive vaccinations, including babies or individuals undergoing cancer treatment, rely on “herd immunity,” or the concept that if a significant portion of a community is vaccinated, there is less risk of an outbreak, leaving fewer opportunities for exposure to the disease. Advocacy group Vaccinate California, warns, “the current rate of vaccination in too many of California’s schools is below the level needed for ‘herd immunity.’” California Sen. Richard Pan published a statement earlier this month stressing, “Children, pregnant women, seniors and people with cancer, organ transplants and other conditions are counting on us to make sure science prevails.”
Many parents who oppose the vaccination do so based on perceived links between vaccines and autism, although the CDC has publicly stated, “studies have shown that there is no link between receiving vaccines and developing ASD [Autism spectrum disorder].” Arguments against the bill itself assert that it sets a dangerous precedent by violating parental rights. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez addressed these concerns by stating, “While I respect the fundamental right to make that decision as a family, we must balance that with the fact that none of us has the right to endanger others.”
Much of the controversy surrounding the bill hinges on this difficult balance between parental rights and public health responsibility. Evan Westrup, spokesperson for the governor, reiterated Brown’s position that “vaccinations are profoundly important and a major public health benefit and any bill that reaches his desk will be closely considered.” The governor is expected to make a final decision soon, with many watching the outcome as a potential example for other state legislatures.
For more information on vaccinations, see this U.S. Department of Health and Human Services article, “Five Important Reasons to Vaccinate Your Child.”