California Governor Signs Bill Limiting School Vaccine Exemptions

Sharon Bernstein

June 30, 2015

California Governor Jerry Brown on Tuesday signed a bill eliminating the state's personal beliefs exemption for school vaccine requirements - legislation that was prompted by a measles outbreak at Disneyland linked to low vaccination rates.

The new law, which makes California only the third state to eliminate religious and other personal vaccine exemptions, generated vociferous opposition from some parents, many of them fearing what scientists say is a debunked link between childhood vaccinations and autism.

"The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases," Brown, a Democrat, wrote in his signing message. "While it's true that no medical intervention is without risk, the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community." 

In December, more than 100 people were sickened in a measles outbreak traced to the Disneyland theme park in Southern California.

Epidemiologists later said the outbreak was linked to vaccination rates, which have dropped in parts of the state where parents, many of them liberal and affluent, fear their children will suffer side effects or develop autism if they comply with recommended vaccine schedules.

California, like other U.S. states, mandated vaccinations for school children decades ago, after it was shown that inoculation could prevent such childhood scourges as polio, pertussis and measles.

But the state allowed parents to opt out based on personal or religious beliefs.

Brown's decision to sign the bill marks an about-face for the governor, who three years ago opposed eliminating the religious exemption for school vaccines.

Opponents took out a full-page ad in the Sacramento Bee, an influential newspaper in California's state capital, urging him to veto the measure by invoking the argument that pharmaceutical companies are behind the push to vaccinate children.

"Governor Brown, what do you stand for?" read the ad by a group calling itself Concerned Mamas and Grandmas. "People or profits?"

In addition to parents in liberal communities like Santa Monica and Marin County, religious conservatives also opposed the law, saying it represented an erosion of religious freedom.

The new law does allow parents to obtain medical waivers from vaccinations for their children.

It also gives many parents years to comply, grandfathering in all personal beliefs exemptions filed before Jan. 1, 2016, until children complete their "grade spans," defined as the years from birth to preschool, kindergarten to sixth grade, and seventh through 12th grades.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Bill Trott and Eric Beech)


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