California Is About to Ban 'Personal Belief' Exemptions for Vaccinations

California’s anti-vaxxers will no longer be able send their unvaccinated kids to school, if a bill passed by the State Assembly gets signed into law.

Jun 25 2015, 6:00pm

Image: VCU CNS/Flickr

California's anti-vaxxers will no longer be able send their unvaccinated kids to school, if a bill passed by the State Assembly gets signed into law. The just-approved bill closes the loophole allowing parents to not vaccinate their child due to personal beliefs.

Under the bill, parents can still choose not to vaccinate their children if they wish, but those kids won't be allowed to attend public schools or daycares, and will have to either be homeschooled or enter a private school. There are a few exceptions: kids who can't be vaccinated for medical reasons are exempt from the ruling, and only 10 specific vaccines are required, including the vaccines for measles, mumps, and rubella. Children who have special education needs will also still be guaranteed access to resources they need if they are booted from public school for being unvaccinated.

"This past year we saw a small snapshot of what can happen when our community or herd immunity starts to drop," said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), referring to a measles outbreak at the end of last year as well as an increase in cases of whooping cough. It's essential to have a critical mass of people immunized if we want to achieve herd immunity, which protects those who can't be vaccinated, like the 12 babies who contracted measles in California during the outbreak because they were too young to be vaccinated.

"What happens next time? Do we wait until we have a full-fledged crisis to protect our most vulnerable?" Gonzalez asked.

It wasn't an easy sell. Assembly members on both sides were divided on the issue, citing concerns about rights to education access, freedom of personal choice, and whether the risk is even that high, considering how few people opt out of vaccinating their kids. The vote was 46-30 in favor of the bill.

Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Glendale) expressed concern that this bill was a step too far in the government's interference with parents' rights to care for their children. He also noted that since it only concerns attending public schools, it might not make much of an impact.

"[Unvaccinated children] are still free to play football with other kids, to mingle with them at church," Gatto said.

The Senate already approved the bill last month after a long and heated debate that drew protestors on both sides of the issue. It received a few amendments when the Assembly's health committee reviewed it earlier this month, like allowing doctors to consider family history when determining a medical exemption. The bill now will go back to the Senate, which will need to vote on the amendments before the bill lands on the Governor's desk, but it's likely the Senate will move quickly to approve those changes today.

The anti-vaccination movement has had a noticeable impact on vaccination rates around the country and have been blamed, at least in part, for the recent outbreaks of measles, mumps, and pertussis that have been cropping up in the last few years.

Though overall immunization rates in California school children is just under 90 percent, it's too low for herd immunity in many diseases.

This bill certainly doesn't solve the problem—as Gatto pointed out, having people walking around unvaccinated still puts others at risk—but it's a step towards forcing at least some parents to reconsider their choices. More public education to help everyone understand that the research overwhelmingly shows vaccines are safe and have no link to autism would help, too.

But today, we can chock it up to a win for science.