A bill that would prevent parents from sending unvaccinated kids to school with waivers citing religious or personal beliefs succeeded in its first legislative test Wednesday, passing out of the state Senate Health Committee by 6-2.
The bill, SB277, must pass two other committees before moving to the Senate floor for a vote. Then it faces another series of tests in the Assembly.
The public comment period before Wednesday's vote lasted for hours, with hundreds of individuals stepping to the mic to oppose the bill. One mother said she represented parents who are "pro-choice" on vaccinations.
But health officials say the recent Disneyland measles outbreak was fueled by unvaccinated children. A mother in support of the bill said that her 4-month-old son contracted measles in January, before he was old enough to get his vaccines, and that he's still having trouble with his eyes.
"This is a holocaust, what this is doing to our country,” said Kennedy, who is a vaccine skeptic.
There is little to no evidence that vaccines cause autism or other serious illnesses, as many who renounce them claim. That has not stopped the trend of opting out. The L.A. Times reports "more than 13,500 kindergarten students in California currently have waivers based on their parents’ personal beliefs and that number has been increasing."
If SB277 passes, California would join Mississippi and West Virginia as the states with the strictest vaccine rules in the country.
KQED's Vaccination Coverage
A controversial bill that would prevent California parents from opting out of vaccinations for personal reasons is headed for a key vote in the Senate Health Committee Wednesday, and a majority of the lawmakers appear to still be undecided.
SB277, co-authored by Sen. Richard Pan, a pediatrician, would end the state’s personal belief exemption and require that children entering school in California be immunized for various diseases, including chickenpox, whooping cough and measles.
Similar efforts in Oregon and Washington state failed recently after anti-vaccine groups argued the legislation would undermine the rights of parents to make decisions for their children.
Reporter Tracy Seipel wrote about the legislation in the San Jose Mercury News last weekend, and KQED's Tara Siler talked to her Monday about the bill's prospects. Seipel said an informal poll of the nine-member committee showed five undecideds, with three in favor and one against. The undecideds, Seipel says, have been getting a lot of pressure from both vaccine advocates and those who believe vaccination should remain a choice.
Seipel also said that unlike in Oregon and Washington, the pro-vaccine contingent has gained equal traction, mobilized by the Disneyland measles outbreak.
You can listen to the full interview here.
April Dembosky contributed to this report.