While a move to abolish the vaccine "personal belief exemption" has dominated headlines in the last weeks across California, two other vaccine-related bills are making their way through the Legislature a bit more quietly. One would require preschool and child care workers to have certain vaccinations; another seeks to improve vaccination rates for 2-year-olds.
If SB792 becomes law, California will be the first state in the country to require that all preschool and child care workers be immunized against measles, pertussis and the flu.
Sen. Tony Mendoza (D-Montebello) says that most people are startled to find out such a mandate is not already in place. "Most people … say 'We don't do that now?' " he said. "So this is something that's needed."
As the bill currently reads, violations would be a criminal offense. Mendoza says lawmakers are working to change that.
Kat DeBurgh is the executive director of the Health Officers Association of California, which sponsored SB792. She said the bill is about disease control.
“We certainly aren’t out to arrest people who aren’t vaccinated,” DeBurgh said. “We wanted to make this just like any other violation of code that an inspector would look for. If you don’t remediate, then there is a fine to the day care center.”
Child care workers who cannot show proof of vaccination would be given 90 days to comply -- or employers would be required to fire them. If the employer failed to fire an unvaccinated worker, the company would face a fine of $25-$50 per day. The fines would begin after 90 days.
Mendoza compared the requirement to tuberculosis tests, which are already required for child care workers.
“If you don't come back with proof that you took the [tuberculosis] test and show that you’re negative, you can't come back to work,” he said. “It’s the same.”
If the bill becomes law, it would affect more than 300,000 child care workers in more than 40,000 child care centers across the state, according to Community Care Licensing Division of the California Department of Social Services (CDSS).
While philosophical and religious exemptions to immunization have been discussed when amending other vaccination bills, Mendoza said, lawmakers drafting SB792 are only allowing for medical exemption.
“I haven’t seen any religion against [vaccination,]” Mendoza said. ”If people want to read into their religion in a certain way to make it seem like they're against this as a religious right, I'm not sure how they do that.”
Another bill, AB1117, aims to promote vaccination of 2-year-olds who are insured under Medi-Cal managed care plans. In 2013, 39,000 2-year-olds lacked one or more recommended immunizations.
The bill proposes a five-year demonstration project to be reviewed under a contract with the University of California and other researchers. AB1117 is currently on hold in the Assembly suspense file.
SB792 was scheduled to be heard by the Senate Appropriations Committee Monday, but since there are few costs associated with the bill, it is likely to bypass Appropriations and head to the Senate floor.