Two-Thirds of Californians Support Barring Unvaccinated Children from Public School

 (Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images)

Just over two-thirds of California adults -- and nearly as many parents of public school students -- say unvaccinated children should not be allowed to attend public schools, according to a new statewide survey from the Public Policy Institute of California.

The survey comes as a bill to end California's personal belief exemption for vaccines has been passed by the Senate and will be taken up by the Assembly this summer.  Each hearing of the bill so far has brought hundreds of opponents to the Capitol.

Under the bill, SB277, children would be required to be vaccinated in order to attend school. Only those who could not be vaccinated for medical reasons would be exempt.

The PPIC survey asked about three dozen questions on a range of issues. Just two were about vaccines, and neither asked specifically if people supported overturning the vaccine exemption. Here is the first question:

Should children who have not been vaccinated from diseases like measles, mumps, and rubella be allowed to attend public schools, or not?

Sixty-seven percent of adults and 65 percent of public school parents said that unvaccinated students should not be allowed in public school. But under SB277, unvaccinated students would not be allowed in either public or private schools. Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO, acknowledged that the question was "not precisely the issue on the legislative agenda."

What's interesting about the question is that the PPIC singled out measles, mumps and rubella -- and support for required vaccination was still very strong. The measles vaccine has caused significant concern after a 1998 study claimed a link between the vaccine and autism. That study has since been discredited.

The second question was about vaccine safety:

In general, how safe are vaccines given to children for diseases like measles, mumps, and rubella—very safe, somewhat safe, not very safe, or not safe at all?

Eighty-seven percent of adults and 88 percent of public school parents said vaccines were either "very safe" or "somewhat safe." More than half of respondents were in the "very safe" category. Seven percent of adults said vaccines were "not very safe" and three percent said they were "not safe at all."

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Baldassare said that the results were consistent across all the state's regions, as well as political and demographic groups, although Latinos were much less likely than whites to say that vaccines are very safe (49 percent vs. 65 percent).

"Generally speaking, we found that it was the college graduates and those with some college who were more likely to say that vaccines are very safe," Baldassare said, "compared to those with high school degrees or less."

State Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) is one of the authors of SB277. He was enthusiastic about the findings, noting that "(t)he poll shows overwhelming majorities of California parents support SB277, understand that vaccines are safe and believe the personal belief exemption is putting our kids and communities at risk of preventable diseases."

The telephone survey of 1,706 California adults was conducted during the week of May 17-27. It was funded by the James Irvine Foundation.

The poll also included some questions about the legalization of marijuana. PPIC says a "record high" percentage of Californians -- 54 percent -- support legalizing marijuana; 44 percent oppose it.

The results of the PPIC poll are in line with a national poll conducted by CBS News in February, which found that 66 percent of Americans think parents should be required to vaccinate their children, and 64 percent say unvaccinated children should not be permitted to attend public school.