A contentious bill that would require all California children to be vaccinated in order to attend school -- public or private -- was passed by the Assembly Health Committee Tuesday night.
The vote was 12-6 and included often-emotional testimony. Hundreds of people lined up to state their opposition to the bill, and the hearing stretched to five hours.
SB277 would end the "personal belief exemption," which allows parents to send their children to school missing some or all vaccines.
The bill was introduced with minor amendments to clarify some language in the bill. Just before voting, one of the bill's authors, Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) agreed to add another amendment further clarifying that doctors may consider family history in granting a medical exemption.
Testimony included a statement from Dr. Catherine Forest, a family physician who is medical director of the Stanford primary care clinic in Los Altos.
She is currently treating a 4-year-old boy who has been entered into hospice care. The boy contracted measles as a baby when he was too young to be vaccinated. At first, he seemed to recover fully, but then a year ago, he started to decline and was diagnosed with a rare complication of measles, subacute sclerosing panencephalitis or SSPE, which is thought to be caused by persistent measles virus infection in the brain.
Forest said the boy's death "will be due to a failure of our herd immunity." In a later interview, she added, "This child will die just because we don't all get immunized. Period."
Barbara Loe Fisher of the Virginia-based National Vaccine Information Center, is an outspoken skeptic of vaccine safety. "No doctor in California, or public health official at the CDC in Atlanta, can accurately predict whether or not a child will suffer brain inflammation, injury or death after vaccination," she said at the hearing.
The bill heads next to the Assembly floor. If it becomes law, California would join Mississippi and West Virginia as states with the most strict vaccine laws in the country.