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Boy Leukemia Patient Weighs in as Big Vaccine Exemption Vote Nears

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Rhett Krawitt, just weeks after starting chemotherapy, in 2010.  (Courtesy Carl Krawitt)

Rhett Krawitt, the 6-year-old Marin leukemia patient who became a vaccination poster child during the state measles outbreak that began in Disneyland, is going to Sacramento Wednesday to speak out in favor of SB277.

That bill, which would require all California children to be vaccinated in order to attend school, could come up for a floor vote in the state Assembly this week. SB277 has already passed the Senate.

Currently, parents can opt out of vaccinations through a personal belief exemption.

The debate over the bill has become a major battleground in the ongoing conflict between those who urge everyone to get vaccinated -- a group that includes the scientific and medical community -- and those who think the decision is personal. Many in that category believe vaccines are responsible for the rising autism rate, a proposition that has never been proved in any way, shape or form. As anyone knows who has gone down the rabbit hole of reading user comments on certain vaccine posts,  the back-and-forth between the two camps can get mega-vitriolic.

One interested party who's been following the progress of SB277 is Carl Krawitt, Rhett's father. Rhett could not be vaccinated during the measles scare because his immune system was still too weak, and was thus dependent on herd immunity. So his father publicly chastised those who voluntarily forgo vaccines, telling KQED's Lisa Aliferis, “If you choose not to immunize your own child and your own child dies because they get measles, OK, that’s your responsibility, that’s your choice. But if your child gets sick and gets my child sick and my child dies," he said, "then … your action has harmed my child.”


The story was picked up nationally, and the family has been using Rhett's high profile to push for the bill. Tomorrow, Rhett will speak at a press conference given by Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael). Rhett will also deliver to the governor a Change.org petition with more than 32,000 signatures calling for the bill's passage. (The site has many petitions related to the bill, it should be noted, both for and against.)

Carl Krawitt says he thinks the Assembly will pass the bill, but is concerned about Gov. Jerry Brown's position.

"He has been very silent," Krawitt says. "We know that [bill co-sponsor] Sen. Pan’s office has had meetings with the governor’s office, but there is no indication of the governor’s position on this issue. For me that’s troubling, because the governor is very outspoken on other issues of science -- global warming, the drought, for example. And SB277 is really rooted in scientific proof ... ."

That may be true, but as noted on KQED's California Politics Podcast last week, some Capitol observers think the fact that Brown's cabinet secretary, Dana Williamson, testified in support of SB277 at the Assembly's Health Committee hearing was an indication of which way the wind is blowing, even though Williamson emphasized she was speaking on her own behalf.

By the way, Rhett, now 7 and in full remission, began his schedule of vaccinations in February.

"We're very excited he's vaccinated," his father says. "When he wasn't vaccinated, we didn't travel much. ... We avoided crowded places.

"Now that he's vaccinated, I would feel perfectly safe going to Disneyland."

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