California State Senate passes bill to remove personal belief exemption for vaccines

California State Senate passes bill to remove personal belief exemption for vaccines

The California State Senate passed Senate Bill 277 (SB 277) on May 15 with a vote of 25-10. The bill will remove the personal belief exemption that allows parents to opt out of vaccinating their children of state mandated vaccines.

The bill was introduced by Senator Richard Pan D-Sacramento and Senator Ben Allen D-Santa Monica. Senator Richard Pan is a pediatrician at the UC Davis Medical Center who, in 2014, became a state senator.

“The vote in the California Assembly is still pending; the bill is not yet a state law,” Kathryn Deriemer, an associate professor at the UC Davis Department of  Public Health Sciences, said in an email interview.

According to Catherine Flores Martin, the director of California Immunization Coalition, the bill should not have a large impact on most of the population as the majority of children in California has been vaccinated. According to the Department of Public Health Immunization Branch, the implementation of current vaccine requirements has been effective in covering 92 percent of children in licensed childcare facilities and kindergartens.

According to Martin, vaccines became a public debate last year after the December measles outbreak in Disneyland. There were 23 outbreaks and 44 cases of measles in the United States last year.

“When you have outbreaks like that, it highlights how…a lot of folks didn’t realize how contagious measles are and how dangerous they can be,”  Martin said.

According to Martin, many parents live without witnessing the proliferation of diseases such as smallpox as they were previously eradicated due to existing immunization policies in the past. Martin says these parents may not understand the risk of not immunizing poses to the community.

“The goal of the bill is to protect students and communities from future outbreaks of childhood infectious diseases through increased vaccination coverage, and to protect the health and educational rights of kids who can’t be vaccinated,” Deriemer said.

This bill will eliminate the exemption based on personal beliefs on existing specified immunization. However, it will allow exemption from appropriate future immunization requirements as decided by the State Department of Public Health based on medical reasons or personal beliefs. The bill also allows exemption for children in a home-based private school and students enrolled in independent study programs.

The vaccinations covered under this bill include Diphtheria, Hepatitis B, Measles, Mumps, Whooping Cough, Polio, Rubella, Tetanus, Chickenpox and Haemophilus Influenzae Type B. The bill states that it would include additional diseases to be covered after taking into consideration the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices under the US Department of Health and Human Services, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians.

According to Byung-Kwang Yoo, an associate professor in the  UC Davis Department of Public Health Sciences, the provision of vaccines to low-income families will be supported by the federal program Vaccine for Children, which will partly reduce the financial burden of vaccination. The program covers the vaccine purchase only and does not cover the vaccine administration cost. Yoo asserts that the Medicaid program in California could increase the reimbursement rate for child vaccine administration cost.

“Vaccinations have been historically one of the most successful public health/medical interventions,” Yoo said. “At present, child vaccinations are the most economically efficient health interventions.”

Graphic by Jennifer Wu.