Leg­is­la­tors OK strict vac­cine re­quire­ment

The bill would bar belief ex­emp­tions for chil­dren in day care and schools. Will Gov. Brown sign it?

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Pa­trick McGreevy and Rong- Gong Lin I I

SACRA­MENTO — Cal­i­for­nia law­mak­ers on Thurs­day ap­proved one of the tough­est manda­tory vac­ci­na­tion re­quire­ments in the na­tion, mov­ing to end ex­emp­tions from state im­mu­niza­tion laws based on re­li­gious or other per­sonal be­liefs.

The mea­sure, among the most con­tro­ver­sial taken up by the Leg­is­la­ture this year, would re­quire more chil­dren who en­ter day care and school to be vac­ci­nated against dis­eases in­clud­ing measles and whoop­ing cough.

Those with med­i­cal con­di­tions such as al­ler­gies and im­mune- sys­tem de­fi­cien­cies, con­firmed by a physi­cian, would be ex­cused from im­mu­niza­tion. And par­ents could still de­cline to vac­ci­nate chil­dren who at­tend pri­vate home- based schools or public in­de­pen­dent stud- ies off cam­pus.

It is un­clear whether Gov. Jerry Brown will sign the mea­sure, which grew out of con­cern about low vac­ci­na­tion rates in some com­mu­ni­ties and an out­break of measles at Dis­ney­land that ul­ti­mately in­fected more than 150 peo­ple.

“The gover­nor be­lieves that vac­ci­na­tions are pro­foundly im­por­tant and a ma­jor public health ben­e­fit, and any bill that reaches his desk will be closely con­sid­ered,” Evan Westrup, the gover­nor’s spokesman, said Thurs­day.

If the bill be­comes law, Cal­i­for­nia will be the 32nd state to deny ex­emp­tions grounded in per­sonal or moral be­liefs, but only the third to bar ex­cep­tions based on re­li­gious con­vic­tions, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Con­fer­ence of State Leg­is­la­tures.

Med­i­cal ex­perts, in­clud­ing Dr. Luther Cobb, pres­i­dent of the Cal­i­for­nia Med­i­cal Assn., hailed Thurs­day’s vote by the state Assem­bly as key to keep­ing deadly but pre­ventable dis­eases in check.

“We’ve seen with this re­cent epi­demic that rates of im­mu­niza­tion are low enough that epi­demics can

be spread now,” Cobb said. “The rea­sons for fail­ing to im­mu­nize peo­ple … are based on un­sci­en­tific and un­true ob­jec­tions, and it’s just a good public- health mea­sure.”

“Peo­ple think these are triv­ial ill­nesses,” he said. “These are not. Peo­ple die from measles.”

The mea­sure, which had passed the state Se­nate but must re­turn there for the ex­pected ap­proval of mi­nor amend­ments, sparked im­pas­sioned de­bate among law­mak­ers and the public.

The dis­pute has some­times been ac­ri­mo­nious.

Sen. Richard Pan ( DSacra­mento), a pe­di­a­tri­cian and an au­thor of the bill, has re­ceived death threats. And op­po­nents of the pro­posal have filed pa­pers with the state to ini­ti­ate the process of re­call­ing Pan and Sen. Bill Mon­ning ( D- Carmel), a vo­cal sup­porter, from of­fice.

Hun­dreds of par­ents be­sieged the Capi­tol dur­ing a se­ries of leg­isla­tive hear­ings to op­pose the bill in the belief that vac­cines are un­safe, that the pro­posal would vi­o­late their pri­vacy rights and that they alone — not the state — should choose whether to vac­ci­nate their chil­dren.

More gath­ered for the vote on Thurs­day.

“This bill puts the state be­tween chil­dren and par­ents re­gard­less of your po­si­tion on vac­ci­na­tion,” said Luke Van der Westhuyzem, a par­ent from Wal­nut Creek who was among dozens of protesters at the Capi­tol.

As­sem­bly­woman Lorena Gon­za­lez ( D- San Diego), who voted for the mea­sure, said she un­der­stood the per­sonal na­ture of par­ents’ de­ci­sions about their chil­dren’s health.

“While I re­spect the fun­da­men­tal right to make that de­ci­sion as a fam­ily,” Gonza- lez told her col­leagues, “we must bal­ance that with the fact that none of us has the right to en­dan­ger oth­ers.”

Assem­bly­man Mike Gatto, a Glendale Demo­crat, voted against the bill, say­ing it vi­o­lated parental rights.

“The broad­ness of this bill likely dooms it from a con­sti­tu­tional stand­point,” Gatto said, ac­cus­ing the state of “in­fring­ing on the rights of chil­dren to at­tend school.”

More than 13,500 Cal­i­for­nia kinder­garten stu­dents cur­rently have waivers based on their par­ents’ be­liefs. A par­ent group, A Voice For Choice, found Thurs­day’s vote “un­set­tling,” spokes­woman Christina Hilde­brand said.

If Brown signs it, she said, her or­ga­ni­za­tion plans to chal­lenge the mea­sure in court or with a ref­er­en­dum.

“We are pulling out all the stops,” she said. “This bill is un­con­sti­tu­tional.”

Dr. Cather­ine Son­quist For­est, med­i­cal di­rec­tor of the Stan­ford Health Care clinic in Los Al­tos, said im­mu­niz­ing more peo­ple is es­sen­tial to pro­tect ba­bies too young to re­ceive vac­cines.

“This isn’t a ques­tion of per­sonal choice,” For­est said. “This is an obli­ga­tion to so­ci­ety.”

For­est is car­ing for a 4year- old boy dy­ing of a rare com­pli­ca­tion of measles that in­fected his brain. He was in­fected when he was 5 months old and too young to be vac­ci­nated.

Ariel Loop is a Pasadena mother whose 4- month- old boy, Mo­bius, con­tracted the measles dur­ing the Dis­ney­land out­break. She ex­pressed re­lief that law­mak­ers ap­proved the pro­posal.

“I’m hop­ing Jerry Brown does the right thing and signs it once it gets through the last Se­nate [ vote],” Loop said.

The bill, SB 277 by Pan and Demo­crat Ben­jamin Allen of Santa Mon­ica, passed the Assem­bly on a bi­par­ti­san 46- to- 31 vote.

Rich Pe­dron­celli As­so­ci­ated Press

PAR­ENTS and other op­po­nents of a pro­posal re­quir­ing nearly all school­child­ren to be vac­ci­nated gather at the Capi­tol for the Assem­bly’s vote on Thurs­day.

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