Two California state senators recently introduced a bill to tighten vaccination requirements in response to the ongoing measles outbreak.
Senate Bill 277, drafted by Sen. Richard Pan of Sacramento and Sen. Ben Allen of District 26would eliminate many vaccination exemptions and would force parents to vaccinate their children. According to Pan, the bill would eliminate current “personal belief exemptions” that allow parents to not immunize their children due to religious beliefs.
California is currently one out of 19 states that accepts religious beliefs as a release from vaccination. According to a San Jose Mercury News article, California would be one of two other states — Mississippi and West Virginia — to allow only medical exemptions as reasons to keep children unvaccinated.
Measles, eliminated in 2000, appeared again in California’s Disneyland in late December. As reported by the San Jose Mercury News, at least 119 Californians are infected with the measles virus and numbers are growing. In addition, 28 out of 34 measles patients were unvaccinated, according to state health officials.
The bill directly targets personal belief exemptions, and proponents argue that those who choose not to vaccinate are the source of the problem. Although still in the process of being passed, California has set a precedent for tightening vaccination requirements in the past. A bill, drafted by Pan, that aimed to heighten vaccine requirements was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2012. However the prior bill allowed religious exemptions.
After backlash from the religious community, Pan addressed the bill’s termination of religious exemption. “I’m certainly open to the discussion about the necessity and the nature of any proposed religious exemption,” Pan said. Outcry from parents of children like Carl Krawitt of Marin, the father of a 6-year-old Leukemia patient, has pushed the bill forward.
Krawitt has publicly called for tightened vaccine requirements. He even sendt a letter to the school district and asked for unvaccinated children to be barred from attending school.
Krawitt’s son, a cancer patient, will be affected more dramatically than others if he contracts measles and can not be vaccinated due to medical incapability.
As stated in a Cable New Netowk (CNN) article, Krawitt feels the pressure to make others at the school, who are medically capable of being immunized, get vaccines to prevent the spread of measles.
According to the California Department of Public Health, 6.45 percent of kindergarteners in Marin are unvaccinated this year; some of the highest rates of “personal belief exemptions”, that allow parents to send unvaccinated children to school, can be found in the Bay Area. Some schools have already responded to the issue.
After a Southern California outbreak in late January, twenty unvaccinated students were banned from school for three weeks, the incubation period for the disease. Parents are not the only ones pushing for change. Legislation is appearing nationwide requiring parents to immunize their children.
United States Sen. Barbara Boxer introduced a bill on Feb. 12 requiring children in the nationwide YMCA Head Start program to be immunized.
“People don’t understand how dangerous this disease is,” Boxer said in a speech to the Emeryville Head Start School. “ It blows my mind. You are not only endangering your child, but others and that is not right.”
With the cases of measles increasing, both families and legislators are feeling the pressure to address the problem head on. Bills are being passed to tighten requirements of immunization against the disease, and schools are becoming stricter in their policies.