State Sen. Ben Allen announcing legislation to close the vaccine exemption loophole. Sen. Richard Pan is at Allen’s right. Photo courtesy Allen’s office

The growing measles epidemic has prompted two California lawmakers to push for a bill eliminating the “personal belief” exemption that some parents use to avoid vaccinating their children.

Sens. Ben Allen from Santa Monica and Richard Pan from Sacramento said they intended to introduce a bill eliminating the controversial exemption. The two are both Democrats, and Pan is a pediatrician.

“As a pediatrician, I’ve been worried about the anti-vaccination trend for a long time,” said Pan at a press conference Wednesday in Sacramento. “I’ve personally witnessed the suffering caused by these preventable diseases.”

Allen said California’s“high number of unvaccinated students is jeopardizing public health not only in schools but in the broader community.”

The effort drew lukewarm response Thursday from a legislator who represents a district in Orange County with one of the highest rates of unvaccinated children. Sen. Patricia Bates, a Republican representing San Juan Capistrano, favors vaccinations and has led efforts to get more children vaccinated, but indicated  she wants to study the proposed legislation further before committing any support.

Assemblyman Don Wagner, a Republican from Irvine, said he supports what Allen and Pan are trying to do in general, but wants to see the specific language in the bill before committing to it.

“In general, I think I am supportive of what the legislation is trying to do. But I would continue to support religious exemptions,” Wagner said, adding that he strongly encourages parents to vaccinate their children.

A total of 99 cases of measles have been reported in California, according to the California Department of Public Health. There have been 22 cases reported in Los Angeles County and 31 in Orange County. Riverside County has five and San Diego County 13. There were seven cases of measles reported in Ventura County. Most of the cases are linked to an outbreak at Disneyland in December.

Under current California law, parents can choose not to vaccinate their children before entering school, although beginning in 2014 parents must first receive information from a licensed healthcare provider about the benefits and risks of vaccinations and the risks of vaccine-preventable diseases. This change was intended to stem the decline in vaccinations.

City News Service contributed to this article.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.