A child being vaccinated. Photo courtesy Centers for Disease Control
A child being vaccinated. Photo courtesy Centers for Disease Control

Updated at 3 p.m. June 30, 2015

Almost all school children in San Diego and across California will be required to be vaccinated against diseases such as measles and whooping cough under legislation signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Jerry Brown.

SB 277 was co-sponsored by Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, and Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento. Pan is also a pediatrician. The legislation was prompted in part by an outbreak of measles traced to Disneyland that began in late December and ultimately spread to more than 130 people across the state. Cases were also reported in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nebraska, Oregon, Utah and Washington state.

The legislation eliminates vaccination exemptions based on religious or personal beliefs. It will require all children entering kindergarten to be vaccinated unless a doctor certifies that a child has a medical condition, such as allergies, preventing it.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, applauded the decision. She principal co-author for for the bill in the assembly.

“As a mom, there’s nothing more important to me than making sure our kids are kept safe – especially when we have the means to protect them from preventable diseases,” Gonzalez said.

Brown, in a bill-signing message sent to the state Senate, acknowledged there was opposition to the bill, but said children’s health is important to protect.

“The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infection and dangerous diseases,” Brown wrote in his message. “While it’s true that no medical intervention is without risk, the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community.”

Brown noted that the legislation exempts children from immunizations if there are “circumstances, including but not limited to, family medical history for which the physician does not recommend immunization.”

Opponents criticized the bill as infringing on the rights of parents to make medical decisions for their children. Randy Thomasson, president of SaveCalifornia.com, said it “denies parents the right to exempt genetically susceptible brothers and sisters of vaccine-injured children, denies parents a religious exemption and denies conscientious objectors a public-school education.”

Although the Disneyland outbreak happened in Orange County, nearly all of the county’s lawmakers opposed the legislation.

Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Tustin, who represents Anaheim, said he supports vaccination as a general rule, but he voted against the legislation because he felt it did too much to curtail choice among parents.

“I am a proponent of vaccines and I’ve got my kids vaccinated,” Wagner told City News Service. “I think by and large it’s the right thing to do from a medical and public health standpoint. However, there are people who have very legitimate concerns that are either religious or with their own particular children in the timing of the vaccines. I think it’s bad precedent to have the government run roughshod over those concerns, so my vote was to err on the side of freedom and liberty and parental choice.”

Sen. John Moorlach, R-Irvine, said he also does not oppose vaccinations in principle, but said he was concerned after hearing appeals from mothers who claimed their children were disabled or permanently injured by a shot.

“I’m not anti-vaccination. I’m just saying make sure the mothers are comfortable. Let them own the position. Once they understand it and once they’re convinced there’s no reactions” then they will support it, Moorlach told CNS. “I come from a place of freedom and liberty, and to be told I have to do something or face dire consequences, it just smacks of totalitarianism.”

Moorlach also said he has concerns about “big pharmaceutical” companies having an undue influence on the debate.

“When I was a kid it was three shots, then when my kids were growing up it was eight shots,” Moorlach said.

Moorlach said he was especially moved by the anecdote from state Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Redding, who recounted on the Senate floor how his daughter suffered a frightening reaction to a vaccination.

“We took her in for shots and she had a seizure that night and we had to rush her into a hospital where they stabilized her and did an MRI” and found the coating around the brain had separated, Gaines told City News Service. “The doctors said we don’t want your child to have any more vaccinations for 10 years, so we were very careful with spreading those out. She’s vaccinated — she’s 13 now — so we had to take a very slow approach.”

Sen. Patricia Bates, R-San Juan Capistrano, said she supports vaccinations but opposed the bill.

“While the bill grandfathers in non-vaccinated children currently attending public schools, it does not apply to their younger siblings who have yet to enter school,” she wrote in a letter to constituents. “This would force parents to either violate their personal beliefs or take them out of public school.

“Simply put, SB 277 does not go far enough to ensure that non- vaccinated children receive equal access to the high quality public education that the California Constitution guarantees and therefore I cannot support it.”

Leah Russin, co-founder of Vaccinate California, an advocacy group that pushed for the legislation, said parents can now “breathe a sigh of relief knowing our children and others will be better protected from preventative diseases.”

Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction, said vaccination rates have dropped in schools in recent years, raising the risk of disease outbreaks.

“The bill protects the health of our children and our communities, especially those too young or too ill to receive vaccines,” Torlakson said. “The bill protects against the outbreaks of debilitating, crippling and costly preventable diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella and chicken pox. It will help keep students healthy so they can attend school, learn and succeed.”

— City News Service