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California Gov. Jerry Brown Signs Vaccination Bill Eliminating Personal Belief Exemptions

Children entering public and private schools in California are now required to receive a schedule of vaccinations and their parents can no longer opt out of the shots based on personal beliefs, as Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 277 into law Tuesday. 

The bill was authored by state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, who is also a pediatrician. One of the bill's co-authors is Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, who represents Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

Now, elementary and secondary private and public schools, day cares, child care centers, development centers and nurseries are all covered by the law, which requires pupils to get immunized by July 1, 2016, in order to be enrolled in the fall.

Students in a home-based private school or independent study program who do not receive classroom-based instruction would be exempt.

Jackson said that she was pleased the Governor had signed the bill into law, and that it was a "balanced and reasonable approach" that puts the health of communities and children first while allowing for medical exemptions at a doctor's discretion.

“As a parent and a grandparent, I support vaccines," Jackson said. "They are a safe and effective way to protect our school children from highly preventable yet very serious diseases like measles and whooping cough.”

Passage of the law comes at a time when the state has suffered both measles and pertussis outbreaks. Santa Barbara County reported its first infant death from whooping cough earlier this year after a unvaccinated caretaker reportedly spread the disease to the baby.

Though Santa Barbara County saw 195 kindergartners entering schools under the personal belief exemptions in the 2014-15 school year, a nearly 2 percent drop from the previous year, rates remain high, especially in certain schools, according to numbers from the California Department of Public Health.

For example, Waldorf School had an opt-out rate of 87 percent of kindergartners in the 2013 school year.

Statewide, 90.7 percent of kindergartners entered public school this year with all required immunizations, while only 86.6 percent of kindergartners at private schools had the required shots.

In a memo to the State Senate sent out Tuesday morning, Brown acknowledged that the bill has garnered widespread interested and controversy, "with both proponents and opponents expressing their positions with eloquence and sincerity."

Brown said that the science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases.

"While it's true that no medical intervention is without the risk, the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community," he wrote.

Brown noted that the law had been amended after considerable debate to exempt a child from immunizations whenever the child's physician concludes that there are medical circumstances which could cause the doctor to not recommend immunization.

Dr. Dan Brennan, a pediatrician at Sansum Clinic, said Tuesday he feels the new law will help rebuild school immunity levels back up to 95 percent, the level needed to achieve herd immunity.

When that happens, "then we will have created a safer place for all of our friends, neighbors and relatives who live with fragile immune systems," Brennan said.

The pediatrician said the community still has much work to do, and added that local parents coming into his office "overwhelmingly been looking to immunize their children."

A current vaccination schedule as well as where parents can take their children locally to stay up to date on vaccinations can be found here.

"I am hopeful that SB 277 will continue to help with this momentum," Brennan said.

Dr. Takashi Wada, Director of Santa Barbara County's Public Health Department, said that vaccines are the best tool control the spread of preventable diseases like measles and whooping cough.

"They prevent illness not only in the individual and their families, but also protect the broader community as there are many individuals who are not able to receive immunizations for medical reasons" Wada said.

"The Public Health Department will certainly work with our local partners to fully implement provisions of the bill and vaccination rates in school age children would likely improve within the county.” 

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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