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Jackson Supports Law That Would End Exemptions for Unvaccinated Children

A state senator representing Santa Barbara and Ventura counties is lending her support to two lawmakers who announced they're crafting a bill that that would eliminate personal exemptions from law and require children to be vaccinated unless they have an underlying medical condition that prevents them from doing so.

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson appeared at a press conference on Wednesday as fellow Sen. Richard Pan, a pediatrician, announced he would introduce the legislation that would end exemptions for unvaccinated children.

"These are very, very containable childhood diseases and the creation of the personal exemptions has resulted in a real health threat to the general public," Jackson said.

Jackson said that she was born before many of the vaccines had been introduced, and in those days, "we got the measles." 

As recently as 2000, the United States declared the measles eradicated, she said, calling vaccines "victims of their own success."

The personal belief exemption was originally crafted to provide space for those whose religious beliefs prohibit them from seeking out medical care, but Jackson said "it's hard to say what the motivation is" for the high rates of children that are unvaccinated currently.

"There's been an enormous amount of misinformation that has scared a lot of parents," she said, adding that vaccines are safe for most children, unless they have an underlying medical condition.

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, according to numbers from the California Department of Public Health.

Still, rates remain high, especially in certain schools.

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.

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

The language of the law hasn't been completely fleshed out yet, but states that vaccinations shall be required for admission to school or other institutions, unless the child has a physical condition or medical circumstance that contraindicate vaccination.

Jackson said that Dr. Pan, who co-authored the bill, "has indicated a willingness to have that conversation" about leaving an exemption for religious objections, "but they would have to be very narrowly crafted."

Jackson said she hopes to co-author the bill, which will have its first hearing in March and can be amended throughout the process.

"I'm looking forward to a robust open debate," she said. "We have to ask ourselves not only how does this impact our children but how does this impact our entire community."

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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