California's Senate Health Committee has taken a step closer towards removing vaccine exemptions for schoolchildren, passing a bill on a 6-2 vote. At present, parents are exempted from vaccinating their school-going children based on personal or religious beliefs.
If the bill passes legislature and gets the governor's signature, it will make California the third state to implement such strict vaccine rules. West Virginia and Mississippi are the only other states that don't recognize personal or religious beliefs as legitimate exemptions for not vaccinating children.
Authored by Sen. Richard Pan, measure SB277 is still in the early stages of the legislative process. The hearing brought in a large crowd, including parents with children. Supporters and detractors of the bill were both present and it got emotional, prompting the removal of several disruptive individuals.
The bill brought the vaccination debate to a head, which intensified with a measles outbreak that traced back to Disneyland in December 2014. More than 150 children across the country became sick in the following months — 126 of whom were Californians.
"I've personally witnessed the suffering caused by vaccine-preventable diseases, and all children deserve to be safe at school," said Pan, discussing the risks children are exposed to when they mingle with those who have not been inoculated.
Some children can't be vaccinated for health reasons – such as allergies to components of the vaccine – so they rely on those who have received their shots to keep from infecting them. Public health officials are looking toward an at least a 90-percent immunization rate to minimize the chances of an outbreak — a threshold California's kindergarten class met when the school year began.
Under the bill, parents would only be allowed to not have their children vaccinated because of health reasons.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, California is one of 20 states to allow vaccination exemptions due to personal beliefs. It is also among 48 states that recognize religious exemptions.
In 2000, measles was officially declared eradicated in the U.S. This still stands despite the 2014 outbreak, because it is believed that patient zero did not get sick in the country. Instead, the patient must have caught measles while traveling abroad and simply brought back the disease to the U.S.
Most people can recover from measles within several weeks, but those with weak or compromised immune systems are at high risk for complications like pneumonia, ear infections, severe diarrhea, encephalitis and blindness.
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