A bill that would require full vaccinations for most children before they can attend school in California has been approved by a state Senate committee. The bill would do away with previous exemptions based on a parent's "personal belief."

The measure was approved in a seven-to-two vote by the Senate Education Committee. It will now move on to the Senate's Judiciary Committee, which will consider legal issues raised by the bill.

By removing the "personal belief" exemption, the only legitimate waiver would be for medical reasons, the bill's authors explained. The bill did, however, expand options of home schooling and independent study to children whose parents choose not to have them vaccinated.

"While this bill won't reach everyone, it will increase everyone's safety against vaccine-preventable diseases," said Democratic Sen. Ben Allen, one of the bill's sponsors. "We think we've struck a fair balance here that provides more options to parents who are concerned about not vaccinating."

Two other states, West Virginia and Mississippi, have also passed measures limiting vaccination exemptions to medical necessity — but if the California bill is successfully enacted, the state will be by far the largest yet in numbers of children affected.

The original form of the bill was introduced to the California Legislature in February, following a measles outbreak originating in Disneyland in December. The outbreak infected 131 California residents as well as at least 26 people in seven other states, in Canada and in Mexico.

Most of those infected were unvaccinated children and adults.

The number of parents taking advantage of the existing personal-belief exemption has been on the rise in recent years, with waivers secured for more than 13,000 California kindergarteners. Of the exemptions for those school-going children, 2,764 were based on religious beliefs, state health statistics show.

Democratic state Sen. Richard Pan, co-sponsor of the bill, refused to incorporate an amendment put forward by some committee members to make room for vaccination exemptions on religious grounds.

"Religious exemptions are vulnerable to abuse and indeed are abused by people whose reasons for not vaccinating are not religious," Pan spokeswoman Shannan Martinez said.

The bill, endorsed by the California Medical Association and the California State PTA, still requires approval by two more Senate committees before it can come up for a vote on the Senate floor.

If it passes, it will be sent to the state Assembly. If the bill is successful in the state Assembly, supporters say it could be ready for California Gov. Jerry Brown to sign by September.

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