SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers are proposing legislation that would require parents to vaccinate all school children unless a child’s health is in danger, joining only two other states with such stringent restrictions.
Parents could no longer cite personal beliefs or religious reasons to send unvaccinated children to school under a proposal introduced Wednesday after dozens of people have fallen ill from a measles outbreak that started at Disneyland. Mississippi and West Virginia are the only other states with such strict vaccine rules, though the California bill’s chief author said he would consider including a religious exemption, as allowed under current law.
“People are starting to realize, ‘I’m vulnerable, my children are vulnerable,'” said Sen. Richard Pan, a Democratic pediatrician from Sacramento. “We should not wait for more children to sicken or die before we act.”
Childhood vaccine has become an emotionally charged topic and a national issue amid a measles outbreak that has sickened more than 100 people across the U.S. and in Mexico.
Like most other states, California allows religious or personal belief exemptions. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, California is among 20 states that allow for personal belief exemptions and 48 that allow for religious exemptions.
Public health officials believe an immunization rate of at least 90 percent in all communities, including schools, is critical to minimizing the potential for a disease outbreak.
Parents cite a variety of reasons for not immunizing their children, among them: religious values, concerns the shots could cause illness and a belief that allowing children to get sick helps them to build a stronger immune system.
The California bill proposed Wednesday is also backed by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, and Ben Allen, a former Santa Monica school board member.