Lawmakers in California announced on Wednesday new legislation that would eliminate exemptions from the statewide mandate that children get vaccinated before they start school.
Senators Richard Pan and Ben Allen presented the legislation during a news conference at the state capitol, on the same day it was announced that the number of measles cases in California, stemming from an outbreak at Disneyland in December, had increased to 99. As it stands, California allows exemptions from the vaccination mandate for medical reasons and “personal beliefs.”
“There are not enough people being vaccinated to contain these dangerous diseases,” Pan said. “We should not wait for more children to sicken or die before we act."
The legislation, while abolishing the personal belief exemption, would still allow exemption due to medical reasons. According to the L.A. Times, 13,592 children are currently exempt based on their parents’ personal beliefs, with 2,764 of them being based religious beliefs.
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“As a pediatrician I have personally witnessed children suffering lifelong injury or death from vaccine-preventable infection,” Pan said. “We're not reaching sufficient immunization rates and we want to reach the rates necessary to protect the public from those diseases.”
Pan said that in some California cities, more than 10 percent of parents have used the personal belief exemption to avoid having to get their children vaccinated.
“Vaccines prevent serious and potentially life-threatening diseases and parents deserve to know the rates at the school they trust to protect their child,” Pan said.
The recent measles outbreak in the state has reignited a nationwide debate on the safety of vaccinations, with vaccine opponents arguing that there is not enough science to prove that vaccinations are safe for children.
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“Given the concerns that I have, one of which is this unknown about serious adverse events, collectively I have a concern that anybody would not have a right to make that decision for themselves and their children,” attorney Alan Phillips said.
Matthew B. McReynolds, attorney for parental rights and religious freedom advocate group Pacific Justice Institute said that if the personal belief exemption is abolished, parents could have cause to challenge the legislation on the grounds that it violates their first amendment rights.
“Its definitely something that could be subject to challenge and I think its an open question what the court would do with that,” McReynolds said.
The anti-vaccination movement started with a study that claimed to link vaccines to autism. However, that study has been thoroughly decredited by the scientific community. In fact, 86% of scientists believe that parents should be required to vaccinate their children.
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