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article imageCA bill banning child vaccine exemptions gets go-ahead

By Megan Hamilton     Apr 11, 2015 in Politics
Sacramento - After the severest measles outbreak in decades occurred earlier this year, California lawmakers approved a bill this week that would prevent most parents from opting out of vaccinations for their children enrolled in school.
Legislators and members of the public endured a fiery session that lasted nearly four hours prior to Wednesday's vote, and many people leapt to their feet, shouting over the lawmakers, The Sacramento Bee reported, per MSNBC News. The measure passed by 6-2, but must go through additional hearings before it has a chance of reaching the Senate floor.
The bill was drafted as a response to several outbreaks of preventable diseases such as measles and whooping cough and it eliminates the "personal beliefs" exemption which allows California parents to not vaccinate their children prior to enrolling them in public or private school.
"I have very profound feelings about parental rights and responsibilities and great dismay in American society over the decades how much that parental right, that parental responsibility has diminished," Republican Sen. Jim Nielsen, who was one of the two lawmakers opposed to the bill, said, MSNBC reports.
Doctors and public health authorities say that escalating rates of exemptions may undo the "herd immunity" which protects children who are too young or ill to be vaccinated, The Sacramento Bee reports.
"If it were just a decision about their child, I think you would find no quarrel with having a right to make that decision," Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel), said, but "you're making a choice not just for your child, not just for your family, but a choice that affects another person's child."
Several studies have clearly refuted the idea of a link between vaccines and autism, and vaccine manufacturers long ago removed the mercury-filled preservative thimerosal from vaccines. While medical officials say there are some risks to vaccines, including allergic reactions – a federal court has allocated nearly $3 billion in damages – they say the risks are vastly outweighed by the dangers of such diseases as measles and whooping cough.
"There is no scientific controversy about vaccine safety and vaccine effectiveness," David Blumberg, a physician at UC Davis Medical Center, testified. "The science is clear on this."
"I've personally witnessed the suffering caused by vaccine-preventable diseases, and all children deserve to be safe at school," said Richard Pan, a Democrat, who is also a pediatrician and a co-author of the bill, Reuters reports. "The personal belief exemption is now putting other school children and people in our community in danger."
Pan proposed the bill in response to the measles outbreak, which began at Disneyland last December. The bill will leave medical exemptions to vaccinations in place.
More than 150 people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with measles in recent months, and 126 of those cases occurred in California.
In the months after the outbreak, legislators across the U.S. seeking to bolster immunization laws have been targeted by anti-vaccination activists who have bombarded them with emails, phone calls, heckled them at public meetings, harassed their staff, organized loud marches, and reviled them on the social media, The Guardian reports.
Three states were completely overwhelmed by the rapaciousness of some activists. Oregon, Washington, and North Carolina either withdrew or killed bills that would have put a stop to a non-specific "personal belief" exemption for parents who are against vaccinating their children.
Wednesday's meeting grew so raucous, in fact, that two activists, or "anti-vaxxers," as they are often called, had to be removed.
Activist Terry Roark told the state senate committee her child died from a vaccine and that she feared others could be next if parents lose the right to decide.
"Innocent people will die," she said tearfully. "Innocent children will be killed."
Lawmakers supporting the new law are fighting back, and challenging the assertion that the bill would force vaccinations even on kids with legitimate medical reasons to not have them. And a doctor sympathetic to the anti-vaccination crowd had to backtrack when he had to admit that the bill contained no such language, The Guardian reports.
"The danger I feel as a policymaker is that when assertions are made in public comment that aren't fact-based, that's irresponsible," said state Senator Holly Mitchell.
She and the co-sponsors of the bill, which also includes a man who is the son of a polio survivor, have become hate figures to the anti-vaccination movement, who have chased and shouted at them and their staff.
Measles had been declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000 after years of childhood vaccine efforts, Reuters reports. In 2014, however, the country dealt with the highest number of cases in two decades.
There's not really a specific treatment for measles, and while most people recover within several weeks, however, in poor and malnourished children and people with reduced immunity, measles can cause severe complications that can include blindness, encephalitis, severe diarrhea, ear infection, and pneumonia.
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