Sen. Allen'a Pro-vaccine Bill Advances
April 6, 2015
Unswayed by a relentless parade of opposition, a key Senate panel on Wednesday passed an incendiary bill that would strengthen California's vaccination requirements, capping an emotional hearing that marked the beginning of a battle over what has become Sacramento's most contentious issue this year.
For more than 11/2 hours, an extraordinary wave of parents and children from across the state crept one by one to a microphone to implore the Senate Health Committee to kill the legislation they insist violates parents' rights and puts their children at risk.
But the relatively small number of parents who backed the bill said Californians need to be more responsible in protecting all children from diseases like measles and whooping cough.
Palo Alto resident Christina Hildebrand, a mother of two unvaccinated children who had attended a morning rally, said she was disgusted the opponents' efforts didn't move the needle, after the health committee voted 6-2 to approve the measure.
"It's politics," she scoffed.
Opponents had come to the hearing optimistic because similar arguments last month had swayed legislators in both Washington and Oregon to reject attempts to tighten their vaccine laws.
Senate Bill 277 would require that only children who have been immunized for various diseases, including measles and whooping cough, be admitted to school in California. Only medical exemptions would be allowed. The bill also would require schools to notify parents of immunization rates at their children's schools.
Leah Russin, a Bay Area mom and leader of Vaccinate California, said she was terrified to take her baby son to child care centers where vaccinations are not required. "To protect my baby from preventable disease before he could be vaccinated, I needed everyone in my community to be vaccinated, and that is not happening.''
Voting yes on SB277 were the co-sponsor, Richard Pan, D-Sacramento; vice chair Janet Nguyen, R-Garden Grove; Bill Monning, D-Carmel; Lois Wolk, D-Davis; Isadore Hall III, D-Los Angeles; and Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles. Voting against it were Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, and Richard Roth, D-Riverside. Committee Chairman Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, abstained.
The bill now will be heard by the Senate Education Committee, followed by the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee. It will also need to make its way through the Assembly before The contentious debate over what opponents have dubbed "the V-word" was spurred by a measles outbreak that began in Disneyland in December, and ultimately spread to 18 states where it has infected 159 people, including 134 in California. Of those, state health officials say, 57 were not vaccinated and another 25 had at least one dose of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.
Pan also cited a continued whooping cough epidemic in 2014 and one in 2010 that resulted in the deaths of 10 infants as reasons the state should tighten vaccine rules.
Pan said that measles had spread through the state and the country in large part because of communities where many people were unvaccinated -- and allowed to remain so by applying for "personal belief exemptions" -- offered by California and 19 other states.
In certain pockets of California, Pan noted, exemption rates are as high as 21 percent, which he said, "places our communities at risk for preventable disease."
Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, the other co-author of the bill, said part of the reason he signed on to the effort was based on his own family's history: His father contracted polio while growing up.
"I saw firsthand almost every step of the debilitating impact of this disease," he said.
Dr. Dean Blumberg, of the UC Davis Children's Hospital, testified on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the California Medical Association, both of which support the bill.
"Children vaccination has been so extraordinarily successful that it is easy to forget the bad outcomes," Blumberg said.
The legions of parents opposing the bill began their day Wednesday with a rally at the state Capitol.
Chanting "My Child, My Choice" and carrying signs that read "Force my veggies, not vaccines," and "Protect the Children, Not Big Pharma -- No on SB277," the crowd listened as one speaker after another addressed both the harm they said vaccines have caused their children and the threat of an arrogant state government that is seeking to make health care decisions on their behalf.
Bob Sears, a pediatrician from Capistrano Beach noted for his unorthodox views on childhood vaccinations, exhorted the crowd not to lose hope or get discouraged.
"Get out there and fight for your rights," he told them.
An overwhelming number of scientists say there is no evidence that vaccines cause autism or any other affliction. But Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has co-authored a book challenging the safety of thimerosal, a ingredient containing mercury that he said is still included in some vaccines, at the Sacramento rally repeated much of the same themes he hit Tuesday in speeches in San Francisco and Sacramento.
Calling people who oppose vaccines "anti-vaxxers," he said, is "misogynistic."
"It is anti-woman and anti-mother," Kennedy told the crowd, adding that the mothers he has met during his crusade "have read the science and ... they could destroy any politician."