California governor signs vaccination law that prohibits personal belief exemptions

Jodi Krawitt holds her son Rhett, 6, in their home in Corte Madera, California, on Jan. 28, 2015. Rhett is recovering from leukaemia and his father is concerned his child could succumb to an outbreak of measles at his Northern California school.Reuters

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law on Tuesday a controversial measure calling for the vaccination of school children in both public and private schools, prohibiting exemptions based on personal beliefs.

In a statement, Brown said he signed into law Senate Bill 227 "after carefully reviewing the materials and arguments that have been presented."

"The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases. While it's true that no medical intervention is without risk, the evidence shows that immunisation powerfully benefits and protects the community," Brown said.

The only exemption granted in the law is when a child's physician concludes that there are "circumstances, including but not limited to, family medical history, for which the physician does not recommend immunisation."

"Thus, SB 277, while requiring that school children be vaccinated, explicitly provides an exception when a physician believe that circumstances—in the judgment and sound discretion of the physician—so warrant," the governor said.

It also exempts from immunisation children in a home-based private school and those enrolled in an independent study program who do not receive classroom-based instruction.

The bill was authored by Sen. Richard Pan and Sen. Ben Allen. It was approved by the California Senate with a 25-11 vote last May 14 and by the California Assembly last June 25 with a 46-31 vote.

The amended version was approved by the Senate last June 29 with a 24-14 vote.

According to the California Department of Public Health's 2014-2015 Kindergarten Immunisation Assessment, 90.4 percent of the 535,332 students in kindergartens in California received the all-required immunisations, an increase of 0.2 percent from last year.

The percentage of students with permanent medical exemptions stayed at 0.19 percent while those with personal belief exemptions totalled 2.54 percent.

"Immunisation coverage remained above 9 percent for each vaccine for all schools since last year," the report said.

The bill was filed after an outbreak of measles at Disneyland last December.

Critics of the new legislation underscored the risks related to vaccination.

"The passage of any bill to repeal the personal belief exemption will create an even more hostile environment for California families who don't agree with safety, efficacy, or necessity of every single dose of every single government mandated vaccine," the group Californians for Vaccine Choice said on its website.

However, Senator Pan countered that opposition to California's vaccination program is based on a now-retracted 1998 study which, he said, "falsified data to purport a link between autism and the measles vaccine."