California governor signs one of nation’s strictest vaccination laws

Reuters / Eddie Keogh
A controversial California law that requires all children to receive vaccinations prior to attending public school in the state, and does away with waivers for religious or personal reasons, was signed by California Gov. Jerry Brown.

The law will more than likely be challenged for state constitutional violations, but in signing the bill, titled SB277, Governor Brown said that he had reviewed the materials and arguments and decided to sign it.

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

The law mandates vaccines for all children attending public school “for the eventual achievement of total immunization.” Under the program, children will be vaccinated against 10 diseases, including: diphtheria, Hepatitis B, Haemophilus influenza type b, measles, mumps, pertussis (whooping cough), Poliomyelitis, Rubella, Tetanus and Varicella (chickenpox). Currently enrolled unvaccinated children will be grandfathered in.

There are a few exemptions for children with serious health problems; otherwise, unvaccinated children will need to be homeschooled.

The bill is a response to a recent measles outbreak, where 150 people across 14 different US states contracted measles. Most of the cases were linked to several dozen non-vaccinated people exposed to measles at Disneyland in Anaheim, California.

There was opposition to the bill from hundreds of parents who said it violated their parental rights to protect children and their children’s right to a public education.

I’m heartbroken,” Rebecca Estepp of the advocacy group California Coalition for Health Choice, which opposed the bill, told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s so coercive. It’s so punitive.”

READ MORE: No more vaccination waivers - California lawmakers

Estepp has two sons, aged 17 and 15, the oldest of which was injured by a vaccine. She chose not to vaccinate her younger son in case there was a genetic reason for her older son’s adverse reaction. Estepp said that the law will likely be challenged in court.

I still have no idea how this is going to be constitutional under the California Constitution,” said Estepp. The California constitution guarantees a right to public education.

The LA Times reported that California currently has 13,592 kindergarten students with vaccination waivers on the basis of parents’ personal beliefs. Of those, 2,764 of those were based on religious beliefs, according to state health data.

According to the National Vaccine Information Center, an anti-vaccination organization which tracks vaccine legislation, California’s bill is just one of 57 other bills being pushed through 24 state legislatures over vaccination programs, including mandatory vaccines for children and teenagers. Nine of the bills concern mandatory vaccines for healthcare workers, teachers, daycare employees and students.