Momentum is building in California to eliminate the ability of parents to opt out of vaccines for their kids on the basis of “personal beliefs.”

Reacting to a measles outbreak in the state, five Democratic members of the California legislature proposed legislation Wednesday that would repeal the “personal belief exemption.”

The provision allows a waiver of the vaccination if a parent or guardian signs a form that says immunization is contrary to his or her beliefs.


Pediatrician Charles Goodman vaccinates 1-year-old Cameron Fierro with the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine at his practice in Northridge, Calif. (Damian Dovarganes/AP)

According to the Los Angeles Times, more than 13,000 California kindergarten students have waivers due to their parents’ personal beliefs, with more than 2,700 of those based on religious beliefs.

There is no official breakdown of the nature of the beliefs specified by parents. However, significant numbers of Americans think vaccines are harmful to the health of children, despite the absence of supporting evidence, and are egged on by a few medical professionals as well as some libertarians.

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Anti-vaccine sentiment is blamed in part for the current measles outbreak that began in California’s Disneyland in early December and has since spread to at least eight states and Mexico, with 103 cases in California.

The bill would not change provisions of the law allowing exemptions certified by a physician and based on concerns about children with medical conditions, such as allergies, that could cause them to react badly to vaccination.

“People are starting to realize, ‘I’m vulnerable, my children are vulnerable,'” State Sen. Richard Pan, a sponsor and Democratic pediatrician from Sacramento, said at a news conference. “We should not wait for more children to sicken or die before we act. … As a pediatrician, I have personally witnessed children suffering life-long injury or death from vaccine-preventable infection. This does not have to happen.”

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California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) indicated he would be open to the legislation, though he did not commit himself. “The governor believes that vaccinations are profoundly important and a major public health benefit, and any bill that reaches his desk will be closely considered,” spokesman Evan Westrup told the Associated Press.

Separately, U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, Democrats from California, released an open letter to the California secretary of health and human services expressing their concerns about the state’s exemptions.

“While a small number of children cannot be vaccinated due to an underlying medical condition,” they wrote, “we believe there should be no such thing as a philosophical or personal belief exemption, since everyone uses public spaces. As we have learned in the past month, parents who refuse to vaccinate their children not only put their own family at risk, but they also endanger other families who choose to vaccinate.”

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