California vaccine rules advance over emotional opposition

SACRAMENTO, California (AP) — California lawmakers advanced tougher rules for vaccinations late Wednesday after hearing hours of testimony from hundreds of opponents while the nation grapples with the highest number of measles cases in decades.

The Senate Health Committee approved the proposal to give state public health officials instead of local doctors the power to decide which children can skip their shots before attending school. The push coincides with this year’s national measles tally reaching the highest it’s been since 1994, according to an Associated Press count.

Lawmakers decided stronger oversight is needed to stem bogus exemptions granted in many cases by doctors who are paid to excuse students from vaccinations.

They acted despite more than three hours of often emotional opposition from parents and some children, and after spending another hour debating where to draw the line between individual rights and public safety.

“Our job here in Sacramento is to try to thread the needle,” concluded Democratic Senator Bill Monning of Carmel. “Your right to your choice should not interfere with the health and safety of my child or grandchild.”

A mother joins hundreds of others waiting to get into a legislative committee to oppose a proposal to give state public health officials instead of local doctors the power to decide which children can skip their shots before attending school in Sacramento, California. – AP

The measure passed to a fiscal committee on a party-line vote, with the panel’s two Republicans opposed.

Democratic Senator Richard Pan of Sacramento said his legislation would give state health officials the tools they need to prevent outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases like measles, which in the first four months of the year have reached 28 confirmed cases in California.

“If we continue to let these fake medical exemptions increase, we’re going to have another larger outbreak, and we need to stop that now,” Pan said.

Pan’s bill is one of a number of efforts by state legislatures to address measles outbreaks. Washington state lawmakers voted on Tuesday to remove parents’ ability to claim a personal or philosophical exemption from vaccinating their children for measles, although medical and religious exemptions will remain.