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California Vaccine Requirement Bill Gets First Public Debate

SACRAMENTO ( — A bill requiring California schoolchildren to get vaccinated will receive its first public hearing Wednesday after similar efforts to limit exemptions in Washington and Oregon failed to advance.

The California Senate health committee will hear SB277 by Sen. Richard Pan, a Democratic pediatrician from Sacramento. Under the proposal by Pan and Democratic Sen. Ben Allen, a former Santa Monica school board member, parents could no longer cite personal beliefs or religious reasons to send unvaccinated children to private and public schools unless a child's health is in danger.

KNX 1070's Margaret Carrero reports if the bill is passed, California would join Mississippi and West Virginia as the only other states with such strict vaccine rules.

Allen said that while most parents do get their kids vaccinated, his legislation is aimed at comforting fears from parents who remain concerned about those who don't vaccinate.

"We wanna create a situation where mothers don't have to be in fear of taking their little baby to the store or to the park or to a public space because we've got so many people who are not vaccinated," said Allen.

Similar efforts to tighten rules for vaccine exemptions were proposed in California and other states after a measles outbreak in December that started at Disneyland and sickened more than 100 people across the U.S. and in Mexico. But the proposals have become an emotionally charged topic.

Opponents include Robert Kennedy Jr., the nephew of President John F. Kennedy and son of former U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who has said he supports using vaccines and had all six of his children vaccinated, but believes the pharmaceutical industry profits immensely when governments make vaccines mandatory.

One mom from Santa Monica - which is among a number of Westside communities with some of the lowest vaccine rates in Southern California - said she still feels parents should have the right to choose even if the goal is protect the community at large.

"We're trying to build immunities into the children so that they have a safety net," she said.

But others who oppose mandatory vaccines say the rule of corporate profit - and not public health - is behind the effort to legislate vaccinations.

"The pharmaceutical companies are the biggest drug-pushers we've got, so I disagree with that," he said. "People should have a choice."

Opponents who want to maintain parental rights to exempt their children from vaccination requirements plan to rally ahead of the legislative hearing Wednesday afternoon.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, California is among 20 states that allow for personal belief exemptions and 48 that allow for religious exemptions.

The push to limit exemptions was dealt two recent blows when bills in Oregon and Washington failed. Oregon's measure would have restricted vaccine exemptions for only medical reasons while Washington would have removed the personal belief allowance for an exemption.

Public health officials believe an immunization rate of at least 90 percent is critical to minimizing the potential for a disease outbreak. California's kindergarteners met that threshold at the start of this school year, according to state statistics: 2 percent were exempted because of their parents' personal beliefs and another half a percent were exempted because of their parents' religion.

Less than one-fifth of a percent of all California students — about 1,000 — had a medical vaccine exemption that would be preserved under the bill.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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