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Governor signs controversial vaccination bill

Requires most schoolchildren to be vaccinated for measles, other diseases

Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday signed a controversial bill eliminating personal belief exemptions from vaccination requirements for students attending California schools.

Senate Bill 277, authored by State Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) and Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), requires students at public and private schools in California to be vaccinated for 10 common childhood diseases unless there is a medical reason they cannot receive the vaccination.

The bill, inspired by a measles outbreak in California that started at Disneyland in December, triggered heated debate and passionate testimony on both sides.

While most school-age children are vaccinated in Alameda County, about 14,000 unvaccinated kindergarteners and about 14,000 unvaccinated seventh graders were enrolled in public schools this past year under the personal belief exemption, according to data from the California health department.

One person in Contra Costa County contracted measles after the outbreak at Disneyland, according to the county health department. That individual commuted home from work on BART while infectious.

Proponents, including San Francisco and Marin county supervisors, physicians groups and school districts, pointed to the risk posed to public health by low vaccination rates in some communities. Opponents claimed that the vaccines also carry risks and argued that parents should have the right to choose whether to use them or seek a religious exemption.

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

Brown noted that the state legislature amended the bill to allow exemptions from immunizations whenever a child's physician specifically concludes there are reasons they are not advisable.

Under the new law, unvaccinated students will now need to be either home-schooled, attend a multi-family private home school or use an independent study program.

The vaccinations required to attend schools under the bill are diphtheria, hepatitis B, haemophilus influenzae type B, measles, mumps, pertussis, poliomyelitis, rubella, tetanus and varicella (commonly known as chickenpox).

Students who currently have personal beliefs exemptions will not be kicked out of school, but will be allowed to continue enrollment until they enter the next grade span, as outlined in the law. In practice, this means that the new requirements have the most immediate effect on those enrolling in new schools or starting kindergarten or seventh grade.

Pleasanton Weekly reporter Meredith Bauer contributed to this story.

— Bay City News Service

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