Vaccinations: California Senate eliminates religious, personal exemptions

The legislation, which now goes to the California Assembly, is the latest outcome of the debate between public health officials in favor of vaccinations and those who oppose inoculating their children.

Steve Yeater/AP
Senate Judiciary chairwoman Hannah-Beth Jackson (D) of Santa Barbara listens to testimony during a hearing on the mandatory vaccination bill SB 277 on April 28, 2015, in Sacramento, Calif. The legislation, which passed the Senate on May 14, mandates that California schoolchildren be vaccinated in an effort to combat recent outbreaks of measles and whooping cough.

California parents who choose not to vaccinate their children may have to start considering home schooling, according to a bill passed by the state Senate on Thursday. The legislation, which would eliminate the exemption for personal or religious beliefs that allows parents to forgo vaccinations, is the latest outcome of the debate between public health officials in favor of vaccinations and those who oppose inoculating their children.  

California senators voted 25 to 10 in favor of the bill following a heated debate.

The bill now goes to the state Assembly, and, if passed, it would also require approval from Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown. If the legislation becomes law, California would be the third state in the country, following Mississippi and West Virginia, that does not permit vaccination exemptions due to religious or personal beliefs.

After a measles outbreak at Disneyland in California affected more than 100 people earlier this year, at least 11 state legislatures began weighing eliminating either the personal belief or religious exemptions for vaccinations, and in some cases, both. According to health officials, between 90 and 95 percent of people must be vaccinated against various diseases to achieve what is known as “herd immunity.” But some lawmakers say the alleged threat to public health does not justify curbing civil liberties.

"It comes down to what do we as a society trade when we mandate that somebody has to do something in order to protect somebody else," Senate Republican leader Bob Huff told Reuters.

Mr. Huff, who voted against the bill, added that the measles outbreak did not rise "to the level where we have to give up personal freedom."

But many health officials say it is imperative for students attending school to be vaccinated in order to protect those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. Under the California bill, students who have not received vaccinations must be home-schooled.

 “I would ... suggest that we should stop basing our vaccination policies on models that made sense in a world of constrained vaccine supply, and aim for 100 percent vaccination coverage among those who can get vaccinated,” wrote Marcel Salathé, assistant professor of biology at Pennsylvania State University, for The Washington Post.

In an effort to calm parents’ fears, many health professionals assert that the risks children could face from vaccines are far fewer than those from the diseases themselves. They also point out that the study linking the vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella to autism has been discredited.

"I would much rather have my children get the vaccine than the disease itself,” Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious diseases and public health specialist, told CNN.

Some experts have noted that parents have a key role in determining how the vaccination issue plays out.

"High levels of vaccine compliance are highly dependent on parents' goodwill," Mark Largent, a historian at Michigan State University in East Lansing and the author of "Vaccine: The Debate in Modern America,” told the Monitor’s Amanda Paulson in February.

"If you want to increase the number of kids who are vaccinated against communicable diseases, you have to admit that ultimately parents get to make this decision.”

Against this backdrop, California lawmakers pushed ahead, saying that exemptions affect public health.

"The personal beliefs exemption is endangering the public," Democratic state Sen. Richard Pan, a pediatrician and coauthor of the bill, told Reuters.

While the California bill does not mandate vaccinations, it does contain the home-schooling requirement for unvaccinated children. Critics say they are concerned the legislation could keep kids out of school.

"It's clear that a large portion of concerned parents will likely withhold their children from public schools because of their concerns or lack of comfort from the vaccination process," GOP state Sen. John Moorlach told a local ABC affiliate.

Waivers for medical reasons would still be available to students who attend a public or private school.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Vaccinations: California Senate eliminates religious, personal exemptions
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today