California mandates vaccinations in schools

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill requiring that all California schoolchildren be vaccinated, making the Golden State the third and largest to do so.

Rich Pedroncelli/AP
Otto Coleman, 6, waits outside the Governor's office with his brother Fenton, 4 (l.) and father Joshua, to deliver a stack of petitions with thousands of signatures calling on California Gov. JerryBrown to veto a measure requiring nearly all California school children to be vaccinated Monday, in Sacramento, Calif. Governor Brown signed the bill into law Wednesday morning.

Gov. Jerry Brown of California signed a controversial bill Tuesday that will impose one of the strictest school vaccination laws in the country: starting next year, vaccinations are required for nearly all children in public and private schools.

The signing statement was issued just one day after lawmakers sent Governor Brown the bill that will strike California’s personal belief exemption for immunizations. The only exemptions granted in the future will be to children with serious health issues, who are said to make up about one percent of the population. 

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

State Sens. Richard Pan and Ben Allen, both Democrats, first introduced the measure following a measles outbreak at Disneyland in December that infected more than 100 people in the United States and Mexico. Pediatric doctors say the new laws are likely to be successful in increasing immunization rates and stopping the spread of disease. 

The bill has been met with heated backlash from opponents who argue that the state is eliminating informed consent and trampling on parental rights. Thousands of parents have come to the Capitol to protest the bill in recent weeks, many vowing to take legal action. 

One such parent was Kimberly McCauley, a Sacramento resident with a 23-month-old daughter, who told the Associated Press with tears in her eyes that her daughter “will go to school. And then, when she is denied at kindergarten, I will sue.” 

Senator Allen says he is confident the new vaccination laws could withstand any legal challenge brought by angry parents, as “similar laws have passed muster over and over again in other states.” 

States with similar laws have seen some parents turn to homeschooling to avoid required vaccinations, says Mark Largent, author of a book on vaccine debates, in a Monitor interview. He predicts that “there is a segment of the population who will pull their kids out from the eyes of public health officials” in California as well. 

California is the third and largest state to allow only medical exemptions for vaccinations, following Mississippi and West Virginia. 

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

[Editor's note: This summary text of this story has been updated to correct California's state nickname. It is the Golden State.]

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