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California Lawmakers Want To Remove "Personal Belief" Exemption From Vaccine Law

Damian Dovarganes / AP

Pediatrician Charles Goodman vaccinates 1 year- old Cameron Fierro with the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, or MMR vaccine at his practice in Northridge, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015.

Damian Dovarganes / AP

U.S. and California State Senators say it’s time to change a law that allows parents to opt out of vaccinations for their kids. Democratic State lawmakers propose a bill to require children to be vaccinated before they attend school, unless there is a medical reason.

At a Sacramento school a number of parents have opted their kids out of vaccinations because of personal beliefs.  

People walk with their kids or drop them off at the Alice Burney Waldorf-inspired school in south Sacramento. Eighteen percent of parents with kindergartners this school year have chosen not to vaccinate their kids because of personal beliefs. That’s six times higher than the statewide average.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to put a lot of shots in a newborn, especially ones that contain a lot of chemicals,” says Holly Bock, who has a first and a third grader at the public school. She says her kids had some of their shots, like polio, but not all. They weren’t vaccinated for the measles.  

“I realize there are risks with having the measles. But it wasn’t something that I was concerned about getting right away, because it wasn’t happening. And I again didn’t want to put all those vaccines in my young child.”

Bock says neither of her kids got any shots before they were two – her main concern was getting all the vaccinations at once. The current measles outbreak is making her think twice – but she hasn’t made a decision. She said if a school required her kids to stay home for three weeks, that’d be fine.  

“It’s my opinion, it’s what I want to do as a parent, and I understand the anger for that, so no, I haven’t really talked about it with other parents.”

The trend in opting out of vaccinations for kids is a concern for pediatrician Richard Pan.  

“Vaccines have become a victim of their own success, as many of us have never experienced a vaccine preventable infection or known of someone who has been affected by one,” says Pan.

Pan is also a Democratic state senator. When he was in the Assembly in 2012, he authored a bill that would require parents to consult with a health care provider before signing a personal belief exemption. That bill became law. Pan says its not strong enough.

“What we’re seeing now with the outbreaks is that we are in a situation there are not enough people being vaccinated to contain these dangerous diseases.”

Democratic Assemblymember Lorena Gonzales says she’s signing on to Pan’s bill because she got calls from constituents after the Disneyland outbreak.

“When 13 cases of measles started spreading through San Diego county, we got desperate phone calls from parents, not parents who don’t want to vaccinate their children. Parents who cannot vaccinate their children, because they're too young, or because they have a medical condition. And there was confusion among our immigrant community about why anyone would ever choose if they could, not to vaccinate their children.”

One parent outside Alice Burney has an explanation for a culture in which parents decide against vaccinating their kids.  

 “I think educated counterculture would be a way to say it. Super active, really cool parent community.”

But Mitch Weathers himself is part of the majority of kindergarten parents whose kids got their shots this year. He said foregoing the vaccinations doesn’t make sense to him, but he’s not too concerned about the unvaccinated kids. He feels his child is protected.  

“I understand the idea, we’ve eradicated the measles why do we need it. Well, we live in an international world now, and we don’t live on a farm either.”

If the new bill becomes law, personal opinions can’t be the reason to forego shots for kids. Parents at Alice Burney will have until the end of the year to get their kids up to date.