The bill, which eliminates personal and religious exemptions, was passed with amendments by the state Senate on a 24-14 vote Monday. It passed the California House last week.
“The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases,” Brown wrote in a signing statement. “While it’s true that no medical intervention is without risk, the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community.”
Although all 50 states require children to be vaccinated before they start public school, 20 states have exemptions for parents’ religious or philosophical beliefs. Only West Virginia and Mississippi currently prohibit such exemptions.
When the California law takes effect next year, only a medical exemption certified by a physician will be allowed.
But parents may choose to avoid vaccines without seeking a medical exemption if they homeschool their children or arrange for independent study with a school, according to the legislation, which does not exempt children who participate in any homeschool/public classroom hybrid.
Proponents of mandatory vaccinations cite the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1944 Prince v. Massachusettsruling that “the right to practice religion freely does not include liberty to expose the community or the child to communicable disease or the latter to ill health or death.”
However, many other Californians disagree.
Activist group California for Vaccine Choice believes that “no citizen, including those with an academic or government title, has the moral authority and should not have the legal authority to coerce or force another citizen to take a medical risk under threat of societal sanctions (loss of the civil right to an education, medical care, employment).”
Opponents could seek to overturn the vaccine law by a popular vote during a statewide election, although 67 percent of Californians believe children should be vaccinated in order to attend schools and daycare centers, according to a Public Policy Institute survey.
A major measles outbreak at Disneyland earlier this year spread to 21 states and the District of Columbia between January 1 and May 29, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“The majority of people who got measles were unvaccinated,” according to CDC, adding that “travelers with measles continue to bring the disease into the U.S.”
“There is a long and successful tradition in this country that respects the right of parents to make important decisions for their children in the areas of health, religion and education. SB 277 injects a serious obstacle in this important right of the parent,” the homeschool group’s website states.