HEALTH

California Gov. Jerry Brown signs hotly contested vaccine bill into law

California Gov. Jerry Brown in a May, 2015 file photo.

California Gov. Jerry Brown in a May, 2015 file photo.  (ap)

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a hotly contested California bill to impose one of the strictest school vaccination laws in the country in the wake of an outbreak of measles at Disneyland late last year.

Effective the 2016-17 school year, children whose parents refuse vaccination and who are not granted a medical exemption must be home-schooled. School-age children who currently claim a personal-belief exemption will need to get fully vaccinated by kindergarten and seventh grade, the state's two vaccine checkpoints. The law applies to both public and private schools, as well as daycare centers.

The state joins West Virginia and Mississippi as the only ones without a personal-belief exemption for vaccines. When considering exemptions, doctors may take family medical history into account.

In a rare message accompanying his signature, Brown expressed his support for the new law.

"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."

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The bill's supporters, including doctors, hospital representatives and health advocates, celebrated the news at an elementary school Tuesday. Lawmakers held babies, declaring the public would be better protected as a result of the bill.

Democratic Sens. Richard Pan of Sacramento and Ben Allen of Santa Monica introduced the measure after an outbreak of measles at Disneyland in December infected over 100 people in the U.S. and Mexico.

"The science is clear," Pan said. "Californians have spoken. The governor and the legislature have spoken. No more preventable contagions. No more outbreaks. No more hospitalizations. No more deaths. And no more fear."

The bill  proved contentious, with thousands of parents calling representatives and protesting at the Capitol in Sacramento. One state senator said pushback was so fierce that he briefly closed his district office out of concerns for his staff's safety.

Despite that, the bill passed through four legislative committees and survived votes in both houses. The Senate on Monday approved amendments to the bill, and the governor signed it less than 24 hours later.

Opponents of the bill were deeply emotional Tuesday, but they vowed to continue their fight. Our Kids Our Choice, an advocacy group that rallied against the bill, said it still has a number of options and is considering both litigation and taking the question directly to voters through a referendum.

"I will sue to put my child in school," said Jude Tovatt of Roseville and the parent of an 8-year-old child. "I will not run from the state that is our home."

Pan and Allen said they are confident the bill would withstand a legal challenge, noting similar laws have held up in state courts and even in the U.S. Supreme Court.

"I know that he is very pro-science and that's really what this bill comes down to: leadership in public health, and supporting evidence-based science," said Hannah Henry, mother of four from Napa who started Vaccinate California, a parental group in support of the bill.

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