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On June 30, 2015, Bill SB277, which limits people’s ability to opt out of vaccines, was approved and signed into state law by California Governor Jerry Brown. In response to the large measles outbreak in December, a situation linked to low immunization rates, the law requires mandatory vaccinations for children prior to starting school and prevents people from refusing these vaccinations on religious or philosophical grounds. The only acceptable exemptions are now reserved for people with medical excuses, such as allergy or disease, and home-schooled children, including those in multiple family home schools and public school independent study programs.

Prior to its approval, anti-vaccine protesters, parents campaigning for parental choice over raising their children, and those convinced that mandatory vaccinations would deprive children of their constitutional rights to education banded together in a push for change, if not total opposition to the bill. They were also joined by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), though the group was more concerned with keeping kids in school and calling for more dialogue over the bill.

In response to anti-vaxxers who blamed the media for the outbreak “scare”, a state epidemiologist emphasized that if more people from California had been vaccinated, the December outbreak would not have happened. Many schools in California have already fallen below the 90% immunization threshold that is needed to establish “herd immunity“, which poses a risk to pregnant women, schoolchildren who are medically unable to receive vaccinations, and babies too young to be vaccinated.

Prior to the bill’s approval, Mississippi and West Virginia were the only two states without a personal-belief vaccine exemption. Bills similar to that of California had already failed in Washington and Oregon. However, some experts believe that given the size of California, the acceptance of this bill sets a precedent for future immunization laws in other states and is causing other state governments to reconsider their laws regarding vaccine exemptions. This past May, the Governor of Vermont also signed a bill to end the philosophical exemption for childhood vaccinations, legislation that had previously been introduced but failed back in 2012. The passing of these laws demonstrates a change towards more proactive attitudes in policy for protecting public health and preventative medicine.

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