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Personal Belief Exemptions for Vaccines May Be Outlawed in California

The Short of It

The current measles outbreak that started in Disneyland and spread across the state has spurred California lawmakers to review personal belief exemptions for vaccines.

The Lowdown

According to the California Department of Health, 99 cases of measles have been reported as of today, and low measles vaccination rates in certain pockets of the population may be to blame for this public health crisis.

The state allows vaccine exemptions for medical reasons for children attending public or private schools, as other states do. Like most of the country, California also grants exemptions on religious grounds. But it's one of only 20 states that also grants exemptions for philosophical reasons.

If certain lawmakers have their way, that will soon change.

Steps are already in place to end personal belief exemptions. In January 2014, a new law went into effect that required parents seeking vaccine exemptions based on personal beliefs to get counseling about the benefits of immunization. Since then, vaccine waiver rates in California have dropped considerably, from 3.1 percent in 2013 to 2.5 percent in 2014. Now, state senators Richard Pan of Sacramento and Ben Allen of Santa Monica plan to introduce a bill repealing California's personal belief exemption for children going to public or private schools.

The Upshot

I believe the measure to encourage vaccination through counseling is clearly not enough. That the measles outbreak has spread as far as it has is a clear indication that more needs to be done to drive up immunization rates in California—and the nation. California lawmakers hope ending personal belief exemptions will accomplish this goal and ultimately benefit public health.

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