Leadership

The Story Behind California's Mandatory Vaccination Law

By / Jul 6, 2015 (iStock/Thinkstock)

A newly signed law in California says parents cannot turn down a vaccination for their children for religious reasons or personal beliefs. The national debate over vaccination showed its true colors in the state—and associations were there every step of the way.

The fight over childhood vaccination in California was nearly as intense as the diseases public health officials are looking to prevent, and associations played key roles throughout the process.

California’s Governor Jerry Brown signed a mandatory vaccination bill into law late last month, ending a controversy intensified by a measles outbreak that originated at Disneyland.

With Senate Bill 277 (SB 277), California joins Mississippi and West Virginia in barring nonmedical exemptions for childhood vaccinations.

The Role Associations Played

The bill faced a rocky path to its passage, with associations, health advocates, and concerned members of the public getting their say every step of the way.

State senators Ben Allen and Richard Pan, who cosponsored the bill, helped get the bill over the finish line with some industry support.

They looked to the California Medical Association (CMA), which had already called for an identical policy to SB 277 prior to the outbreak. Pan is also a pediatrician and member of CMA.

“We settled on the best way to move forward was eliminating the personal belief exemption, and we put together language,” CMA Senior Vice President Janus Norman told the Sacramento Bee.

The issue was heated, with threats prompting increased security for legislators working on the bill in committee. The proposed bill moved from a lawmaker committee through the Senate, back to the committee, and then finally to the State Assembly.

Meanwhile, a major opponent emerged. The California Chiropractic Association (CCA) decided that it would oppose the bill because it didn’t allow patients to provide informed consent.

CCA got calls from parents and other groups who were upset that the bill would eliminate personal choice in vaccinations, CCA President Brian Stenzler said.

“They said, ‘Can we work with the CCA on some strategy and to build a coalition?'” Stenzler told the Bee. “And after thinking about it and talking about it with my board we said, ‘Absolutely.'”

The fight kept on as the bill approached a vote on the Assembly floor. Robocalls were made, and petitions to recall lawmakers were posted.

Passage Reached

In the end, the opposition was defeated by a 46-30 vote in favor of the bill.

“SB 277 is based in fact and science and will help increase community immunity across the state,” CMA Past President Richard Thorp said in a statement. “This is sound public health and we hope Governor Brown’s swift signature on the bill shows how important it is for California. We applaud his fast action to keep Californians safe.”

The state’s governor had the final word. (Well, technically Jim Carrey did, but, you know.)

“The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases,” Brown wrote as he signed the bill.

Patrick deHahn

Patrick deHahn is a contributor to Associations Now. More »

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