The California bill that would mandate vaccinations in public and private schools cleared a major hurdle this week, passing out of the State Assembly on a 46-31 vote. The measure would prohibit parents from opting out of vaccinations for religious or personal belief reasons, a decision common among Santa Barbara parents.
Assemblymember Das Williams abstained from the vote. In a statement, Williams called SB 277 “a monumental piece of legislation” that needed more time to become more balanced. Last Friday, nearly 80 so-called anti-vaxxers, many toting children, packed the County Administration boardroom for an exceptionally large constituent meeting. All urged him to vote no on SB 277. “This is the most undemocratic bill,” said attendee Doug Richardson. “[It’s] literally utilitarian.”
As a child who grew up in Ojai, Williams told attendees, he was not vaccinated when he was young but he has since been inoculated. According to his office, Williams proposed amendments to the legislation that were not accepted.
“I worked tirelessly with my colleagues to ensure that this bill served the needs of both,” Williams said. “In my view, the best public policy would increase vaccinations in areas that have dipped below the recommended 90-95% rate, while providing flexibility for people who have doubts about vaccines…It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t get to a place where more people were could be comfortable with this bill.”
In Santa Barbara, such exemption rates are among the highest in the state. A number of schools, however, saw a decrease in opt-out rates during the 2014-2015 school year. For instance, the percentage of parents who filed personal belief exemption forms at Montecito Union decreased from 27.5 percent to 20.8 percent this school year. The percentage of opt-out rates at Washington Elementary School and Roosevelt Elementary School dropped from 16 percent to eight percent and five percent, respectively.
This decrease may be attributed to the fact that in January 2014, a new law on the books required parents who filed opt-out forms to first consult their doctor. County Public Health spokesperson Susan Klein-Rothschild also noted that the 25-day-old infant who died of whooping cough in January may have prompted more people to get immunized. The infant was from South County, though Klein-Rothschild could not specify exactly where. Franklin, Adams, and Harding elementary schools, as well as schools in North County, continue to have extremely low exemption rates while Santa Barbara Charter School and Waldorf School continue to have high ones.
The measure, out of all of policy committees, will head to the governor’s desk if the Senate approves the latest amendments. State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson has been a strong supporter of SB 277.