Apr 10, 2015 12:05 AM EDT
California lawmakers have advanced a bill that would require school children in the state to be vaccinated despite the pleas of both parents and doctors. Under the new law, parents would no longer be able to send their children to school with waivers citing religious or personal beliefs and exemptions would only be made available to children with health problems. Supporters of the law say that it would increase the number of vaccinated young people and improve public health.
Ariel Loop told lawmakers that such a plan could have prevented her child from contracting measles at Disneyland. "My infant shouldn't have had to suffer. He shouldn't, still months later, be having complications with his eyes," she said. "I shouldn't have had to fear for his life."
Opponents, however, say vaccines can be as dangerous as the diseases they aim to fight and that the bill would trample parental rights.
Karen Kain said her daughter died of injuries from a mercury-tainted vaccine. "I stand here today before you to share my story so you can all see and hear what happens when vaccines go wrong," she said. "Who gets to make the choice now of whose babies are more important? Because there is risk, there must be choice."
The new measure is in the earliest stages of the legislative process but already drew large crowds, including parents who brought their children. The hearing was emotionally charged, with one parent threatening to put a curse on lawmakers who voted for the bill and another had to be removed after an outburst.
The bill passed out of the Senate Health Committee on a 6-2 margin on Wednesday. If the bill passes the State Legislature and is signed by the governor, California would become the third state along with Mississippi and West Virginia with such strict vaccination requirements. Opponents include Robert Kennedy, Jr., the nephew of President John F. Kennedy.
"They get the shot, that night they have a fever of a hundred and three, they go to sleep, and three months later their brain is gone," Kennedy said. "This is a holocaust, what this is doing to our country."
Dr. Dean Blumberg, a pediatrician who testified on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the California Medical Association, said childhood vaccination has been so successful that it's easy to overstate their risks and dismiss the diseases they prevent.
"Unfortunately, there's much misinformation about vaccine safety and effectiveness," Blumberg said. "Let me be clear: There is no scientific controversy about vaccine safety and vaccine effectiveness. ... This is not open to dispute among mainstream doctors and scientists."
Public health officials believe an immunization rate of at least 90% is crucial to minimize a potential disease outbreak. This year, California kindergarten children met that threshold with 2% exempt because of parent's belief and another half a percent exempt due to religion.
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