New Senate Bill Aims to Improve California’s “Community Immunity”

California State Sen. Richard Pan is a co-author of Senate Bill 277, new legislation that would eliminate the Personal Belief Exemption (PBE) that currently allows parents of children in school or childcare to opt out of the vaccinating their children for personal or religious beliefs.

California is one of the 17 states with personal belief exemptions (PBEs).  In January 2014, a new law, AB 2109, expanded the requirements to obtain a personal belief exemption.  Currently, parents who object to vaccinating their children must consult with a licensed healthcare practitioner regarding the health risks to the child and to the community of the communicable diseases, and the benefits and risks of immunization.  In addition, the parent must sign an affidavit to acknowledge the understanding that an unimmunized student may be excluded from attending childcare or school in the case of an exposure to any of the diseases covered by the required immunizations in order to protect the student and others.

However, when more and more children are unvaccinated, the proportion of immune individuals in our community decreases, and we lose our “community immunity” or “herd immunity.” Community immunity refers to the threshold of immune individuals present in a population necessary to avoid diseases from spreading throughout the community.  This leaves unvaccinated individuals, such as those who are too young to be vaccinated or have weakened immune systems and so cannot be vaccinated, vulnerable.

California has recently experienced serious outbreaks of two vaccine-preventable diseases, pertussis (whooping cough) and measles, both diseases which were considered eradicated. Parents who opt out of vaccinating not only put their own children and families at risk of vaccine-preventable illness, but also the fellow members of the community.

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