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Needle In A Law Stack

news needle2California passes law that adds a step to opting out of immunizations

As Gov. Jerry Brown’s Sept. 30 bill-signing deadline drew to a close, he finished signing or vetoing nearly 700 bills that had stacked up on his desk in hopes of becoming laws. One of the lucky winners was AB 2109, a bill that was introduced by Assemblymember Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) in February, and passed the California Senate 22 to 14 and assembly 59 to 21 in August.

The legislation, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2014, will require that parents who choose to opt out of immunizing their children will have to consult with a licensed healthcare professional.

Proponents argued that the bill was a straightforward attempt to ensure that parents make educated decisions, while many opponents decried the bill as an infringement on parental rights. Actor Rob Schneider, who was among the bill’s most vocal opponents, echoed this concern in media appearances he made to encourage Gov. Brown to veto the legislation.

"This is a parental rights issue," Schneider told The Sacramento Bee. "There shouldn't be government coercion to force parents to jump another hoop to have to make decisions on ... what's the best interest of their child.”

Assemblymember Bill Monning, who represents Santa Cruz and is chair of the Assembly Committee on Health, looks back at AB 2109 as “very controversial.”

“There has been a fair amount of misinformation,” he told GT over the summer. “It preserves a family’s right to refuse vaccines as a condition of attending public schools, but it does require that if they want to exercise that right they will go to certain designated health providers. And all the family has to do is meet with that practitioner and let that practitioner explain potential risks to their child and potential risks to their community if they refuse vaccination.”

Santa Cruz, Monterey and Marin counties were the most heard-from regions throughout the AB 2109 hearings, according to Monning. Our county’s interest is not surprising considering its low immunization rate. Eighty-three percent of kindergartners and 81 percent of childcare center entrants in the county had received all of their required immunizations in 2010, compared to 91 percent in both groups statewide, according to the 2011 Santa Cruz County Community Assessment Report. 

Seacliff resident and AB 2109 critic Rebecca Downing attributes these low immunization rates to the fact that “parents in this county do their homework.”

“We investigate what is in vaccines, their benefits and risks, and we make our choice,” she says, adding that her family decided not to vaccinate after completing a “significant amount of research.” 

“This bill, which is now a law, created an additional step that, for some people, will involve increased costs associated with paying for a doctor visit and taking time off work for that visit,” she says. “Additionally, I believe that the sponsors of the bill were wrong when they assumed that parents did not have enough information to make immunization decisions for their children.”

With the bill’s passage, California becomes the second state with a law that requires parents to meet and talk with doctors before forgoing immunizations. Washington state was first to enact similar legislation and has seen a 25 percent drop in vaccine opt-outs since doing so, according to Assemblymember Pan’s office. 

Will California’s new law have a similar effect in communities like Santa Cruz? “I really don't know what the impact of the law will be,” says Downing. “I think it is important now for each family who chooses not to vaccinate to come to their appointment with their own information so that they may share it with the healthcare professional. It is important for the healthcare professional to understand and accept another point of view even if they don't agree with it.”

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