Solana Beach School District backs bill ending personal belief exemption for vaccinations

( / U-T San Diego file photo)

In response to a measles outbreak that started in Southern California, the Solana Beach School Board recently voted to support legislation that would end exemptions to mandated school vaccines because of “personal beliefs.”

California is one of 18 states that allows parents to enroll their children in school unvaccinated through a personal-belief exemption to public health laws. The recent measles outbreak, however, has prompted two California lawmakers to introduce legislation that would end the state’s vaccine exemption loophole.

In February, Democratic Sens. Richard Pan of Sacramento and Ben Allen of Santa Monica introduced Senate Bill 277, a law that would eliminate exemptions except for children with medical conditions.

In a 4-0 vote, board members on March 12 approved a resolution supporting the bill.

“We’re taking a lead role on this because it’s really important,” said board member Richard Leib, who suggested the board support the legislation at the February meeting. Since then, he has talked with Allen’s chief of staff who said the Solana Beach district is one of the first districts in the state to officially support the bill.

“I think in our own school district, we have to make sure we keep the immunization rates up. If affects all of our kids if something happens,” he said.

“It affects our staff, too,” added board president Vicki King. “It is affecting staff right now.”

Having existed since the 1960s, the exemption isn’t new, but the number of parents taking the exemption has increased in recent years. In some California schools, more than half of the students have not been vaccinated, citing the exemption.

In 2000, federal health officials declared that measles had been eliminated in the U.S.

But as the popularity of the personal-belief exemption increased, so too, did the number of measles cases. The country experienced a record number of cases last year, and the December outbreak that began at Disneyland has been linked to dozens of cases in California and other states.

With the number of cases on the rise, the state has aimed to reduce the number of exemptions.

A new California law, which took effect last year, changed the process for parents requesting immunization exemptions for their children. Assembly Bill 2109 requires signed documentation by a health care provider informing the parent about the benefits and risks of immunizations as well as the risks of vaccine-preventable diseases.

“That was a step in the right direction,” said a school nurse at the board meeting. “This (proposed bill) gives parents the power to protect their children even more.”

Although board vice president Debra Schade was absent from the meeting, she was also on record in support of the bill. Schade holds a doctorate in public health education and promotion.

“As a public health advocate, I strongly support this measure,” said Schade in a letter, which Superintendent Nancy Lynch read before the board. “Immunizations are an important public health program that have proven to be the most effective mechanism to protect our kids from morbidity and mortality that result from disease with high rates of transmission.

“The recent outbreak of measles at Disneyland in California demonstrates the necessity to question our current policy. With the exception of medically fragile children who cannot be immunized, this resolution will require all students to provide proof of immunization prior to enrollment.”