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Feature Vaccination

California ends vaccine exemptions on grounds of belief—will other states follow?

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 02 July 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h3635
  1. Michael McCarthy, journalist, Seattle
  1. mxmc{at}

This week California ended all non-medical exemptions to mandatory vaccines, Michael McCarthy reports

After a bitter battle, California has ended vaccine exemptions on the basis of religion or personal belief. Under the new law, signed by Governor Jerry Brown on 30 June, unvaccinated children in the state will not be allowed to attend school, day care programs, and nurseries, unless they have a medical reason, such as an allergy, for not receiving a vaccination. Previously, just two other US states, West Virginia and Mississippi, limited exemptions to medical reasons.

Why now?

Supporters of the bill, called SB 277, argue that high exemption rates in some communities are responsible for recent outbreaks of measles and pertussis in California and other states and pose a growing threat to public health.1 2 3 4 In a floor debate before the vote in the State Assembly last week, Assemblywoman Catharine B Baker, a Republican from San Ramon, in the San Francisco Bay area, said, “We should fight for the liberty of not just only those who want not to vaccinate their kids but for those who can’t, those who are most vulnerable in our community, whether it is the newborn infants, the immunosuppressed, or the elderly.”

But opponents of the bill argued that it was wrong for the state to intrude in what should be a parental decision. “We do not have the right nor should we have the power to take away a parent’s right to choose what to put into their children,” said Assemblyman Devon Mathis, a Republican from Visalia, north of Los Angeles. …

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