The state Senate on Thursday passed a controversial bill that would require many more California children to be vaccinated.
The measure, which must still go through the Assembly, would eliminate parents' ability to opt out of state immunization requirements on the basis of their personal beliefs.
It would excuse children from vaccinations only because of medical problems, such as a weakened immune system, if verified by a physician.
The legislation "is about increasing immunization rates so no one will have to suffer from vaccine-preventable diseases," said Sen. Benjamin Allen (D-Santa Monica), who co-authored it with Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento).
If the bill becomes law, California would join 32 other states in eliminating a personal-belief exemption from vaccine requirements.
Pan said more parents are refusing to immunize their children, putting others with low immune systems at risk.
"Vaccines are needed to protect us, but that protection has been eroding," said Pan, a pediatrician.
Senate Republican leader Robert Huff of Diamond Bar opposed the bill. He said a recent measles outbreak that began at Disneyland eventually was controlled and ended.
"I don't believe the crisis we have seen rises to the level to give up the personal freedoms we enjoy in a free country," Huff told his colleagues.
Some Republicans unsuccessfully proposed hostile amendments that would have maintained a religious exemption and called for more disclosure of the contents of vaccines.
Sen. Joel Anderson (R-Alpine) said some religious people may not accept any vaccine derived from the cells of aborted fetuses.
"What this [bill] says is we don't have a right to practice our faith," he told his colleagues.
The vote was 25 to 10. Most Republicans voted no, although GOP Sens. Andy Vidak of Hanford, Jeff Stone of Temecula and Anthony Cannella of Ceres supported the measure.
The bill would require children to be vaccinated before entering kindergarten. But unvaccinated students already in school on parental personal-belief exemptions would not have to be immunized until they entered seventh grade or changed school districts.
More than 13,500 kindergarten students in California have waivers based on their parents' beliefs. The bill was amended recently to give parents flexibility to put their children in home schooling or independent study programs.
Some parents believe vaccinations are not safe; others oppose being told by the state what medical attention to give to their children.
Hundreds of parents and children, many clad in red, flooded the Capitol in recent months to oppose the legislation at three committee hearings.
Opponents of the bill packed the Senate gallery again Thursday, wearing red shirts and buttons bearing the bill number, SB 277, crossed out. After the vote, an unidentified person in the balcony yelled at the senators: "Profiteers!"
Some critics of the vaccination bill say lawmakers are unduly influenced by the pharmaceutical industry that produces vaccines.
One of the bill's opponents who was present Thursday, Janelle Lewis of Placer County, said the fight would continue in the Assembly.
"This is too major an issue to let go now," she said. "It's a dangerous and unnecessary bill that should never have even been put forward."
The bill's supporters include the American Academy of Pediatrics, the California State PTA, California Medical Assn. and Los Angeles Unified School District.