Feinstein, Boxer urge California to reconsider vaccine exemptions

A dose of the measles-mumps-rubella, or MMR, vaccine is held by a pediatrician at his practice in Northridge. U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein on Wednesday called on state officials to reconsider laws allowing parents to opt out of vaccinations for their children.
(Damian Dovarganes / AP)

California’s two U.S. senators on Wednesday called on state officials to reconsider California’s policy on allowing exemptions to childhood vaccinations.

Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, in a letter to state Health and Human Services Secretary Diana Dooley, said the two parental exemptions allowed under California law, on religious grounds or due to a personal objection made after consulting with a health professional, are “flawed.’’ The senators support exemptions for medical reasons, such as a child with immune deficiency.

“While a small number of children cannot be vaccinated due to an underlying medical condition, we believe there should be no such thing as a philosophical or personal belief exemption, since everyone uses public spaces,’’ the senators stated in the letter. “As we have learned in the past month, parents who refuse to vaccinate their children not only put their own family at risk, but they also endanger other families who choose to vaccinate.’’


On Wednesday, a group of state lawmakers introduced legislation to ban parents from receiving a personal belief or religious exemption from the mandate that children get vaccinated before they enter school.

Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), a pediatrician, said the proposed law was necessary to counter a trend among many parents not getting their children immunized against common diseases, which has led to the spread of some preventable illnesses including measles and whooping cough.

“We should not wait for more children to sicken and die before we act,’’ Pan said.

Gov. Jerry Brown indicated that he may support such a bill.

The legislative action comes after 92 cases of measles have been reported in California, with many linked to people who visited Disneyland during the holidays.

The parents of 13,592 children have personal belief affidavits on file; of those, 2,764 were identified as based on religious beliefs.

Boxer and Feinstein also expressed alarm at a “growing trend” of parents failing to follow full vaccine schedules, and schools and daycare centers failing to properly track families that promised to have their child vaccinated after the school year began.

They offered to work as liaisons with federal public health officials if needed by the state.