For Immediate ReleaseMarch 31, 2015
Board follows Public Health Director’s recommendation on SB 277
San Rafael, CA – Following a robust public discussion, the Marin County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to send a letter of support to the authors of a California Senate bill that would eliminate all but medical exemptions to vaccination requirements for children.
The vote to support Senate Bill 277 came after about 90 minutes of hearing from residents, health experts, the Marin County Public Health Officer and Board members. The Board authorized Board President Katie Rice to send the letter with amendments requesting clarification that homeschoolers are not affected and reflecting the concerns of Board members. Supervisor Steve Kinsey dissented.
The bill is expected to be heard April 8 in the Senate Committee on Health and the Senate Committee on Education.
State law currently allows a parent or guardian to have a child exempted from one or more required immunizations for entry into a school or childcare even if immunization is contrary to family beliefs. SB 277 would eliminate personal belief exemptions, permit only medical exemptions and direct school boards to disclose the school immunization rates to parents and guardians of children in attendance.
Dr. Matthew Willis, Marin County Public Health Officer, presented statistical information about contagious diseases in Marin. The County’s opt-out rate was at 6.5 percent at the end of 2014, down from 7.8 percent in 2012. However, Marin has had the highest opt-out rate in California as recently as 2010 and some kindergartens have experienced opt-out rates higher than 50 percent.
“Vaccines are not only safe and effective, but are critical in protecting our community from communicable diseases,” he said. “If unvaccinated children become ill they can infect friends, neighbors and classmates. This bill would support the health of all of our community, especially young infants and those who can’t vaccinate for medical reasons.”
In some communities, Marin has a particularly high rate of personal belief exemption rates, leaving it more vulnerable to outbreaks to contagious diseases such as measles and pertussis (whooping cough). Marin recorded two cases of measles in January; it logged 264 cases of pertussis in 2014 and 351 in 2010. Both are preventable through vaccination.
In her letter to fellow Board members, Board President Katie Rice wrote, “This bill is a necessary and important step toward protecting the public’s health. … It would serve to reverse the current trend away from vaccination, a serious community health issue and public threat.”
Supervisors Rice, Judy Arnold and Damon Connolly voted yes, and Supervisor Kate Sears joined them after a motion was made to clarify the bill’s effect on homeschooled children and to hear more opinions about the bill from medical professionals.
“We sit here as the County Board of Supervisors with one of our primary charges enacting, implementing and supporting public policy and programs that promote public health and the public safety,” Rice said.
Supervisor Kinsey said he voted no because the letter needed clarification about homeschooling and he believes there should be respect for personal choice and more information regarding alternative viewpoints.
“For me, it’s not the science, it’s the matter of education, of trust and of personal choice,” Kinsey said.
The letter says Marin has seen a rise in vaccine-preventable diseases because some residents refuse or delay vaccinating their children, exposing others to potentially fatal diseases and weakening community immunity. After it is amended, the letter will be sent to bill authors Senators Richard Pan and Benjamin Allen and principal co-author Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez with copies to Marin’s representatives, Assemblymember Marc Levine and Senator Mike McGuire.
The Marin County Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) offers immunizations and reminds all residents that it’s never too late to immunize. For more information about immunization in Marin, visit the HHS website.
Photo caption: Rhett Krawitt, 7, of Corte Madera speaks to the Marin County Board of Supervisors in favor of Senate Bill 277. He is a leukemia survivor.
Dr. Matthew WillisPublic Health OfficerHealth and Human Services
3240 Kerner Blvd.San Rafael, CA 94901(415) 473-4163Email: Dr. Matthew WillisMarin HHS website