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Calif. Bill To Require More Children To Be Vaccinated Clears Major Hurdle

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In many ways, California has been ground zero for the fight over vaccinations and that state might soon have some of the toughest vaccine requirements in the country. A controversial bill says children must be vaccinated to attend school, and yesterday, that bill passed the state assembly. Current state law in California allows parents to opt out of vaccinating their kids for religious or personal beliefs. From member station KQED in San Francisco, April Dembosky has the story of the Northern California man who set out to change that.

APRIL DEMBOSKY, BYLINE: Carl Krawitt remembers his son's first round of chemotherapy. Rhett was 2-and-a-half and he spent 87 days on the oncology ward at UC San Francisco. During that time, they watched the beds fill up with other children, but those kids didn't have cancer. They had whooping cough.

CARL KRAWITT: I said why are they on the oncology floor? And the nurse said to me because there are so many of them, they're full downstairs.

DEMBOSKY: Doctors said that whooping cough outbreak in Northern California was fueled by kids who were not vaccinated; same with the measles outbreak that started at Disneyland last winter. Krawitt says he was afraid for his son. Rhett couldn't get vaccinated during and after cancer treatment because his immune system was too weak.

KRAWITT: We depend on the rest of our population to vaccinate so that these diseases cannot spread.

DEMBOSKY: Rhett Krawitt became the poster boy for SB277. Senator Richard Pam from Sacramento introduced the bill to eliminate the so-called personal belief exemption in California. Under the bill, kids would not be allowed to attend school, public or private, without being immunized. Only medical exemptions would be allowed. Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez testified yesterday before the state assembly passed the bill.

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LORENA GONZALEZ: As a mother, I understand that the decisions we make about our children's health care are deeply personal. While I respect the fundamental right to make medical decisions as a family, we must balance out with the fact that none of us has a right to endanger others.

DEMBOSKY: Previous hearings on the bill have been contentious. There's been strong opposition from parents who say only they should decide what gets injected into their children. Assembly member Devon Mathis argued that the state shouldn't interfere with the parent-doctor relationship.

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DEVON MATHIS: SB277 takes away the parent's right to choose and takes away that relationship between the parents and the doctors and puts it into the hands of the state and a corporation. And to me, that is just wrong.

DEMBOSKY: But the bill has cleared all major hurdles so far and faces one more vote before it goes to the governor's desk. If he signs it, California will join Mississippi and West Virginia as the states with the strictest vaccine laws in the country. For NPR News, I'm April Dembosky in San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.