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Measles Bill by Santa Monica-Area Senator Stalls in Key Committee

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

April 17, 2015 -- Action temporarily stalled Wednesday on a bill co-authored by State Senator Ben Allen from Santa Monica that would prohibit most parents from opting out of vaccinations for the measles and other contagious diseases.

A vote on Senate Bill 277 was delayed a week after the Education Committee was told by parents in opposition that they would be forced to remove their children from public schools if the bill was passed.

Action was delayed a week while members of the committee consider how to address such issues.

Allen’s office did not comment on Wednesday’s delay by the committee. However, on Tuesday a spokesman said Allen was “cautiously optimistic” about the legislation’s prospects.

Senate Bill 277 was prompted by an outbreak that started in December at Disneyland and came to include both a Santa Monica baseball coach and an infant at a preschool at Santa Monica High School. 

The bill passed its first committee hurdle last Wednesday, when the Senate Health Committee voted 6 to 2 vote after a long and sometimes emotional hearing that included testimony from many opponents of the vaccinations.

The proposed legislation repeals the “personal belief” exemption that allows parents to opt out of vaccinating their children from diseases like the measles.

The measles outbreak -- which infected 131 people in California alone -- hit home when a freshman baseball coach at Santa Monica High School was diagnosed with the measles in late January.

One week after parents were alerted of the case, an infant at the high school’s day care center caused the temporary closure of the facility.

Public health officials are warning too many exemptions undermine the “herd immunity” protecting people who are too young or too ill to be vaccinated. Herd immunity occurs when a large percentage of the population becomes immune to an infection, providing some protection for individuals not immune.

Some statistics indicate that pockets of Santa Monica – like other affluent parts of the Westside and elsewhere in the state – have higher-than-usual numbers of youngsters whose parents don’t get them immunized against measles.

Malibu schools had some of lowest rates of vaccination in the district. At Point Dune Marine Science School, 21.2 percent of the children were not immunized. At Cabrillo Elementary, 15.8 percent of the youngsters were opted out; at Webster Elementary, about 14 percent of the students were opted out by parents. And at Malibu Middle School, 13.3 percent of parents opted out.

Experts have said a 92 percent immunization rate at minimum is needed to prevent outbreaks.  Only a handful of SMMUSD schools had opt-out rates that were small enough to meet that level.

At Edison Elementary School, only 4.8 percent of parents obtained opt-out waivers; at McKinley Elementary, 5.1 percent of parents did. John Adams Middle School had an-opt out rate of 6.8 percent; at Santa Monica High School, waivers totaled 7 percent, the records for this school year show.

The percentage of local public school youngsters who don’t have measles vaccinations reached as high as 40 percent in one Santa Monica school, with a handful of others hovering at the double digits, according to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

For the 2014-2015 school year, data shows that at the Santa Monica Alternative Schoolhouse (SMASH), 40.3 percent of the kindergarten-through-eighth grade students were not immunized because their parents received “personal belief” waivers allowing them to opt out of measles vaccinations.

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