SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - A bill requiring all children in California public schools to be vaccinated for such diseases as polio and measles stalled in the legislature Wednesday, amid opposition from parents who fear vaccines will harm children’s immune systems or cause autism.
The bill is one of several under consideration in U.S. states aiming to forestall a loss of group immunity as parents take advantage of so-called personal beliefs exemptions, which allow them to forego vaccinating their children before sending them to school.
“I’m here because of my father,” said the bill’s author, state Senator Ben Allen, a Democrat from Santa Monica. “He got polio when he was a little kid. He got it before the vaccine became widely available. He doesn’t even have the arm strength in his arms to be able to break his fall.”
Along with Democratic state Senator Richard Pan of Sacramento, a pediatrician, Allen introduced the bill after a measles outbreak that began at Disneyland last year shed light on the growing number of people who refuse or slow their children’s vaccine schedules.
Many still believe the discredited theory that vaccines can cause autism, and others simply say their children are healthier without vaccines.
Clusters of such parents, many of them affluent, liberal and educated, have grown large enough in communities in California, Oregon and other states to threaten group immunity that has protected those with weak immune systems from such scourges as polio and whooping cough.
The bill would allow children at risk of side-effects from vaccinations to attend school without them with a doctor’s permission. Other unvaccinated children would have to be home-schooled.
But parents of immune-compromised children testifying at a public hearing on the bill in Sacramento on Wednesday said that doctors, fearing liability, were hesitant to offer waivers.
Unable to vaccinate, they would have to remove their children from school, these parents said.
The argument that the bill would deny education to unvaccinated children seemed persuasive to education committee members. Backers withdrew the measure before it came to a vote, in hopes of raising enough support to bring it back later this month.
A similar bill was withdrawn from consideration in Oregon last month.
All U.S. states require children to be vaccinated before enrolling in school unless they have a medical waiver. Most states grant religious exemption and 20 allow parents to opt out because of other beliefs.
Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Lisa Shumaker