SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California’s Capitol building was buzzing Monday as several people were arrested protesting into the night a bill that would make it harder to get a medical exemption for vaccinating their children.
Despite the uproar in and outside the Statehouse, the legislation passed through the Assembly and Senate and landed on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk, where he almost immediately signed it into law.
Olivia, 7, and her parents Trisha Hotchkiss-Magee and Steven Magee were among the crowd protesting at the Capitol. They came down from the Redding area to share their story about how vaccines have personally impacted them.
"We listened to a pediatrician that said it was in (Olivia’s) best interest to have her vaccinated at two months, and she was vaccinated and she had a terrible reaction,” Hotchkiss-Magee told ABC10. “We spent three weeks in ICU and we almost lost her. She ended up having a brain infection and a blood infection."
ABC10 asked if the family was able to pinpoint exactly what caused that reaction.
"We had a couple of specialists that did tell us that they had sort of felt that it was the vaccines and for us to not vaccinate, and so we've stuck to our guns and have not vaccinated since,” Hotchkiss-Magee said.
The family home-schools Olivia, who is in second grade.
Dr. Dean Blumberg is chief of pediatric infectious diseases for UC Davis Children's Hospital. He said the science is very clear.
"Vaccines are safe and vaccines are effective and vaccines save lives," Blumberg said. "There's no question among the mainstream medicine and scientists about that. Those are all proven facts, but there are those skeptics out there, who don't believe that, who believe that vaccines are not safe, and it can be very confusing for parents."
Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Temecula) lamented the bill before a vote on Monday, saying that the legislation wasn’t given a public hearing. Indeed, Senate Bill 714 was fast-tracked because the last day to pass legislation is this Friday. It amends Senate Bill 276, which tackles the same issue and has already passed this legislative session.
"We shouldn't be vilifying parents that are only accused of wanting their children to be healthy,” Stone said. “Why would any parent want to not immunize their children against a disease like measles that kill their children with the overwhelming fear that they have, that the cure could be worse than the disease itself?"
Even though the legislation is now state law, Hotchkiss-Magee said she's not giving in.
"As mothers, we rise up, we fight and we won't give up,” she said.
According to the new law, kids with an exemption issued before Jan. 1, 2020 can keep attending school until they hit the next milestone — either kindergarten or seventh grade.
Starting Jan. 1, 2021, however, it's going to get a lot harder to get a vaccination exemption, and kids without them have to get vaccinated or they can't attend school.
As of 2021, all medical exemption requests must come through the California Immunization Registry, and the new law asks for a lot of information on that standardized form, including how long the doctor issuing the exemption has been treating the child. It also requires an explanation of why the kid should be exempt for each specific legally required vaccine — and there are at least 10 of those: Diphtheria, Haemophilus influenzae type b, Measles, Mumps, Pertussis (whooping cough), Poliomyelitis, Rubella, Tetanus, Hepatitis B and Varicella (chickenpox).
The standardized form also requires a doctor to certify that the information she or he is providing is "true, accurate and complete" — and the law says that providing false information could get that doctor in legal trouble.
Also, the state will create a standardized system to track immunization levels in schools and to track which doctors are submitting unusually high numbers of exemption forms.
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