A California bill that would allow students to opt out of mandatory school vaccinations only if they have a medical condition that justifies an exemption is one step closer to becoming law, though it still has a long way to go. The bill was introduced in the California Senate in response to a measles outbreak at Disneyland in late December that's now linked to almost 150 infections.
Among several hundred supporters and protesters outside the Capitol building in Sacramento on Wednesday, the bill sparked a debate about individual rights and responsibilities.
Opponents wore American flags. One child held a sign that said, "Force my veggies, not vaccines." They say eliminating the personal belief exemption threatens their ability to do what's right for their kids.
"I think that everybody should be able to make their own choice," said Lisa Cadrein of Los Angeles. She fears vaccines would harm her daughter.
"I am afraid that her big beautiful blue eyes will not focus on me anymore, and she won't be the kid that she is," Cadrein said.
But scientific studies show no link between vaccines and autism spectrum disorder, and inside the hearing, parents also talked about protecting their kids — from children who aren't vaccinated. Democratic Sen. Lois Wolk is on the Senate Health Committee and spoke on behalf of the pro-vaccine parents.
"Our individual rights aren't without limits, and in this particular case, your insistence on your right really could harm my children or my grandchildren," Wolk said.
The health committee in California's Senate passed the bill 6-2 on Wednesday. That was just the first step — the proposed legislation has many more hearings before it could become law. Meanwhile, Washington, Oregon and North Carolina have also considered legislation to limit families' rights to opt out of mandatory vaccinations, and all of those efforts have stalled.
This story is part of NPR's reporting partnership with Capital Public Radio and Kaiser Health News.
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