Berkeley Votes to Support Controversial Vaccine Exemption Bill

The Berkeley City Council on Tuesday night voted to support a controversial vaccine exemption bill.

Senate Bill 277 will be tested in Sacramento on Wednesday. The bill would repeal the state's personal belief exemption and require that only children who have been immunized for diseases such as measles and whooping cough be admitted to a school in California.

Berkeley council members voted 7-1 in favor of the bill and will send a letter to Sacramento informing lawmakers of the city's stance.

An overwhelming number of people who attended Tuesday's council meeting are against banning vaccination exemptions, while a small number of people spoke in favor of mandatory vaccinations with the only exemption being for medical reasons.

"This bill reeks of the very worst knee-jerk politics and fear mongering I've seen since 9-11," a resident said at the meeting.

The City of Berkeley was looking to take a stand on the controversial bill, which prompted council members to listen to what residents had to say.

"The problem with this bill -- it's basically addressing the vaccines on the vaccine schedule right now, but it doesn't all the possible vaccines that can enter the vaccine from now until the end of time," said Dr. Leslie Hewitt, who is against the bill.

SB 277 was co-authored by Sen. Richard Pan, a pediatrician. He was not at the meeting, but a group of first-year medical students were.

"What I have a problem with is when one person's personal freedom encroaches on someone else's freedom," said student Rachel Ekaireb, who is in favor of the bill. "It's not a question of personal freedom. It's a question of public safety."

A ban on vaccination exemptions has been tried in other states and failed.

Bill Whalen of Stanford's Hoover Institute said he is not sure if the bill will pass in California.

"Here we have a debate over vaccines, which is ultimately a debate over science," Whalen said. "Do you trust science to do the right thing for your children? It's not conservatives that have problems with this, but it's actually progressives."

Wednesday's debate over SB 277 will take place before the Health Senate Committee in Sacramento.

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