Federal health officials say the number of measles cases reported in 2019 has reached its highest level in years.
On Wednesday, hundreds of opponents of mandatory vaccines rallied in Sacramento to oppose a California proposal to give state public health officials instead of local doctors the power to decide which children can skip their shots before attending school.
The rally was in response to Senate Bill 276 which aims to stop bogus medical exemptions for students entering the school system, a problem that health officials say has skyrocketed in San Luis Obispo County.
“We are not going away, we are taking a stand for health and medical freedom and for right useness,” said a protester.
The bill would give state public health officials, not local doctors, the power to decide which children can skip their shots before attending school.
“Vaccines are actually one of the best strategies to preventing illness and death in our population,” Dr. Penny Borenstein said, San Luis Obispo County Health Director.
Borenstein says the county has seen a tripling in the percent of children entering school with a medical exemption for vaccines.
“There are physicians both locally and in our region that are allowing parents basically to without much of a medical story, claim that they have a reason their child should not get vaccinated,” she said.
Opponents say the measure removes parental rights. But doctors and health officials around the nation are ringing the alarm on how dangerous measles and other contagious diseases could be.
“Measles can kill a person,” Dr. Robert Jacobson said, a Mayo Clinic pediatrician. “Measles can leave a person handicapped for life. I think a lot of people are complacent. They say ‘measles doesn’t happen in our community, it doesn’t happen to our family.’ They don’t realize that it’s really just one plane ride away.”
Just a few years ago, SLO County experienced a measles outbreak. The last case of measles was recorded in May 2018, Borenstein said, but local health officials are keeping a watchful eye.
Critics are unlikely to derail the bill, since Sacramento pediatrician Richard Pan is chairman of the health committee considering his legislation Wednesday.
Supporters say unvaccinated students are helping to spread measles outbreaks in California and elsewhere. Opponents also plan a rally to denounce what they term the “measles frenzy.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.