What was in SB 277 and SB 276, California's controversial vaccination bills?

SB 277 removed personal belief exemptions to vaccination requirements that allowed (or prevented) entry to California schools and daycare centers. To put that another way, the bill requires children who attend school to receive certain vaccinations, regardless of their personal beliefs (or the beliefs of their parents). The bill passed in 2015 and was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown.

“The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases,” Brown wrote in his signing message (link opens a PDF). “While it’s true that no medical intervention is without risk, the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community.”

Brown also noted that SB 277 was amended to allow for exemptions when a child’s physician concludes that there are “circumstances, including but not limited to, family medical history, for which the physician does not recommend immunization.”

In 2019, the California Legislature introduced new legislation (SB 276) to strengthen the bill—it passed the California Senate in May and awaits consideration in the State Assembly. That legislation would empower the state’s health department to vet physicians' medical exemptions.

SB 276 supporters say the legislation is necessary because some parents have obtained questionable exemptions from their doctors.

“California cannot allow a handful of unscrupulous physicians to put our children in danger, particularly babies too young to be vaccinated and children who genuinely need a medical exemption,” said Senator Richard Pan, the Sacramento pediatrician who introduced SB 276.

The bill has been characterized as a response to measles outbreaks in California’s Los Angeles and Butte counties. According to a report from The Los Angeles Times, more than 10 percent of kindergartners in 105 California schools had a medical exemption for the 2017-2018 school year, but physicians say only 3 percent of students should have a valid medical reason to avoid vaccination.

Opponents of SB 276 say it would violate parents' rights and force families to consider homeschooling their children to avoid vaccination. California already has strict vaccination requirements for children relative to other states; however, legislators claim disease outbreaks have compelled the state to take action.