Berkeley City Council to send letter of support for vaccination exemption bill

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Berkeley City Council will send a letter in support of a state Senate bill aiming to end vaccination exemption loopholes after discussing the issue at its Tuesday meeting.

Senate Bill 277 — introduced by senators Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, and Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica — would require all children to be vaccinated in order to enroll in state schools. The bill would also repeal the state’s personal belief exemption, as well as require administration to notify parents of immunization rates at their child’s school.

The council item, which had been tabled since March 17, would adopt a resolution to send letters of support to various state politicians, including Gov. Jerry Brown and the co-authors of the bill. It was approved 7-1 by the council, with Councilmember Darryl Moore absent.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who voted against sending the letter, proposed a substitute motion that would add 10 questions addressed to the bill’s co-authors asking for more specific rhetoric on what he thought were vague sections of the bill, such as which vaccines should be required. The substitute motion did not pass.

A large crowd of Berkeley residents and parents spoke at the meeting’s public comment against the council’s proposed support. Various proponents of the anti-vaccination movement have cited they are not against vaccinations in general, but are opposed to a government mandate that would seek to “eliminate every parent’s right to choose,” according to Leslie Hewitt, who is on the board of the California Chiropractic Association, at the meeting.

“I think that it’s a parent’s right to decide what medical procedure their child (undergoes),” said Lauren Hull, a student at Saint Mary’s College who has opposed the bill. “The government doesn’t really have the right means to understand every child’s medical history.”

Several council members spoke in support of the Senate bill, citing health risks as the main concern for children who are not vaccinated.

“Many have not seen the ravages of smallpox and polio, and I would do anything to vaccinate children against those diseases,” said Councilmember Susan Wengraf, who authored the motion, at the meeting.

She additionally said passing the motion would simply “(send) a letter,” and that legislative action would only be taken by representatives in the state Senate, who will later vote on the bill.

Councilmember Max Anderson, who has a background in nursing, gave testimony of individuals in his life who had contracted measles and were impacted for life.

“There’s a choice between individual health decisions and public health,” Anderson said at the meeting. “Informed consent relates to individual medical decisions. It’s going to take a broader way of thinking about this instead of an individual look at what affects me, my child and my family.”

Mayor Tom Bates echoed the sentiments of several other council members, adding that people who oppose the bill “need to take this fight to Sacramento where it belongs.”

In addition, the council tabled an item prohibiting the sale of tobacco within 1,000 feet of schools and parks.

“(The ordinance) will shut me down,” said Zeead Handoush, owner of Whelan’s Smoke Shop located on Bancroft Way, at the meeting. “It would be a hardship on many small businesses.”

The item was taken off the consent calendar and put on the council’s action agenda because of a large number of public commenters speaking against it. It will be discussed by the council at its April 28 meeting.

Adrienne Shih is the lead city reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @adrienneshih.