UC Berkeley poll shows majority of CA voters favor SB 276, which tightened state vaccine regulations

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The UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies, or IGS, released a poll Monday that found that 83 percent of registered California voters favor SB 276, which tightened the state’s vaccine regulations.    

SB 276, which was signed into law by California Gov. Gavin Newsom in September, aims to increase immunization rates in all schools to above 95 percent. The State Department of Public Health is now required to annually identify and examine schools with immunization rates lower than 95 percent, as well as “physicians and surgeons who submitted 5 or more medical exemption forms in a calendar year,” according to the bill’s text. SB 276 aims to ensure that children and their communities benefit from vaccine technology, according to Arthur Reingold, a campus professor of epidemiology,

“Vaccines are important because it’s really … the most (effective) way to protect people from infectious diseases … and a way to not only protect individuals but also populations and communities,” said Lee Riley, a campus professor and chair of the UC Berkeley Division of Infectious Disease and Vaccinology. “There are no medical products like this where you can actually protect entire populations.”

IGS distributed English and Spanish surveys via email to a random sample of 4,527 registered California voters. Voter email addresses were provided by Political Data, Inc., which attempts to obtain a representative population sample by factoring age, gender and ethnicity.

According to the study, 16 percent of California voters opposed the tightened vaccine regulations. Riley said there are many reasons why some parents are hesitant to vaccinate their children, including religious beliefs. 

Vaccination laws vary from state to state, and some states are stricter than others. All 50 states allow medical exemptions to vaccines, but 45 states allow religious and personal objections to immunizations, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In 2015, after a measles outbreak at Disneyland, SB 277 eliminated religious and philosophical exemptions to mandatory vaccinations, according to Riley. 

“(Vaccinations prevent infectious diseases that are) totally avoidable at this point with the safe and effective vaccines we have,” Reingold said.

This new vaccination law has made it more difficult to obtain medical exceptions, according to Reingold. He added that before September 2019, physicians were able to easily issue medical exemptions for “invalid” reasons. 

Now, according to SB 276, a medical exemption is only official if a licensed physician provides the school with a written statement authorizing that the immunization is unsafe for a patient due to a specific medical condition or circumstance. 

“Parents love their children, people want what’s best for children. People who are highly intelligent struggle with (the) question of what’s best for their children, and the evidence is overwhelming that the benefits (of) vaccination outweigh the risks,” Reingold said. “But I understand parents struggle with this question.”

Contact Skylar Schoemig at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sschoemig_dc.