Richard Pan is a pediatrician as well as an Assembly member, so the bills he authors on children's health care carry a little more weight with his fellow legislators.
But Pan (D-Sacramento) had his hands full yesterday in the Assembly Committee on Health, as he introduced AB 2109, a bill that would require licensed providers to educate parents about the risks of skipping immunizations -- for their children as well as others in the community. The bill would require providers to sign an exemption form specifying that parents had been educated about the risks but still chose against vaccinations.
"We want to make sure parents or guardians have an opportunity to talk to a licensed health care professional," Pan said. "And the reason for that is, that decision doesn't just impact that child. It impacts the larger community."
Immunizations keep a number of illnesses at bay, Pan said, but if a large number of children are not vaccinated, that creates the potential of a disease outbreak that could put many children at risk, he said.
"When a child has a vaccine-preventable disease, will that be stopped by a community that is vaccinated," Pan asked, "or is that going to break out and spread out throughout the community?"
Dozens of nurses, physicians and other health care professionals lined up at the hearing room microphone to voice support for the measure. An equally long line of chiropractors, parents and others lined up to oppose the bill.
Most of the opposition centered on opposition to immunization itself. Many parents said the new requirement to get signed consent is just a roadblock to deter people from opting out of vaccinations.
Robert Sears, a physician from San Diego, had a different concern about the bill.
"I'm in opposition because I believe some doctors will not sign these forms," Sears said. "And it cannot operate smoothly unless everyone is willing to sign this form. That will not happen as often as we would believe."
Sears said that as many as one-third of primary care providers "will kick patients out of their office if they don't vaccinate," Sears said. "Some are angry or dismissive or bully patients into vaccinating."
The main problem with the vaccination program, according to Sears, is choice. "If this becomes law, parents will no longer have the freedom of choice [to opt out]," Sears said. "The freedom of choice where someone needs to sign off on that choice is not a freedom."
The Assembly Committee on Health passed AB 2109, and it now heads to Appropriations.