By Dan Whitcomb and Michael Fleeman
(Reuters) – Responding to an outbreak of measles that has infected more than 100 people, two California lawmakers said on Wednesday they would introduce legislation to end the right of parents in the state to exempt their children from school vaccinations based on personal beliefs.
California public health officials say 92 people have been diagnosed with measles in the state, many of them linked to an outbreak that they believe began when an infected person from outside the country visited Disneyland in late December.
More than a dozen other cases have been confirmed in 19 other U.S. states and Mexico, renewing a debate over the so-called anti-vaccination movement in which fears about potential side effects of vaccines, fueled by now-debunked science, have led a small minority of parents to refuse to allow their children to be vaccinated.
“The high number of unvaccinated students is jeopardizing public health not only in schools but in the broader community. We need to take steps to keep our schools safe and our students healthy,” state Senator Ben Allen said in a written statement announcing the legislation he is co-sponsoring with fellow Democrat Richard Pan.
The measure would make California the 33rd state to bar parents from opting out of vaccinations based on personal beliefs.
Also on Wednesday, a top Los Angeles County health official said that a total of 21 cases have been recorded in the county but that after the initial wave of reports, the number has fallen to four in the latest two-week period.
“We’re getting to a number of cases that’s manageable, and I’m hopeful that within weeks or a couple of months we will be able to turn the corner on this particular outbreak,” Interim Health Officer Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser told a press conference, although he cautioned that a lag in reporting could still add a few more cases.
A day care center at a high school in the Los Angeles suburb of Santa Monica closed earlier this week and more than a dozen infants placed under a three-week quarantine after a baby enrolled in the program was diagnosed with measles.
Measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000 after decades of intensive childhood vaccine efforts. But last year the nation had its highest number of measles cases in two decades.
Most people recover from measles within a few weeks, although it can be fatal in some cases.
(Reporting by Michael Fleeman and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Eric Walsh)