Health

Disney measles outbreak: No major religion opposes immunization

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The imminent legislation in Sacramento that would get rid of California's law allowing parents to opt out of vaccinating their children by citing personal beliefs would remove the religious exemption. The state senator leading the charge for the bill says he's open to retaining the exemption, even though most major religions do not prohibit vaccination.

California is one of 48 states that allow parents to skip their children's vaccinations on religious grounds.  Parents can check a box on the state's Personal Belief Exemption form saying that their religion prohibits them from seeking medical advice or treatment. The form does not ask parents to name their religion.

Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacrament0) told KPCC that he and his co-sponsors "would welcome a discussion about the necessity for a religious belief exemption and the nature of that exemption."

According to state figures, of the roughly 13,600 children currently exempted from vaccines due to personal belief, about 2,700 are for religious reasons. But none of the major world religions prohibits vaccination. Most Christian denominations, Sunni and Shia Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and the three main strains of Judaism all allow them.

That is also the case with most modern religions. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints - the Mormon church - has long advocated immunization, and in 2012 it added it to its list of major humanitarian initiatives.

The Church of Scientology has no religious objection to vaccination, according to a 2006 interview with the Rev. John Carmichael, the president of the church in New York.

Even the Church of Christ, Scientist, which believes in achieving health through prayer - does not oppose vaccination for its adherents.

A few minor Christian denominations do, including Faith Tabernacle and the Church of the First Born. These groups have not responded to requests for comment about the legislation.

California's two U.S. senators on Wednesday criticized the religious exemption.  In a letter urging state health officials to reconsider California's vaccine exemption policies, Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein called the religious exemption "flawed."

Parents, they wrote, "can simply check a box claiming that they have religious objections to medical care." 

Gov. Jerry Brown is behind the religious exemption.  He directed state health officials to create it after he signed Pan's 2012 bill that tightened the rules for parents seeking to opt out of vaccines because of personal beliefs. The bill required those parents to first get a doctor's signature to show that they had discussed the risks of not vaccinating. But Brown wanted parents whose religions forbid seeing doctors or getting medical treatment to be excluded from that requirement.

Just three years later, amid a measles outbreak, Brown now seems open to the possibility of doing away with the religious exemption he created.

After Pan announced his bill on Wednesday, a spokesman for Brown said, "the Governor believes that vaccinations are profoundly important and a major public health benefit and any bill that reaches his desk will be closely considered."