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The testimony of Catherine Sonquist Forest, MD, MPH was read in this afternoon’s Assembly Health Committee hearing on Senate Bill (SB) 277, a bill to eliminate the state’s personal belief exemption for childhood immunizations, which currently allows families to refuse to vaccinate their children against preventable and communicable diseases and still send those children to school.

If signed by the Governor, this bill will help ensure that infants, young children and individuals who are immunocompromised can safely attend school and live their lives without high risk of infection and complications from vaccine-preventable diseases. 

Dr. Forest, a California Academy of Family Physicians’ (CAFP) member, described the case of her four-year-old patient now dying in hospice care from complications of measles acquired at age five months, an age at which the patient was too young to be vaccinated. CAFP leaders strongly advocate for the protections that SB 277 would bring.

TESTIMONY BY CATHERINE SONQUIST FOREST, MD, MPH

“I have been a family medicine physician for over 20 years in the State of California, taking care of Californians from birth to death.  I am Medical Director of Stanford Health Care’s Primary Care Clinic in Los Altos and a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at Stanford School of Medicine.

“Today I want to tell you about a four-year-old hospice patient of mine who will die in the next several months of a complication of measles.  His family has authorized me to share his story, in the hope that it may persuade you to prevent the senseless suffering and death of other children. 

“It is not known where or from whom my patient contracted measles. But his family and I want you to understand, in no uncertain terms, that his death will be due to a failure of our herd immunity.

‘My child is dying because someone who chose not
to be immunized exposed my vulnerable baby,
and nothing

can be done
to save him.’

“My patient was only five months old when he was hospitalized with measles – too young to be immunized.  By the time he was old enough for immunization, it was already too late for him.  A year ago, at age three, he developed a rare complication of measles that will soon kill him. 

“If we continue to allow children to go unvaccinated, we will see more hospitalizations and deaths, as unvaccinated persons spread disease to innocent victims, just as the rest of the world still sees deaths and severe complications of childhood diseases.  As the mother of my patient told me last week, ‘My child is dying because someone who chose not to be immunized exposed my vulnerable baby, and nothing can be done to save him.’

“We know that vaccines are safe and effective. The data is overwhelming, indisputable, incontrovertible.  Allowing personal belief exemptions means allowing exposure of those who cannot be immunized.  That is unfair to those who cannot choose – like infants and the immunocompromised.

“The rest of the WORLD understands the importance of herd immunity and that the tiny RISK of childhood vaccines is far outweighed by the vast BENEFIT of childhood vaccines.  I urge you to protect the innocent and vulnerable among us.  Please vote in support of AB 277. Thank you.”

- End of Testimony -

 

“As family physicians, we are family and patient advocates,” said CAFP President Jay W. Lee, MD, MPH, who was not at the hearing but has been speaking widely in favor of SB 277’s passage. “We must not allow personal decisions based on false evidence to threaten the health of our children. The science is clear: Vaccinations save lives.”