Vaccine Hesitancy: California Senate Bill 276

Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


W.M. Keck Science Department

Reader 1

Jack Pitney

Reader 2

Larry Grill

Rights Information

2019 Sarah M. Wilson


In 2015, Disneyland California became the epicenter for one of the worst measles outbreaks in recent history. In response, the California Legislature passed Senate Bill 277, which eliminated all nonmedical vaccine exemptions. Immediately, rates of vaccination rose. But since its passage, the number of medical exemptions has tripled. It is estimated that four in ten current medical exemptions are fraudulent, leading policymakers to act again in order to uphold herd immunity and prevent epidemics.

Vaccination has drastically lowered morbidity and mortality and is widely viewed as a major public health success. However, there is a small but vocal minority of individuals who oppose vaccination. Vaccine hesitancy is a spectrum with a complex web of historical, social, cultural, and political factors that inform individual attitudes towards vaccination. Most vaccine hesitant individuals do not refuse all vaccines but may exempt their children from certain vaccines. When geographical clusters of vaccine exemption form, the risk of epidemic increases.

Like SB 277, the debate over SB 276 was intense and personal. The rhetoric from opponents focused on bodily autonomy, civil rights, individual liberty, and mistrust in government. The bill attracted attention from many anti-vaccine activists and celebrities. SB 276 was passed in September 2019 after much speculation. For other states, the battle over compulsory vaccination is just beginning. We will likely continue to see anti-vaxxers create a culture of fear around vaccination. Robust public policy is the most effective way to combat the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases.

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