California lawmakers moved ahead last week with rules that would give state public health officials, instead of local doctors, the authority to decide which children can skip their shots before attending school.
Drafted by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, with Sen. Richard Pan, a pediatrician, Senate Bill 276 comes in response to spiking medical exemption numbers since the state banned personal belief exemptions in 2015 and would require physicians to certify that they examined the patient and submit exemption requests to the state’s Department of Public Health. The request would then be reviewed, along with the physician’s license number and professional history, in which state health officials could reserve the right to revoke exemptions if they’re found to be fraudulent.
“Three years ago, we stepped up our state’s vaccination laws to protect students and the entire public from being exposed to potential diseases. Now, we’re seeing anti-vaccination parents and a few doctors get around that law by loosely seeking and issuing medical exemptions when families are willing to pay,” Assemblywoman Gonzalez said in a press release. “The real cost is a threat to herd immunity and public health. That’s why I am co-authoring legislation today with Sen. Pan to say enough is enough.”
Parents who are skeptical of vaccines have shown intense opposition to the bill, claiming their children had adverse reactions to the vaccines, but the reactions are not severe enough to warrant exemption under the new bill.
In California, vaccination rates increased from 90.7% in the 2010-2011 academic year, to 95.6% in 2016-17. Medical exemptions among children increased only 0.5% since 2015, however. Some schools around the state saw as high as 58% of incoming kindergarten students with medical exemptions during the 2017-2018 school year, according to the state’s Department of Public Health.
“SB 276 assures students who truly need medical exemptions will receive them and that the schools they attend maintain community immunity to keep them safe,” Pan, D-Sacramento, said in a written statement. “Through passage of SB 276, we are taking a preventive approach to keep schools safe for all students by applying a model successfully used in West Virginia, which has not experienced measles in a decade.”
It is estimated that more than 40% of the 11,500 medical exemptions expected to be requested each year would be denied under the bill.