Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, co-introduced legislation Tuesday to combat falsified medical exemptions that allow children to avoid vaccinations against illnesses like measles.
According to Gonzalez and Sen. Richard Pan, a pediatrician, medical exemptions have spiked since the 2015 passage of SB 277, which outlawed the use of personal belief exemptions to allow children to avoid vaccines.
While immunization rates in California have gone up since SB 277’s passage, medical exemptions have more tripled according to Pan, who co-authored SB 277 with Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica.
“Some schools are reporting that more than 20 percent of their students have a medical exemption,” Pan said. “It is clear that a small number of physicians are monetizing their exemption-granting authority and profiting from the sale of medical exemptions.”
SB 276 would require physicians to submit medical exemption requests to the state’s Department of Public Health, which would then certify that the patient is allowed to forego vaccination. State public health officials would review factors like the reasoning for the exemption request and the physician’s name and license number.
Officials would also require that the physician confirm that he or she has examined the patient. State officials would have the authority to revoke exemptions if they are fraudulently issued.
“Three years ago, we stepped up our state’s vaccination laws to protect students and the entire public from being exposed to potential diseases,” Gonzalez said. “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.”
State vaccination rates have increased as legislators have cracked down on vaccine avoidance. California’s vaccination rate has risen from 90.7 percent of state residents during the 2010-2011 academic year to 95.6 percent during the 2016-2017 academic year.
According to Pan, a 94 percent vaccination rate is required to achieve so-called herd immunity, which prevents the spread of preventable illnesses to people like infants and chemotherapy patients who can’t be vaccinated.
The bill is co-sponsored by the California Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics California and the vaccine advocacy group Vaccinate California.
“It is the rare physician who does not take this responsibility to heart, but they put all of us, our children and our communities, at risk,” said Kris Calvin, CEO of the AAP-CA. “By ensuring medical exemptions to vaccines are reviewed and valid, this bill will protect the health of California’s children and of our larger communities. It is a reasonable and urgently needed measure.”
— City News Service