The state Senate Wednesday passed a bill co-authored by a San Diego assemblywoman that’s intended to reduce the number of falsified medical exemptions which allow children to avoid common vaccinations.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, drafted the bill with Sen. Richard Pan, a pediatrician, in response to spiking medical exemption numbers since the state banned personal belief exemptions in 2015. Vaccination rates have increased since that ban, according to Pan, but medical exemptions have also tripled in that time.
Senate Bill 276 would require physicians to certify that they examined the patient and submit exemption requests to the state’s Department of Public Health, which would then review the request and the physician’s license number and professional history. State health officials would also reserve the right to revoke exemptions if they’re found to be fraudulent.
“SB 276 will protect community immunity by ending the exemptions cottage industry, in which anti-vaccination parents seek — and a few doctors issue — fake medical exemptions as a way to get around California’s vaccination laws,” Gonzalez said.
Statewide vaccination rates have increased from 90.7% in the 2010-2011 academic year to 95.6% in 2016-2017. Since 2015, however, medical exemptions have increased among children statewide from 0.2% to 0.7%. During the 2018-2018 school year, some schools around the state had a percentage of incoming kindergarten students with medical exemptions as high as 58%, according to the state’s Department of Public Health.
A vaccination rate of 94% is necessary to achieve so-called herd immunity, according to Pan, which prevents the spread of preventable illnesses like measles and whooping cough to people like infants and chemotherapy patients who can’t be vaccinated.
“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 said. “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.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed more than 700 measles cases this year, with children under 5 years old accounting for roughly half of them and more than 500 in people who had not been vaccinated. About 40 measles cases have been reported in California this year, according to the CDC.
The bill is supported and co-sponsored by the California Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics California and the vaccine advocacy group Vaccinate California.
Opponents of the legislation say it undermines personal freedoms and the relationship between a physician and their patients. Opponents in the Senate gallery shouted “we will not comply” as legislators voted on the bill.
Republicans, who opposed the bill, said that instead of the new rules in SB 276, the California Medical Board should crack down on doctors who issue fraudulent vaccination exemptions, investigate them, and pursue disciplinary actions where warranted.
“I am concerned that SB 276 ignores the judgment of a family’s personal doctor and replaces it with a government bureaucracy,” said Senate Republican leader Shannon Grove of Bakersfield after the vote.
The bill passed on a 24-10 vote. It will now head to the Assembly, followed by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk should it be passed there.
— City News Service