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Immunization Exemptions In California May Get Tougher

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) - California's immunization law may get tougher for anti-vaccination families.

Senator Dr. Richard Pan (D- Sacramento) and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D- San Diego) introduced new legislation this session that would standardize the medical exemption request form instead of allowing doctors to submit an exemption using whatever form they'd like. All approvals would also need to go through the state level, not the local level.

"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 ant-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. "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."

Senate Bill 276 would require the State Department of Public Health to create the form and make it available to licensed physicians and surgeons statewide. The form would need to include:

  • The name, medical license number, business address, and telephone number of the licensed physician or surgeon
  • The child's name and the child's parent/guardian name
  • Statement certifying the licensed physician or surgeon personally examined the child
  • Description of the medical reason for the exemption

In order to submit an exemption, the doctor would be required to discuss the new requirements with the parents or guardians and do an examination of the child. The State Public Health Officer, or a designee, would then approve or deny the request. If a request is denied the Public Health Officer would need to include a reason and would allow a doctor to submit additional information within 30 days for further review.

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California would also be required to maintain a database of approved medical exemption requests and give access to local health officers.

California law requires all children attending schools to have the required immunizations as set forth by the State Department of Public Health. Parents can get a medical exemption from a licensed physician for certain things, including that the immunization isn't safe for a child. The exemption needs to detail the specific nature and duration of the medical condition or circumstances, along with family medical history. Schools are required to keep the immunization records of each student.

In 2015 Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 277 which eliminated the "personal beliefs" exemption. It also allowed home-schooled students to be exempt from the immunization requirements.

"Medical exemptions have more than tripled since the passage of SB 277. Some schools are reporting that more than 20 percent of their students have a medical exemption," said Dr. Richard Pan. "It is clear that a small number of physicians are monetizing their exemption-granting authority and profiting from the sale of medical exemptions."

Since SB 277 passed, the rate of medical exemptions has more than tripled (from 0.2% in 2015-16 to 0.7% in 2017-18), according to the bill's authors.

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