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Medical Exemptions Triple After California Vaccine Law Goes Into Effect

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — State lawmakers may give California's strict vaccination law another shot after a surge in medical exemptions.

SB277 bars parents from citing religious or personal belief exemptions to get their children out of getting their vaccines.

Now doctors say the law isn't tough enough, citing a disturbing new trend when it comes to vaccination rates.

State data show vaccinations in public kindergartens are at a record high this year, at 95.6 percent compared to 92.8 percent the previous school year.

But so are medical exemptions.

In the 2016 school year, 2,850 children received medical exemptions that would keep them in school without vaccinations. That's triple what it was before the vaccine law went into effect.

The lawmaker behind the law says this rise is raising red flags.

"There's a very small number of physicians who have betrayed their professional oath," said state Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento).

Pan says those doctors are manipulating the vaccination law he wrote, writing unnecessary or improper medical exemptions to allow children to avoid getting their shots.

"I think they're monetizing their license," he said.

In some cases he says, doing so online.

"They're advertising that if you're interested in medical exemptions, come talk to them," he said.

He says many of those sites have been taken down, but the Medical Board of California says it has opened investigations into close to 50 doctors who may have written invalid medical exemptions.

Sacramento Integrative Medicine doctor Kelly Sutton is not one of them. But she has no problem writing medical exemptions for children who don't tolerate vaccines, due to reactions such as asthma, allergies, and anxiety to name a few.

"The fact is that vaccine injury is real," she says.

And in her office, those doctor's notes require extra patient testing and visits.

"It's a very painstaking process. It's thorough. It's scientific; it's detailed. It's individualized," she said.

Pan just wants to make sure all doctors are as thorough. He's working with the Medical Board to help crack down on the rest of them.

"When you have another physician acting unprofessionally and allowing other families to evade the law, someone needs to represent the public and say public health requires that we not allow inappropriate medical exemptions," he said.

The Medical Board says it can revoke a doctor's license for improperly issuing medical exemptions. It hasn't had to do that yet.

But when the legislature is back in session in January, Pan plans to review the data and his tough vaccination law to see if it needs to be rewritten.

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