Closing California’s School Vaccination Law Loophole

Childhood vaccination medical exemptions in California have tripled in just 3 years

child paying with legos at school

There is good news for kindergarten vaccination rates in California, says the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) in a press release on November 27, 2018.   

Nearly 3 years after passing a law that banned personal belief exemptions for childhood vaccinations, immunization rates for California children entering kindergarten are nearing an all-time high. 

The proportion of kindergarten students who received all of the required vaccines rose from 92.8 percent in the 2015-2016 school year (the academic year before S.B. 277 took effect) to 95.1 percent in the 2017-2018 school year. 

But, there is also some bad news to report, says the AAFP.

During that 3 year period, the number of medical exemptions issued for childhood vaccinations has more than tripled. 

The increase in medical exemptions was from 0.2 percent in 2015-2016 to 0.7 percent in 2017-2018. 

Now, results of a new study show that parents -- and, in some cases, healthcare professionals -- are using a technical weakness in this California law to their personal advantage. 

This study conducted 34 interviews with 40 health officers and immunization staff representing 35 of the 61 local health jurisdictions in California. Generally, local health jurisdictions described a narrow role in providing support and technical assistance to schools. 

Only 5 jurisdictions in this study actively tracked medical exemptions received by schools. 

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This study’s conclusion said ‘Some physicians may continue to write medical exemptions for children without scientifically justified medical contraindications to vaccines.’ 

‘Without additional legal changes to S.B. 277, including a standardized review of medical exemptions, this could potentially undermine and limit the long-term impact of S.B. 277.’ 

In a statement to AAFP News, the California Chapter (CAFP) said: "We are very concerned with any physician offering exemptions that are not based on the medical condition of the patient, as specified in the law." 

"CAFP finds it unconscionable that a physician would base an exemption solely on payment, putting their communities and immunocompromised patients at risk." 

California AFP President Lisa Ward, M.D., noted: "Along with other primary and preventive care services, we need to do our best to ensure all patients have access to this important health measure." 

To that end, the California AFP is considering options to fix some of S.B. 277's loopholes that would keep immunization rates high, without creating additional issues. 

"We are currently exploring ways we can best assure that communities have ‘herd immunity’, as well as methods to prevent exemptions not rooted in legitimate medical concerns," said this California AFP statement.