A bill that would crack down on medical exemptions for mandatory vaccines passed the California Senate floor on Wednesday, bringing the state one step closer to gaining control over who gets to pass on vaccinations.
Senate Bill 276 targets “unscrupulous physicians” who the proposal’s author, state Sen. Richard Pan, said are administering “fake” medical exemptions for children who should 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, D-Sacramento, said in a written statement. “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 measure requires the Department of Public Health to create a form that doctors must fill out to grant a medical exemption. State public health officials would determine if the exemption is appropriate.
The exemptions then go into a database overseen by public health officials who can monitor which doctors are routinely giving exemptions and for what reason. If the exemption is denied, doctors would have an opportunity to appeal the decision.
The bill passed a Senate Health committee last month after more than a thousand parents and family members lined up to offer nearly six hours of testimony and protest against the bill. Opponents of the measure say it infringes on the parent-child-doctor relationship and vaccine-skeptics raised concerns over whether immunizations are healthy for children.
Medical professionals who testified during April’s committee hearing said vaccinations promote “herd immunity,” meaning that when the majority of people get their shots, kids who can’t get vaccinated are still protected. They say vaccination levels should reach 95 percent in a community to protect kids who cannot receive vaccines for health reasons.
The bill, which is co-sponsored by the California Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, California and Vaccinate California, is moving through the Legislature during one of the largest measles outbreak in the country. The Department of Public Health confirmed 45 cases in California as of May 15, out of 880 nationwide.
The bill is Pan’s second attempt to curb vaccine exemptions in California. A 2015 law eliminated personal beliefs from a list of reasons to not vaccinate a child enrolling in California schools.
Pan earned a 24-10 vote in the Senate, and SB 276 now heads to the Assembly before it has a chance to reach Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk.
“Vaccinating our patients is one of the most important tools pediatricians have to prevent illness and death,” said Kris Calvin of the American Academy of Pediatrics, 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.”