By Nick Cahill
SACRAMENTO – Amid an uptick in diseases that vaccines should have eradicated in the United States long ago, a lawmaker who helped implement California’s strict child-immunization laws proposed legislation Tuesday that would crack down on doctors issuing “fake” medical exemptions.
State Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, says that while his 2015 bill has increased overall immunization rates at kindergartens across the state, the number of medical exemptions issued by doctors has tripled.
Pan, a pediatrician, wants lawmakers to protect public health by stemming the rising practice of doctors “selling” exemptions to parents who are against vaccination.
“Some schools are reporting that more than 20 percent of their students have a medical exemption,” Pan said in a statement. “It is clear that a small number of physicians are monetizing their exemption-granting authority and profiting from the sale of medical exemptions.”
Signed into law by former Gov. Jerry Brown, Senate Bill 277 required parents to immunize children against 10 diseases and removed a longstanding personal belief or religious exemption. Under SB 277, parents who send their children to public school cannot opt out of state-mandated vaccinations without a medical exemption from their pediatrician.
The hotly contested bill sparked lively debate in Sacramento regarding public safety and parents’ rights. Opponents packed legislative hearings and Pan claimed he was forced to hire extra security because of death threats.
Yet Brown, a former Jesuit seminarian, ultimately sided with science and settled the debate.
“SB 277 has occasioned widespread interest and controversy – with both proponents and opponents expressing their positions with eloquence and sincerity,” he said in a signing letter. “The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases.”
Pan’s latest vaccination measure, Senate Bill 276, would require the state to sign off on any medical exemption.
Doctors would have to fill out a new form listing reasons for the exemption and submit that they have actually examined the child.
In addition, the state would compile a database of all medical exemptions and be allowed to revoke a doctor’s ability to grant exemptions if they are caught filing fraudulent exemptions.
San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez says a few doctors and anti-vaccination parents are exposing the nation’s most populous state to preventable diseases like measles.
“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,” Gonzalez said in a statement.
The Democrats’ measure has been referred to the Senate Rules Committee but is not yet scheduled for a hearing. Senate Bill 276 is co-sponsored by the California Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, California, and Vaccinate California.
According to state data, 21 people contracted measles in California in 2018 and there have been six cases thus far in 2019. Experts claim keeping community immunization rates above 95 percent is key to keep measles from spreading.