California Governor Approves Bill Tightening Regulations on Vaccine Exemptions

California Senate Bill 276, signed into law on Sept. 9, 2019, places tighter regulations on medical exemptions given for children’s vaccines. The bill cements a deadline of Jan. 1, 2021, for the State Department of Public Health (CDPH) to create a standardized form system through California’s Immunization Registry for approving and tracking exemptions.

As of 2015, personal belief exemptions for vaccinations are no longer valid in California. However, recent studies, such as those conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics, have shown an uptick in the number of medical exemptions issued. Currently, only a doctor's signature on an exemption is necessary to enroll a child in school, though the state retains copies of the documents.

The bill, which includes three amendments to the California Health and Safety Code and the addition of two new sections, would mandate investigations into doctors who give more than five exemptions in a year, schools with below 95 percent herd immunity, or schools that do not voluntarily submit reports on their vaccination rates.

The required material for the submission of an exemption to the state includes background information on the treatment of the child, a detailed description of the reason for the exemption for each vaccine, and a statement certifying under penalty of perjury that all information is true and correct. It also adds an appeals process for denied exemptions.

The bill arrives on the tail of rising outbreaks and falling immunization levels. The bill states, “By May 2019, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

reported 1,022 cases of the measles nationwide. 51 of those incidences were in California.”

A CDPH study of immunization in elementary schools found that a vast majority of Westside kindergartens fell short of the 95 percent acceptable rate of herd immunity.

Percentage of kindergarten students with all required vaccinations in California, by county, 2016-17 and 2017-18 from left to right. Provided by Executive Summary California Department of Public Health, Immunization Branch 2017-2018 Kindergarten Immunization Assessment

Percentage of kindergarten students with all required vaccinations in California, by county, 2016-17 and 2017-18 from left to right. Provided by Executive Summary California Department of Public Health, Immunization Branch 2017-2018 Kindergarten Immunization Assessment

Percentage of kindergarten students with all required immunizations, by school type and school year, 2011-2012 to 2017-2018. Provided by Executive Summary California Department of Public Health, Immunization Branch 2017-2018 Kindergarten Immunization Assessment

Percentage of kindergarten students with all required immunizations, by school type and school year, 2011-2012 to 2017-2018. Provided by Executive Summary California Department of Public Health, Immunization Branch 2017-2018 Kindergarten Immunization Assessment

While there are no vaccine requirements for Santa Monica College (SMC) students, - besides a few exceptions for the Athletic and Medicine departments - the SMC Health Services Office offers seven major vaccinations, as well as the tuberculosis skin test. Students planning to transfer to a California four-year college are required to have, at minimum, MMR, Varicella, TDAP, and Meningococcal Conjugate vaccinations.

It’s currently unknown how many SMC students are vaccinated as the college is not required to report on levels of herd immunity. However, with primary and secondary schools in the area reporting lower rates of vaccination, SMC may be susceptible to outbreaks comparable to those at the University of California, Los Angeles and California State University, Los Angeles earlier in the year.

According to SMC Health Services nurse practitioner Kasiani Gountoumas, “We have over 30,000 students, and we don’t know how many of them are vaccinated. It’s possible we could have an outbreak of measles, mumps, and rubella, or chickenpox.”

Students interested in obtaining vaccinations may visit the Student Health Services Center, located in the northeast corner of the Cayton Center Complex.