Legislation announced Tuesday would make it more difficult to opt a child out of required vaccines for school.
The bill, introduced by state Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), who also authored the bill that eliminated the personal belief exemption, aims to put state and local health officials in the driver’s seat when it comes to approving vaccine exemptions.
“Medical exemptions have more than tripled since the passage of SB 277. Some schools are reporting that more than 20 percent of their students have a medical exemption,” Pan said in a prepared statement. “It is clear that a small number of physicians are monetizing their exemption-granting authority and profiting from the sale of medical exemptions.”
In Humboldt County, according to state data, 88.4 percent of kindergartners during the 2017-18 school year were vaccinated, below what the California Department of Public Health deems the “safest” at 95 percent. Of those unvaccinated were 86 kindergartners who had personal medical exemptions and 52 kindergartners who neither had vaccines nor an exemption.
The bill, SB 276, would reshape how exemptions are approved, requiring physicians to submit information to the state Department of Public Health including the physician’s name, license number and certification they examined the patient themselves.
The bill comes amid renewed worries about the spread of measles, which was reported in Shasta, Butte and Tehama counties this week. The Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services said there was no exposure in Humboldt County.
“There was no known travel history to Humboldt County by infected individuals during their contagious period,” said DHHS spokeswoman Meriah Miracle in an email Tuesday.
The county’s Public Health Officer Dr. Donald Baird lauded the effort, calling it a “step in the right direction” on Tuesday.
“I would welcome having public health oversight,” Baird told the Times-Standard in February, adding that in light of the rise in exemptions “professional oversight is the only way to make this work.”
Stephanie Dittmer, a Fortuna area physician and president of the board of the Humboldt Del Norte Medical Society said that while the group has not officially taken a position on the new bill, “we would likely support it.”
“We are directly suffering here with low local vaccination rates,” she said.
She noted the county has “nonphysicians that are in our county in the context of medical marijuana clinics using nurse practitioners to provide medical exemptions supervised by physicians in Sacramento.”
“The only way for these vaccines to work is for everybody to get them,” she said.
In 2018, according to state data, there were 21 cases of measles in California. This year, there are seven cases, not including the three cases reported in Butte, Tehama and Shasta County, which brings the state to double-digits less than one-third of the way through the year.
“This new legislation will close a loophole in the current law that has allowed a small handful of rogue doctors to skirt the spirit of the original law and has put millions of Californians at risk,” said David H. Aizuss, president of the California Medical Association, one of the sponsors of the bill.
Ruth Schneider can be reached at 707-441-0520.