POLITICS

California Weighs Crackdown On Anti-Vaccine Parents Gaming The System

State Sen. Richard Pan said his new bill would stop doctors from offering phony medical exemptions to avoid vaccines.

The California lawmaker who led the charge against personal belief exemptions for state vaccine requirements proposed an update to the law on Tuesday in light of doctors helping anti-vaccine parents game the current system. 

The legislation from state Sen. Richard Pan (D), a practicing pediatrician, would require the California Department of Public Health to evaluate and issue all future requests from parents seeking medical-based vaccine exemptions for their children attending public schools.

The groundbreaking 2015 law Pan co-authored did away with “personal belief exemptions” to vaccines, such as religious objections or belief that vaccines may have adverse health effects despite broad scientific evidence to the contrary, but it left alone medical exemptions, which are typically offered to immunocompromised children.

“In that bill we did leave the medical exemption in the hands of the child’s physician, understanding that the standard of care would be followed,” Pan said at a news conference Tuesday. “Unfortunately, a few unethical physicians advertised medical exemptions for cash. These physicians were often not even trained in pediatrics or family medicine and were not providing ongoing care for these children.”

Anti-vaccine protesters demonstrate in front of the California Capitol in 2015, when Sen. Richard Pan's first vaccine law pas
Anti-vaccine protesters demonstrate in front of the California Capitol in 2015, when Sen. Richard Pan's first vaccine law passed. Now, he wants to ensure doctors aren't helping parents lie to schools.

That phenomenon was exposed by media investigations and bolstered by an American Academy of Pediatrics study last fall that found the rates of medical exemptions in California increased 250 percent since the original bill’s passage, from 0.2 percent of students in the 2015-2016 school year to 0.7 percent in the 2017-2018 school year. 

In addition to reforming the process for future medical exemptions, the bill Pan introduced Tuesday would require physicians to register all the presently granted medical exemptions with CDPH, which would gain the authority to revoke any deemed inappropriate.

Pan, whom anti-vaccine advocates pummeled with death threats and likened to a Nazi when he and state Sen. Ben Allen (D) authored their 2015 bill, has repeatedly said it’s the state’s duty to ensure kids receive vaccinations not just for their own health and safety but also for the health and safety of legitimately medically compromised people who can’t receive vaccines.

Alyssa Hernandez, the Sacramento mom to a 2-year-old born with a rare liver disease, spoke in support of Pan’s bill on Tuesday. Because her son, Noah, is the recipient of a liver transplant, he can’t receive certain immunizations.

“Post-transplant, immunocompromised patients like Noah are not able to receive live vaccines like MMR and chickenpox,” she said. “That’s why this bill is so important to our family. My son is not able to be protected from these highly contagious viruses.”

Measles, one of the diseases covered by the MMR vaccine, is seeing an alarming spike. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added 46 new cases of measles nationwide this week, bringing this year’s count to 314 cases. Now, the count is just 58 cases shy of beating 2018 as the year with the second-highest number of cases in more than 20 years.

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