California Vaccine Exemptions Bill Amended After Governor Raised Concerns

Gov. Gavin Newsom said he feared the legislation would inject government bureaucracy into doctor-patient relationships.

A California bill to make it harder for parents to avoid vaccinating their children has been amended after Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) raised concerns that it could impose government bureaucracy on doctor-patient relationships.

Senate Bill 276, introduced by Democratic state Sen. Richard Pan, initially proposed requiring the state health department to review and then either approve or deny all medical exemptions to school immunization requirements. The legislation aimed to curb the abuse of California school immunization exemptions by doctors and families who hold anti-vaccine views as the country witnesses its worst measles outbreak in decades.

Newsom expressed apprehension over the bill earlier this month, saying it could create “a new bureaucracy.”

“I like doctor-patient relationships. Bureaucratic relationships are more challenging for me,” Newsom told reporters at the California Democratic Party convention in San Francisco. “I’m a parent. I don’t want someone that the governor appointed to make a decision for my family.”

Pan, a pediatrician, said he would work with Newsom to find a solution and unveiled the result of those negotiations on Monday evening.

The amended bill would mandate a public health review of any school found to have an immunization rate of less than 95%. Public health officials would also be required to review any doctor who grants more than five medical exemptions in a calendar year. The state would be authorized to revoke any exemptions it deems fraudulent or medically inaccurate.

“I appreciate that the governor has worked with me in crafting a California solution to halting the abuse of medical exemptions that endanger our children,” Pan said in a statement, according to The San Francisco Chronicle. “The governor recognizes that we need to ensure that children who truly need medical exemptions get them and they will be safe in their schools with community immunity.”

Mark Ghaly, the state’s health and human services secretary, applauded the revised bill in a statement on Tuesday.

“This bill protects the doctor-patient relationship, strengthens the state’s ability to target doctors who abuse the medical exemption process and gives state public health officials the tools to identify and protect schools and communities where herd immunity is in danger,” Ghaly said, according to CBS.

California law requires children attending public and private schools to be immunized against common childhood diseases, though the state permits exemptions if a physician identifies a medical reason for a child to skip some or all vaccines.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines valid reasons for medical exemptions, which can vary from vaccine to vaccine, but can include factors like whether a child has been in a coma, is undergoing chemotherapy or has life-threatening allergies.

California has relatively high immunization rates for children entering kindergarten, but the number of students receiving medical exemptions to vaccines has quadrupled in recent years, according to Pan.

California is one of just three states in the country, along with West Virginia and Mississippi, that don’t allow families to opt children out of immunization for religious or philosophical reasons. West Virginia also requires public health officials to vet medical exemptions.

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