California bill could ban anti-vaccine parents from doctor-shopping for medical exemptions

A California lawmaker has introduced a bill to crack down on doctors issuing medical exemptions to anti-vaccine parents, a practice he says has escalated since the state adopted more stringent standards on mandatory vaccination.

“Some schools are reporting that more than 20 percent of their students have a medical exemption,” Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, said in a statement introducing the bill. “It is clear that a small number of physicians are monetizing their exemption-granting authority and profiting from the sale of medical exemptions.”

Pan, a doctor, has been one of the most vocal proponents of vaccination in the Legislature. He sponsored the 2015 law that required children to receive vaccines if they attend school, day care or development centers.

His proposed Senate Bill 276 would further restrict vaccine exemptions by forbidding doctors from giving them. Instead, parents who want to petition to let their children attend school without vaccines would have to ask the California Department of Public Health.

“Physicians will submit information to CDPH, including the reason for the exemption, the physician’s name and license number and they will need to certify that they have examined the patient,” Pan’s office said in a statement for SB 276.

The bill also would create a state vaccine medical exemption database, and grant state and county health officials the authority to revoke exemptions “if they are found to be fraudulent or inconsistent” with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination guidelines.”

SB 276 comes as the nation continues to struggle with outbreaks of measles, a disease nearly eradicated in the modern world until British doctor Andrew Wakefield published a since-discredited study purporting a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. There is no link between vaccines and autism, as the CDC reports.

So far this year 314 cases of measles have been reported in the United States. California was one of the states recording a case of measles; others include Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas and Washington.

“Three years ago, we stepped up our state’s vaccination laws to protect students and the entire public from being exposed to potential diseases. Now, we’re seeing ant-vaccination parents and a few doctors get around that law by loosely seeking and issuing medical exemptions when families are willing to pay,” bill co-sponsor Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego said. “The real cost is a threat to herd immunity and public health”

SB 276 also is co-sponsored by Vaccinate California, the California Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, California.

“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,” CMA President David H. Aizuss said in a statement supporting the bill.

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Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for McClatchy. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.