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Wellness Corner - Implementation of California's New Vaccine Law - September 2015


 Implementation of California's New Vaccine Law - Wellness Corner - September 2015

by Dr. Gary Pace

School is here again, and with the passage of SB 277 (the new school immunization law), many parents are wondering about the implications for their children. West Sonoma County has been known for having low vaccination rates, mainly for personal belief exemptions. The Press Democrat reported that the Sebastopol Independent Charter School had only 23 percent of incoming 2014 kindergartners immunized against measles, mumps and rubella. At SunRidge School, over half of the 2014 kindergartners were covered by personal belief exemptions. Clearly, the new law will require some adaptation in our community. 

What is Known 

1) The law goes into effect on January 1, 2016.

2) Personal and religious waivers are no longer valid under the new law. Students with personal belief exemption forms already filed (prior to January 1, 2016) will be allowed to continue to enroll in any schooling/care facility until they move onto the next relevant grade (see #3).

3) This immunization requirement includes all students in private or public elementary/ secondary schools, child-care centers or developmental centers. Schools will check immunization status when students are entering Kindergarten, 7th grade, and when entering the school district for the first time. After January 1, 2016, students at these specific transition points will be required to demonstrate full immunization coverage or will need a “Medical Exemption.”

4) The vaccines needed are: diphtheria, HIB, measles, mumps, pertussis, poliomyelitis, rubella, tetanus, hepatitis b, and chickenpox. The California Department of Public Health (DPH) is permitted to add any other diseases deemed appropriate to this list in the future.

5) Medical exemptions remain valid under the new law, and these are the only way of avoiding full immunization. They involve getting a licensed physician to sign that the child requires a permanent exemption due to a medical condition, and it must be presented when they register for school. This statement must include the child’s condition and relevant immunizations. 

Areas of Ambiguity 

1) When entering 7th grade, some information seems to assert that only Pertussis will be required, other sources say that all of the vaccines will be required.

2) What constitutes a “Medical Exemption” currently does not seem to have been well established. One possibility is that this exemption could become similar to a Medical Marijuana card where families would only need to find a sympathetic doctor that would sign the form.

Because I have been approached by several parents about the possibility of obtaining an exemption and without clear guidelines, I decided I had better do some research. The Centers for Disease Control has very specific criteria for what constitutes a “contradiction” to each vaccine, and what constitutes a “precaution.” The contradiction would be what I would consider a clear medical exemption, and these are very rare and severe conditions. 

What most parents will call a medical exemption would probably be labeled a “precaution” by the CDC, which I don’t think is the intent of the law. Until it is determined who will review the exemption requests, or what criteria will be used, I think each school will likely have to decide how to honor a physician’s written exemption. Presumably the Superintendent of Schools, the Public Health Department and the Legal Advisors of the schools will be involved in issuing some recommendations. I suspect it will be a liability issue, with schools wanting to be protected against letting unvaccinated children attend unless they meet clear-cut criteria.

Conclusions: When parents are dealing with the health of their children, emotions can run high. The new law has been signed and will have an impact in our area, with parents and school systems needing to adjust. As the January 1 deadline gets closer, hopefully we will receive some specific guidelines.

There may be some unintended consequences. I have heard some parents state that they would rather home-school or move out of state rather than immunize.



Dr. Gary Pace - Dirctor of Integrative Health


Dr. Gary Pace - Wellness Corner