Unless it's medically necessary, parents in California will no longer be able to exempt their children from being vaccinated in order to attend school. On June 30, Gov. Jerry Brown of California signed SB 277, a law removing the personal belief exemption that has historically allowed parents in California to opt out of vaccinating their children.
“The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases,” Brown wrote in a statement. “While it’s true that no medical intervention is without risk, the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community.”
California now joins Mississippi and West Virginia with one of the strictest school vaccine laws in the country. Since the new law applies to students attending both public and private school in the state, parents who decide against vaccination for a nonmedical reason would need to homeschool their child.
The law goes into effect in July 2016.
The California Pharmacists Association (CPhA) took a support position on the legislation from its inception, and also joined a broader coalition of health care providers who were advocating for its passage.
“We had a very direct stake in seeing its passage,” said Jon Roth, CAE, CEO of CPhA.
State laws vary on what immunizations pharmacists can provide and to whom. California pharmacists have expansive authorities to independently initiate any immunization for patients aged 3 years and older.
“As a front-line community resource, pharmacists have a stake in advancing vaccination rates, and in doing so, the profession needs to step up from a legislative standpoint and support these kinds of initiatives,” he said.
As health care providers, pharmacists also have an opportunity to educate patients about vaccines.
“It’s pharmacists’ contribution to the primary and public health of the community,” said Roth.
Pharmacists, along with many other vaccine supporters, were happy that Brown decided to sign SB 277. Jeff Goad, PharmD, MPH, FAPhA, FCPhA, FCSHP, professor and chair in the Department of Pharmacy Practice at Chapman University, said that when he was president of the California Immunization Coalition, the group offered a proposal to a different bill to limit personal belief exemptions. Instead, Brown issued a signing statement to create a separate religious exemption on the form.
“This legislation [SB 277] went even further by eliminating a personal belief exemption, but granting physicians the ability to allow some—with a family history of a medical contraindication or home schooled—to be exempted," said Goad.
In his statement, Brown acknowledged that SB 277 has evoked widespread controversy. After lengthy debate by lawmakers, the bill was amended “to exempt a child from immunizations whenever the child’s physician concludes that there are ‘circumstances,’ including but not limited to family medical history, for which the physician does not recommend immunization.”
The antivaccine movement has been particularly widespread in California. In many communities, immunization rates are still below 90%—some of the lowest in the nation. When an outbreak of measles erupted in January, 117 cases out of 178 were linked to Disneyland in Anaheim, CA, according to CDC figures from January 1, 2015, to June 26, 2015.
In February, California Sens. Richard Pan, a pediatrician, and Ben Allen, a former board president of the Santa Monica–Malibu Unified School District, along with Assembly member Lorena Gonzalaz, introduced SB 277 to repeal the personal belief exemption that currently allowed parents in California to opt their child out of vaccines in school. California Sen. Jeff Stone, a pharmacist, was also a coauthor of the bill.
Both the California Assembly and the state senate passed SB 277 the week before Brown signed it into law.