The San Diego Union Tribune

Editorial: Why California needs an even tougher vaccination law

August 14, 2018

By: The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board

California lawmakers deserved praise in 2015 for taking steps to push more students to have all the required vaccinations that are needed to reduce the risk of outbreaks of infectious diseases. Senate Bill 277, sponsored by state Sen. and pediatrician Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, barred parents from citing their personal beliefs in refusing to have their children vaccinated.

Legislators passed the mandatory vaccination law in the aftermath of a measles outbreak that authorities said began at Disneyland, spread to seven states and two other countries and was linked to children who went unvaccinated because of their parents’ objections. Higher vaccination rates are crucial to bolstering what Pan calls “community immunity” — the protection from infectious diseases that results when high levels of the public are vaccinated.

Senate Bill 277 quickly paid off. Last year, the state Department of Public Health said the vaccination rate of 95.6 percent among kindergartners was the highest seen in California since at least the 2001-02 school year. That was up 5.2 percentage points from 2015.

But now there are new signals that anti-vaccination sentiment remains strong in some corners of the state. While 96 percent to 99 percent vaccination levels are needed for herd immunity, a recent Los Angeles Times analysis of vaccination records found that 10 percent or more of kindergartners had medical exemptions for vaccinations in 105 schools — a sharp increase over the prior school year. According to the website, the local schools where kindergarten students had low vaccination rates included Innovations Academy, Chabad Hebrew Academy and Maranatha Christian Schools in San Diego, Saint Joseph Academy in San Marcos, Dehesa Charter in Escondido and Horizon Prep in Rancho Santa Fe.

Pan told the Times that there was enough evidence of “fraudulent exemptions” that he was considering new legislation to add new restrictions to his 2015 law, which is already seen as one of the strictest in America. Any revision should start with the adoption of specific criteria under which schoolchildren could be exempted.

The need for such provisions is underlined by the troubling case of Dr. Bob Sears, an Orange Country pediatrician who was placed on probation for 35 months by the state medical board for exempting a 2-year-old boy from vaccinations without attempting to gather basic medical information about the child. Sears and his defenders say he shouldn’t be punished for heeding the boy’s mother and her warnings that her child had a history of bad reactions to vaccinations. Sears’ Facebook page depicts him as a victim of overzealous authorities who exaggerate the value of vaccinations, and his website shows his association with those who have made thoroughly discredited claims linking autism to vaccinations. This is indefensible, and medical authorities must keep tabs on Sears going forward.

To protect California’s children, lawmakers need to heed this warning and reject the bogus arguments about vaccinations being dangerous that they rejected in 2015. If doctors want to give a medical vaccination exemption to a student, they should be required to make a substantive case as to why it’s necessary. “Community immunity” must be a high California priority.