By Miriam Raftery
September 12, 2019 (Sacramento) – Governor Gavin Newsom has signed a pair of bills aimed at increasing vaccinations of children in California. The measures will allow the state to investigate doctors who write more than five medical exemptions from vaccines in a year and also empowers officials to investigate schools with less than 95 percent of students vaccinated.
In San Diego’s East County, some schools have vaccination rates as low as 10 percent, according to data compiled by Shots for Schools, as ECM reported last month.
The actions come after doctors and public health officials voiced growing concern over the rising number of measles cases in California, including recent exposures at Disneyland and other tourist attractions--and amid vocal protests at the Capitol.
“This legislation provides new tools to better protect public health, and does so in a way that ensures parents, doctors, public health officials and school administrators all know the rules of the road moving forward,” Gov. Newsom announced.
Supporters of the bills include the American Academy of Pediatrics and the California Medical Association. Medical professionals note that widespread vaccinations succeeded in eliminating polio from the U.S. and smallpox worldwide. Medical exemptions are alllowed for vaccines or booster shots for limited reasons, such as patients who are allergic to a vaccine ingredient, have certain serious medical conditions, or had a bad reaction to an earlier vaccine. Supporters say these vulnerable patients depend on others getting vaccinated to prevent them from contracting potentially lethal contagious diseases.
The bill drew opposition from a loud and vocal crowd of parents and other anti-vax activists who shut down debate on the Senate floor for two hours; several demonstrators were arrested. Some parents voice concerns over safety of vaccines and/or object to the government making health decisions about their children.
The Governor earlier sent the measures back to the Legislatures to add amendments that Newsom required before signing the bills. Newsom’s amendments including making the bill take effect next year, so doctors who wrote too many exemptions in the past won’t face scrutiny. Another amendment removed a requirement for doctors to swear under penalty of perjury that they are not charging fees for filling out medical exemption forms or conducting medical examinations related to vaccine exemptions. The amendments also prohibit medical exemption forms from becoming public records.
Opponents objected to the lack of hearings for public comments to be heard before the bill was voted on in the state Assembly and Senate.
Senator Brian Jones (R-Santee), who represents much of East County, spoke against the bill during the floor debate. “What impending crisis is happening today in California that is compelling us to take these extraordinary steps in the legislative process to ram this through, introduced just deadline of amendments?” Jones called the action an “abuse of the legislative process” and quoted the motto above the Senate rostrum in Latin, “Senatoris Est Civitatis Libertatuem Tueri” and English, “It is the duty of the Senators to protect the liberty of the people.” View video.
Several opponents of the bill have said they will try to put an initiative on the ballot to repeal the new laws, the Los Angeles Times reports. A similar effort to repeal California laws that ended personal and religious exemptions for vaccines through referendums failed, however.