California bill would monitor doctors who grant vaccination exemptions

California lawmakers on Tuesday introduced a bill that would establish a system to monitor doctors who are granting medical exemptions for vaccinations, the latest crackdown in the state’s strict child immunization laws.

The bill would require the California state health department to vet each standardized medical exemption form filled out by physicians and create a database of which doctors are granting the exemptions, The Los Angeles Times reported.

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Currently, there is no regulatory system to examine if the exemptions are legitimate, the bill’s sponsor, said state Sen. Richard Pan (D). Pan is a pediatrician who wrote the state's 2015 vaccine law, the LA Times reported.

Doctors in the state have been accused of granting exemptions for reasons such as asthma or diabetes.

“Unfortunately, a few unethical physicians advertise medical exemptions for cash,” Pan said during a news conference.

Only one California physician has been sanctioned for fraudulently writing medical exemptions in recent years, the newspaper noted. 

Bob Sears, an Orange County pediatrician and vaccine skeptic, was put on a 35-month probation last year for writing a doctor’s note excusing a 2-year-old boy from having to receive any of his childhood vaccinations without first obtaining any medical information about the child.

Proponents of vaccine exemptions argue that parens should be able to make their own medical decisions regarding their children’s health.

Rebecca Estepp, who is part of a group that opposed the 2015 law, told the Los Angeles Times that Pan’s new proposal “seems like overkill.”

“It’s oppressive and burdensome, and the fact that [Pan is] going to insert bureaucrats in between the patient-doctor relationship is really troubling,” Estepp told the paper.

She added that the state-run database could scare doctors away from approving exemptions for seemingly valid reasons.

“What doctor is going to want their name on a database?” she said. “It’s going to be very difficult to have a doctor want to write an exemption under this sort of scrutiny.”

California has some of the strictest immunization regulations in the country, the newspaper noted. Students are required to be fully vaccinated to attend both public or private schools unless they obtain a physician’s medical exemption.

Only two other states — West Virginia and Mississippi — do not allow parents to seek religious or personal belief vaccine exemptions. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed the measure into law in 2015.

Ten percent or more of kindergarteners at 105 California schools during the 2017-2018 year had medical exemptions, the newspaper reported. Their collective immunity to prevent outbreaks of infectious diseases dropped below the 95 percent threshold necessary to prevent outbreaks of highly contagious illnesses.

Pan authored the 2015 vaccine law following a major outbreak linked to Disneyland. The measure is sponsored by the California Medical Association.

Several states have begun to reexamine vaccine exemptions amid a series of measles outbreaks across the country. Some states, such as Arizona, have proposed legislation this year expanding exemptions.

There have been 314 individual cases of measles confirmed in 15 states including California so far in 2019, according to the Center for Disease Control.