They will, however, have a variety of other options available. Children with valid medical reasons not to vaccinate are not required to vaccinate under the law.
These options include homeschooling their children on their own or in collaboration with a few other families, or participating in certain independent study programs offered by public schools. In fact, limiting exemptions to these children should lead to higher immunization rates, better herd immunity, and better protection for them.
Initially, all that was required was signing a form expressing an objection to vaccination based on undefined personal beliefs. In 1994, schools on average had 0.6 percent of kindergarten students claiming . While these percentages may seem low, they are not evenly distributed: Some communities have much higher rates, and a recent research paper demonstrated that those communities were most vulnerable to outbreaks. As of January 2014, following a bill passed in 2012, an informational requirement was imposed on the then-available exemption.
Assembly Bill 2109 required parents to obtain the signature of a healthcare provider—broadly defined to include school nurses, certain naturopaths, and others, in addition to doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs) and medical doctors (MDs)—attesting that the parents were given information about the risks of vaccine-preventable diseases before making the decision not to vaccinate their child. This essentially constituted a requirement of . In the year following AB 2109, the percentage of PBEs in kindergarten decreased by 19 percent (from 3.15 percent to 2.54 percent), but the overall immunization rates went up only slightly. During the hearings, Senator Richard Pan explained that experience from Washington State suggests that while their informed refusal law initially decreased the rate of , that trend stalled.
Like all states, California requires that children attending school be immunized.
California’s statute applies to both public and private daycares and schools and as of July 2015 requires immunization against ten preventable, dangerous diseases. Before SB 277 was passed, the allowed parents to send their children to school despite having declined some or all of the required vaccines.
Part examines whether a right of unvaccinated children to access schools and daycare services would create an increased risk of outbreaks that puts others at risk, including those who cannot be vaccinated.
This in turn could be construed as limiting medically exempt children’s rightful access to education, by requiring such naturally vulnerable populations to avoid areas with low vaccination rates.
In other words, informed refusal laws do not sufficiently increase vaccination rates. Under SB 277, children will only be able to attend school or daycare, public or private, if they either receive the immunizations required by law or obtain a medical exemption from the requirement from a licensed physician—meaning only MDs and DOs. Children may also be conditionally accepted into a school or daycare program if they are in the process of completing a series of vaccinations.
In other words, if parents wish to leave their children unvaccinated, absent an acknowledged medical reason to do so, they cannot send them to school or daycare. It should be remembered that SB 277 does not remove medical exemptions.