Governor signs bill eliminating 'personal belief' exemption for vaccinations

Parents will only be able to be exempted by a medical doctor

Come July 2016, California parents will no longer be able to claim a "personal belief" exemption from requirements that all children in schools or daycare be immunized. Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill June 30 that will end the exemption for personal and religious beliefs.

"The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases," Gov. Brown said in his signing letter. "While it's true that no medical intervention is without risk, the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community."

The existing law allows parents to be exempted from the vaccination requirements because of personal beliefs, after meeting with a medical professional who has explained the dangers of non-vaccination; because they state they have a religious objection; or because they show their child has medical reasons not to be vaccinated.

Under the new law, parents may be exempted from the vaccination requirements only by a medical doctor who certifies there are circumstances (such as a family's medical history or other medical problems) that indicate against immunizations. Public or private schools and daycare facilities will not be allowed to admit any other non-vaccinated child.

When the new law takes effect in July 2016, children who had an existing personal belief or religious exemption will be allowed to attend one more school year without the required vaccinations. Children being home schooled are not affected.

Senate Bill 277 passed the state Senate in May on a 25-10 vote and the state Assembly on June 25 by a vote of 46 to 30. The Senate approved Assembly amendments on June 29.

The high percentage of children not being immunized came under scrutiny last year after a measles outbreak started in Disneyland and spread widely. (Read more about measles immunizations in Palo Alto schools here.)

Public health officials say that if the percentage of immunized children falls below a certain threshhold, the "herd immunity" that protects those in the community who cannot be immunized, is lost. Those with compromised immune systems and infants make up most of the group who cannot be immunized.

In 2014, Palo Alto's Walter Hays and Ohlone elementary schools had the highest percentage of kindergarteners with personal belief exemptions in the district, though they're relatively low at 9 percent, according to data from the California Department of Public Health. Fairmeadow Elementary follows with 5 percent, Addison and Hoover with 4 percent, 3 percent at Greendell and 2 percent at Barron Park, El Carmelo and Palo Verde. There were none at Duveneck or Juana Briones that year, according to the Department of Public Health.

Comparatively, Menlo Park's Peninsula School had the highest reported percentage of personal-belief exemptions in San Mateo County for the 2014-15 school year: 30 percent of that year's 30 kindergartners (nine students).

Santa Clara County overall has a low opt-out rate: It was 1.72 percent in 2013-2014 and dropped to 1.57 percent the next year, according to the Department of Public Health.

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