Ah, California. Hotbed of vaccine refusal, home to vaccine “exemption clusters” that might have been at the root of the 2010 pertussis outbreak in that state. Marin County CA, for example, can boast a high frequency of parents claiming exemptions from vaccinating their children because of “personal belief,” which doubled there from 2005 to 2013. In some schools in that county, as many as three-quarters of entering kindergartners enroll with a personal belief exemption.
Alarmed at this growing resistance to prevention of deadly infectious disease, public health officials in California sought a change to the exemption. The California Assembly passed a bill requiring parents opting out of vaccinations to obtain a healthcare professional’s signature confirming that the parents had first received information about the risks and benefits of vaccines. A legislator-pediatrician authored the bill, which received broad support from medical entities in California, according to Bruce Pomer, executive director of the Health Officers Association of California, writing in an op-ed at Capitol Weekly.
But, there was a hitch, and now some public health experts are deeply concerned that a loophole in the new exemption language could actually end up boosting opt-outs.
The loophole, included at the direction of California Governor Jerry Brown, is a religious exemption that would allow parents to evade seeing a medical professional. The evasion is as easy as checking a box [PDF] declaring that one’s religion precludes one from seeing said medical professionals. Which religions that might be is unclear; those that appear to be most common in, say, Marin County, don’t tend to prohibit adherents from turning to licensed healthcare practitioners.
Written By: Emily Willingham
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