California’s strong new vaccination law begins: This is the state’s first week under new rules that require all students in public or private schools to receive childhood vaccinations. But even though the law has barely started, some positive effects showed up months before the new rules took effect. With pediatricians warning parents a year ago about the law, vaccination rates among new kindergartners in fall of 2015 were higher in California than they had been in a decade, rising by 2.5 percentage points in a single year, to 92.9%.
Some of the increase might have been prompted by a measles outbreak in late 2014 and early 2015 that was traced to two Disney theme parks in Orange County, California. It eventually sickened more than 120 people over several states, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported, making the public more aware that preventable diseases could quickly make an appearance when vaccination rates are inadequate.
But California health officials said most of the increase in immunizations could be attributed to the new law, even though it so outraged some parents that they launched an unsuccessful recall campaign against state Senator Richard Pan, a physician who had authored the legislation. An effort to overturn the law, by placing a measure on the ballot, also failed.
The higher vaccination rates, though, indicate that many of the parents who weren’t vaccinating their children perhaps weren’t choosing that route out of a deeply held belief against immunization. They might have been procrastinating, state officials said, or perhaps found it more convenient not to complete the vaccination schedule. Previous California law made it easy to get an exemption from vaccination by filing a statement that the immunizations ran counter to the parents’ personal belief, although more recently, parents were allowed to do so only after visiting a health care professional to be informed about vaccinations.
Under the new law, California did away with the personal-belief exemption, joining Mississippi and West Virginia as the only states that require vaccinations for all school children unless they have a medical condition that would make vaccination risky for them.
But that doesn’t mean the law will be quietly accepted by all or even most parents who vehemently object to vaccinations. The San Jose Mercury News reports that at least a few parents are planning to move to other states, and that others are looking into educating their children at home. The law exempts home-schoolers.
Another form of resistance is popping up as well: Some California doctors have begun advertising their willingness to provide written medical exemptions for children, for a fee, Motherboard reported. In one case, a San Diego doctor is offering possible medical exemptions for a range of conditions, including eczema, that are not among the conditions listed as contraindications by the CDC. Parents are charged $120 per child. The law is somewhat vaguely written when it comes to medical exemptions, Motherboard reported, so it’s possible that in some cases, students might receive waivers from vaccinations even when they should be vaccinated.
Elementary school students who already have personal exemptions will not have to be immunized until 7th grade, and those already in middle and high schools will be able to continue throughout their school years without being immunized. That means the full effect of the law won't be known for years. But if vaccination rates rise enough to bring back herd immunity, the law will have done its work.
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