Hundreds likely to weigh in on California vaccine measure

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Hundreds of people were expected to weigh in Thursday on changes to California legislation that would give public health officials oversight of doctors who grant a high number of vaccination exemptions.

The hearing of the Assembly Health Committee is likely to draw those opposed to vaccines as well as white-coated medical professionals and students voicing support for the measure. Critics shouted “we will not comply” inside the Senate last month as lawmakers voted on the legislation.

The hearing comes just days after Sen. Richard Pan, the bill’s author, announced major changes designed to win support from Gov. Gavin Newsom. The Democratic governor was concerned with requiring state health officials to sign off on every exemption, as the measure had initially required.

Now, the public health department would only scrutinize doctors who grant more than five medical exemptions in a year and schools with vaccination rates of less than 95%.

Officials say that threshold is needed to provide “community immunity,” which protects those who haven’t been vaccinated for medical reasons or because they are too young.

The measure, which Newsom said he will sign if it reaches his desk, comes as measles cases have reached a 25-year high in the U.S. Lawmakers in other states also have been considering changes to confront the increase.

Maine eliminated religious and philosophical exemptions, while New York lawmakers ended a religious exemption. Washington state halted most exemptions for the measles vaccine, though legislators in Oregon defeated a measure that would have made it harder for families to opt out.

The California legislation is aimed at stopping some doctors from selling immunization exemptions, which supporters of the bill said has become a growing problem since the state ended non-medical exemptions in 2016.

New figures show the rate of kindergartners with permanent medical exemptions has quadrupled since California banned personal exemptions, and more than 100 schools have medical exemption rates exceeding 10%.

Among provisions in the revised California legislation:

— Doctors can’t charge for filling out a medical exemption form or conducting a related medical examination. They would have to sign the forms under penalty of perjury.

— California Department of Public Health doctors or registered nurses would review exemptions issued by local medical providers who issue five or more a year or at schools with high exemption rates.

— The state public health officer, who is a doctor, could revoke any that don’t meet national guidelines.

— Parents could appeal to an independent panel of doctors.

— Officials could consider families’ medical histories in allowing exemptions in addition to immunization guidelines issued by federal medical authorities.

Supporters said the legislation would permit exemptions for the less than 1% of students who should avoid vaccinations because they would have a severe allergic reaction or have impaired immunity from a liver problem, HIV, chemotherapy or other conditions.

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