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."
On July 1, Tim Donnelly, a former state legislator and Republican candidate for governor from Southern California, filed paperwork required to allow voters to repeal the law. If the required number of signatures are gathered the measure could be brought to a statewide vote as a referendum.
Other opponents of the measure have vowed to file lawsuits against it once it goes into effect, saying it would deprive children of the constitutional right to a free and public education.
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. Children being home schooled are not affected.
The new law takes effect in July 2016, and contains a grandfathering clause for children who had an existing personal belief or religious exemption in effect before January 1, 2016. Those children will be allowed to continue to attend school or daycare without the required vaccinations until they reach the next "grade span."
Grade spans are defined in the bill as birth to preschool, transitional kindergarten through grade six and grades seven to twelve. That means a first grader in the fall of 2016 who had a personal belief exemption in kindergarten could attend school through sixth grade without vaccinations; but would not be admitted to seventh grade without proof of vaccination.
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 growing number of children not being immunized came under scrutiny last year after a measles outbreak started in Disneyland and spread widely.
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.
When the Almanac reported on this issue in February, Menlo Park's Peninsula School, according to statistics from the California Department of Public Health, 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).
The opt-out rate at Peninsula has been even higher in the past. State statistics show that the school had a 46 percent personal-belief exemption rate for children in its 2010-11 kindergarten class.
Las Lomitas School in Atherton has the highest public school opt-out rate in the local area. In February, the school said that of its 137 kindergartners, eight students were opted out with personal-belief exemptions and two others with permanent medical exemptions.