In The Politics of Autism, I analyze the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. This bogus idea can hurt people by allowing disease to spread.
As our country is experiencing the greatest number of measles infections in 25 years – 880 cases this year to date – Senate Bill 276, authored by Dr. Richard Pan, a pediatrician and state senator representing the Sacramento region and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, representing the San Diego area, was passed by the California State Senate on a vote of 24 to 10.
“Medical exemptions for required vaccines have more than tripled since the passage of SB 277, putting kids and communities at risk,” said Dr. Richard Pan. “SB 276 assures students who truly need medical exemptions will receive them and that the schools they attend maintain community immunity to keep them safe. Through passage of SB 276, we are taking a preventive approach to keep schools safe for all students by applying a model successfully used in West Virginia, which has not experienced measles in a decade.”
To combat the proliferation of fake medical exemptions, Senate Bill 276 will strengthen oversight of the medial exemption process, which some doctors in the state are abusing by selling medical exemptions to parents.
Senate Bill 276 is co-sponsored by the California Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, California and Vaccinate California.
Under SB 276, physicians will submit information to California Department of Public Health (CDPH), including the physician’s name and license number and the reason for the exemption, which CDPH will check to ensure they are consistent with the Center for Disease Control’s contraindications to vaccination. The physician must also certify that they have examined the patient in person.
Additionally, under SB 276, CDPH will create and maintain a database of medical exemptions. CDPH and County Health Officers will have the authority to revoke medical exemptions granted by licensed physicians if they are found to be fraudulent or inconsistent with contraindications to vaccination per CDC guidelines. This authority will give state and county health officers the tools necessary to contain and prevent further outbreaks.
As a result of the implementation of Senate Bill 277, which abolished the personal belief exemption in California, overall vaccination rates increased sharply to more than 95 percent statewide. That is greater than the 94 percent vaccination rate necessary to achieve community immunity to prevent the spread of a measles outbreak.
The increase followed the dramatic increase from 92.9 percent in the 2015-16 school year to 95.6 percent in the 2016-17 school year after implementation of SB 277 in 2016 and a vaccination rate of only 90.7 percent in 2010-11 when Dr. Pan entered the legislature and authored AB 2109. AB 2109 required parents to be counseled before they opted out of legally mandated vaccines.
Despite the success of SB 277 in increasing the overall immunization rate of kindergarten students, California has also experienced a dramatic increase in the number of medical exemptions. Since the passage of SB 277, the rate of medical exemptions has more than tripled (from 0.2% in 2015-16 to 0.7% in 2017-18). Low vaccination rates in certain pockets of the state have put children and communities at risk.
A very small percentage of the population, less than 1 percent, suffers from qualifying medical condition, such as a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine component that would lead to the granting of medical exemption.
CDPH reports the number of confirmed measles cases here, which have reached 45 in just the four months of the year. The vaccine schedule prevents other types of diseases as well, including pertussis, (also known as whooping cough), which is marked by severe coughing attacks that can last for months. Infants too young for vaccination are at greatest risk for life-threatening cases of pertussis, and a baby in Orange County died from the disease last week.
When measles spreads in a community with immunization rates below 94 percent, the protection provided by ‘community immunity’ is lost. This means many people are at risk of becoming infected including people who cannot be immunized, including infants, chemotherapy patients and those with HIV or other conditions.
The hesitation to vaccinate on the part of a growing number of parents stems from misinformation such as the now retracted 1998 study that falsified data to purport a link between autism and the measles vaccine. The study was authored by Andrew Wakefield who was later found to be lying. Also, numerous subsequent studies worldwide involving hundreds of thousands of children have proved that vaccines are safe and do not cause autism.