On June 30, Governor Brown signed into law, SB 277, which will eliminate the personal and religious belief exemptions for vaccines.
Language of SB277
Immunization laws currently in effect
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ABOUT SB 277
WHAT DOES THE LAW SAY?
Private or public child care centers, preschools, elementary schools and secondary schools cannot admit children unless they are immunized against 10 diseases: diphtheria, Haemophilus influenzae type b (bacterial meningitis), measles, mumps, pertussis (whooping cough), polio, rubella, tetanus, hepatitis B and chicken pox.
If the California Department of Public Health decides to add other vaccination requirements, parents will be allowed to obtain personal belief exemptions for those new vaccinations, the law says.
WHAT DID THE LAW CHANGE?
The law eliminated the personal belief exemption for required vaccinations. This exemption allowed parents to opt out of vaccinating their children by completing a form, signed by a health care practitioner, attesting that vaccinations were counter to their personal beliefs.
The law also overrides an allowance for a religious exemption to vaccinations that Brown had inserted three years ago in previous legislation. The religious exemption was not part of state statute.
ARE THERE EXEMPTIONS TO THE NEW LAW?
Yes, there are three: medical, special education and homeschooling or independent study.
Young children and students may obtain a written medical exemption to vaccinations from a licensed physician. The reason for the medical exemption may include family medical history.
A child who has an individualized education program (IEP), as required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, will be allowed to obtain special education services regardless of whether the child is vaccinated or not.
The law states that the vaccination requirements do not apply to students who are enrolled in a home-based private school or an independent study program. Some questions remain about whether students enrolled in independent study through publicly funded district or charter schools would be exempt from complying with the law; the issue will be clarified in guidance from the California Department of Public Health.
WHEN DOES THE LAW GO INTO EFFECT?
July 1, 2016.
WILL KINDERGARTNERS BE ALLOWED TO ENROLL “CONDITIONALLY” IF THEY HAVE NOT YET COMPLETED THE REQUIRED VACCINATIONS?
Yes. School districts already have their own systems for tracking and following up with kindergartners who are not fully immunized. Whatever systems districts are currently using will remain in place.
WHAT ABOUT CHILDREN WHO CURRENTLY HAVE PERSONAL BELIEF EXEMPTIONS ON FILE?
Children who hold personal belief exemptions to vaccinations before Jan. 1, 2016 are “grandfathered in.” The new law does not apply to them until they reach their next vaccination checkpoint – kindergarten or 7th grade.
If it is determined that a child has been exposed to one of the 10 diseases named in the immunization requirements and does not have proof of immunization, the child may be temporarily kept out of school.
If parents wish to obtain a personal belief exemption before Jan. 1, 2016, they can go to their child’s school, pick up a personal belief exemption form, meet with a health care practitioner and obtain the practitioner’s signature, and return the form to the school before the deadline. A health care practitioner is defined for these purposes as a school nurse, doctor, nurse practitioner, naturopath, osteopath or physician’s assistant.
WILL UNVACCINATED CHILDREN WHO MOVE FROM ONE CALIFORNIA SCHOOL OR DISTRICT TO ANOTHER HAVE TO MEET THE VACCINATION REQUIREMENTS OF NEW STUDENTS?
Newly enrolled students are required to be up to date on immunizations. Whether the personal belief exemption will travel with students relocating within California is thought to be likely, but will be clarified in forthcoming guidance.
As of July 1, 2016, all students entering 7th grade will be required to have the pertussis vaccination, including all pertussis boosters appropriate for the student’s age.
It’s not yet clear what, if any, other vaccinations those previously unvaccinated students may have to receive – but it won’t include the hepatitis B vaccination, which is given in a series of three shots. The law specifically states that full immunization against hepatitis B is not a requirement for entering 7th grade. The issue will be clarified in the forthcoming guidance from the California Department of Public Health.
Parents who do not want to vaccinate will have two options for their kindergartners and seventh graders starting in fall 2016: obtain a medical exemption to vaccinations or enroll in homeschooling or independent study.