Jessica Biel and Robert F. Kennedy Jr were reportedly lobbying against tightened medical exemptions for vaccines in California yesterday. States vary in their vaccine requirements for schoolchildren: In some, a child can skip vaccines if their parents have a “personal belief” objection to them. In others, like California, medical exemptions are the only legal way to opt out.
Yes, there are medical reasons some children can’t be vaccinated
Vaccines may be contraindicated for a few medical reasons. For example, if you’re allergic to an ingredient in a vaccine, you may not be able to get that particular vaccine. And if you’re currently severely ill, or have recently received an antibody-containing blood product, you probably shouldn’t get a vaccine right now—but you’ll be fine to have it later. The CDC describes situations like these in the “contraindications and precautions” section of their immunization guidelines.
Parents and doctors seem to be abusing the medical exemption policy
After California eliminated personal belief exemptions in 2015, suddenly more families were filing medical exemptions.
Some of them were for reasons that didn’t make sense: this child shouldn’t have vaccines because she has asthma or because someone in the family has a history of autoimmune disorders. The exemptions were also sometimes signed by a person other than a pediatrician. The LA Times reported that one form was signed by someone at a medical marijuana dispensary, and that some doctors were advertising medical exemptions for a fee. Kaiser Health News reports that some schools have “biologically unlikely numbers of medical exemptions,” and that doctors are clearly writing exemptions that are out of touch with CDC guidelines.
The story Jessica Biel reportedly told to lawmakers seems to fit right in: Her family’s doctor said that their child should get the usual vaccinations, on the usual schedule, so she started looking for another doctor who would write an exemption.
California’s proposed law would still allow medical exemptions
So what’s the law that Biel and Kennedy find so threatening? It’s SB 276, which still allows medical exemptions. It states that the exemptions must be filed on a standardized form, and that the exemptions will be reviewed by the State Public Health Officer and can be approved or denied.
It also requires that the exemptions be kept in a database, and that an exemption can be revoked if it is found to be “fraudulent or inconsistent with applicable CDC guidelines.”
Basically, the restrictions would be tightened enough that the state can ensure they are only being granted to children with valid medical contraindications. That sounds like a good thing for those children, since more of their peers would be vaccinated, protecting them.