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Local physicians weigh in on new immunization bill

Posted at 10:31 PM, Mar 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-27 01:45:48-04

California’s immunization law may soon get tougher.

Senate Bill 276 would give more power to state public health officials in determining which children should not be vaccinated before attending school.

California eliminated the ‘personal beliefs’ exemption for vaccinations in 2015. Since then, San Luis Obispo County health officials saw medical exemptions go way up. They don’t think it’s a coincidence.

“There is still a small proportion, but they tripled in rates of people using medical exemptions. We know that there are doctors out there who are giving them out for a price,” said Dr. Penny Borenstein, San Luis Obispo County Health Officer.

Senate Bill 276 is a way to crack down on the few doctors who are helping parents avoid vaccinating their children.

“I think it’s very unfortunate that there are doctors that are helping patients in their perspective that vaccines are harmful, they are not,” said Dr. Borenstein. “They are super important to protect the health of not only your own child but of all of those around you.”

SB 276 would give state public health officials, instead of doctors, the power to decide who qualifies for medical vaccination exemptions. It would standardize medical exemption forms instead of allowing doctors to use a form of their choosing.

It would also let state and county health officials revoke medical exemptions granted by doctors if they are found to be fraudulent or contradict federal standards.

Dr. Rene Bravo is pro-vaccine. He’s also pro-parent’s choice.

“We need to make sure we give them the information to make the right decisions, give them the tools to make the right decisions,” Dr. Bravo said.

The pediatrician says he’s concerned the well-intentioned bill could backfire.

“One of the concerns I have is that it may have unintended consequences of driving people further underground and making it more difficult to find children, especially in times of outbreak,” Dr. Bravo added.

The bill would allow the state to keep a record of the child’s name and parent who seeks exemption from vaccinations, along with a record of that physician.

“The word ‘overreach’ comes to mind when I hear that,” Dr. Bravo said.

Public health officials say about 95 percent of children in San Luis Obispo County are getting the vaccines required for school. They credit previous immunization laws for the bump in that number.