California Legislature Eliminates Personal Belief Exemption to Mandatory Vaccinations for Students (SB 277)

Current law requires that school age children receive vaccines for certain infectious diseases before admission to a public or private school or day care, unless an exemption applies. “Day care” includes child care center, day nursery, nursery school, family day care home or development center.  In certain circumstances, students may be conditionally admitted, after which the school or day care must periodically review the student’s vaccination record to ensure the student is fully vaccinated within a designated time. If the student is not fully vaccinated within the designated time, and is not exempt, the school or day care must prohibit further attendance. Documentation of a student’s vaccination status must be on file with a school or day care, which must file a written report on the vaccination status of new students with the Department of Public Health (DPH) and the local health department.

Current law provides for two exemptions, medical and personal belief. Under the medical exemption, an unvaccinated student may be unconditionally admitted if the parent or guardian provides a written statement from a licensed physician stating the medical reasons why vaccination is not safe for the student.

Under the personal belief exemption, an unvaccinated student may be unconditionally admitted if the parent or guardian provides (1) a written statement explaining that vaccination is contrary to the parent/guardian’s personal beliefs; (2) a signed attestation from a health care practitioner that the parent or guardian was given information about the benefits and risks of vaccination and the health risks of infectious diseases; and (3) a written statement signed by the parent or guardian attesting to receipt of this information. The documents must be signed within six months of the date the student becomes subject to the vaccination requirements.

Senate Bill 277, signed by the Governor on June 30, 2015, eliminates the personal belief exemption.

Medical Exemptions Still Allowed

SB 277 does not affect medical exemptions. Students with medical exemptions on file remain exempt from the vaccination requirements. Students who do not have a medical exemption on file may still provide the required physician statement that vaccination is not safe for the student. SB 277 also clarifies that the licensed physician may take into account family medical history when determining whether a student’s medical condition would make it unsafe for the student to receive vaccines.

Personal Belief Exemptions on File as of January 1, 2016 Remain in Effect until the Student Reaches the Next Grade Span

Beginning January 1, 2016, parents/guardians can no longer submit a personal belief exemption. Schools and day cares must continue to recognize personal belief exemptions filed on or before December 31, 2015. Thus, parents/guardians have until December 31 to submit to the school or day care the documents required under the personal belief exemption.

If a personal belief exemption is filed on or before December 31, 2015, proof of vaccination is not required until the student enters the next grade span. SB 277 defines “grade span” as:

  • Birth to preschool
  • Transitional Kindergarten/Kindergarten to Grade 6
  • Grades 7 to 12

Accordingly, a student with a personal belief exemption on file by December 31, and entering any grade from 1 to 6 in the 2016-2017 school year, is exempt from the vaccination requirement until the student enters grade 7. Upon entering grade 7, the student must be fully vaccinated. Similarly, a student with a personal belief exemption on file by December 31, and entering any grade from 8 to 12 in the 2016-2017 school year, is exempt until the student graduates from grade 12. A student entering TK/Kindergarten or grade 7 in the 2016-2017 school year may not invoke the personal beliefs exemption and must be fully vaccinated before unconditional admittance.

Alternatives

Where a student does not qualify for a medical exemption and the parent or guardian’s personal belief is contrary to vaccination, SB 277 provides for two enrollment alternatives: a home-based private school, or an independent study program that does not include classroom-based instruction.

Student with Individual Education Programs (IEPs)

SB 277 provides that a student with an IEP must have access to all possible special education services required by the IEP, regardless of vaccination status.

Changes to List of Specified Vaccinations

Current law requires vaccines for Diphtheria; Hepatitis B; Haemphoilus influenzae type b; Measles; Mumps; Pertussis (whooping cough); Poliomyelitis; Rubella; Tetanus and Vericella (chickenpox). Current law allows the DPH to add infectious diseases to this list as it deems appropriate. SB 277 provides that if DPH adds new infectious diseases to the list, the personal belief exemption may be invoked for vaccines for the new infectious diseases.

Exposure to a Specified Infectious Disease

If a school or day care reasonably believes an unvaccinated student has been exposed to a specified infectious disease, it may temporarily prohibit further attendance until the local health officer is satisfied the student is no longer at risk for developing or transmitting the disease.

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