In June of 2015, the governor of California signed Senate Bill 277, which changed the availability of nonmedical exemptions (NMEs) to vaccinations for children in public or private school as well as child care settings. In the past, NMEs were usually granted on the basis of personal beliefs, but this bill prevents the granting of new NMEs. For children already admitted with an NME, this exemption will continue until the next vaccination checkpoint (7th grade for elementary school children) or graduation. This means that, although some unvaccinated children will continue to be in public and private school settings for several years, by 2022 all of these will have left the system or will be vaccinated (Delamater, Leslie, & Lang, 2016). The bill went into effect on July 1st, 2016.
The legislative decision to allow currently enrolled students to be “grandfathered” into the system was an important compromise in the bill’s passage. There was considerable conflict between legislators representing districts where there are many anti-vaccine parents and legislators from other areas. According to Vaccinate California, the parent advocacy group that played an important part in getting the bill passed, the bill was showing an effect on vaccination rates before it even passed (Vaccinate California, 2016). In the Child Care Immunization Assessment 2015-2016, the California Health Department had already seen immunization rates beginning to rise.
Vaccinate California began as a group of parents who wanted to protect their children from infectious diseases (Vaccinate California, 2016). Some children have medical conditions (e.g. chemotherapy for cancer, West Syndrome) that make them more susceptible to illnesses such as measles, rotavirus, and even whooping cough, which have become more common as fewer and fewer children were being vaccinated. These children had to rely on “herd immunity” — being surrounded by at least 93% vaccinated children – to protect them from these diseases, since they could not receive immunizations themselves. The new law in California will not immediately provide complete protection, but by the year 2022, all children in California schools will be vaccinated unless they have medical exemptions.
- Delamater, P. L., Leslie, T. F., & Yang, Y. T. (2016). California Senate Bill 277’s Grandfather Clause and Nonmedical Vaccine Exemptions in California, 2015-2022. JAMA pediatrics, 170(6), 619-620.
- Vaccinate California. (2016). SB 277 takes effect July 1st, 2016. Retrieved from http://vaccinatecalifornia.org/2016/06/30/sb277-takes-effect-july-1st-2016/