Changes in California Immunization Laws
Posted on May 8, 2017 by CHS
In recent years the issues surrounding child vaccination laws have been hotly debated in California and around the nation, with many states considering new legislation in response to this debate. At the heart of the matter is an issue of balancing private freedoms and public safety. With more and more California’s parents choosing alternative vaccination schedules for their children or opting out of vaccinations altogether, and increases in outbreaks of preventable diseases, California legislators moved in 2015 to pass Senate Bill 277, which requires California schoolchildren to have the appropriate vaccinations prior to enrolling in a public or private elementary school or child care center, unless the child has a medical exemption. The bill received widespread support from health and education organizations across the state, including the California Medical Association; the American Academy of Pediatrics, California; California State PTA; California Immunization Coalition; and the California Children’s Hospital Association.
Prior to the passage of SB 277, parents could exempt their children from vaccinations due to personal beliefs (called the Personal Belief Exemption or PBE). SB 277 eliminated that option, making it only the third state in the country to do so. The law maintains the rule for legitimate medical exemptions. The new rules do not apply to children participating in home-based private schools or independent study programs not requiring classroom-based instruction. Under the law, a physician has broad authority to grant a medical exemption, not only to children who have had severe reactions to vaccines in the past, but also if a family member has had a bad reaction to a vaccine. Effective July 1, 2016, vaccinations are required of children first entering public school, or when they enter seventh grade. The new law applies to all child care centers, kindergarten, transitional kindergarten, and seventh grade students; however, it does not clarify the immunization requirements for special education students. The law leaves school districts with the discretion to grant exemptions for special education students despite the fact that many of those students attend general education classes on school campuses. The California Department of Education and California Department of Public Health have yet to clarify those rules. Kindergarteners who have not completed all of their vaccinations may still be conditionally admitted to school, provided they have had one dose of specific vaccines. Children who hold personal belief exemptions from before the passage of SB 277 will not be subject to the new law until they reach a new “vaccination checkpoint”, which includes the following grade spans: birth to preschool; kindergarten and grades 1-6, including transitional kindergarten; grades 7-12. Since the passage of SB 277, immunization rates for kindergarten students have risen several percentage points, reaching 95.6% statewide in the 2016-17 school year.
Additional Resources on Vaccination Laws in California:
- For a timeline of articles relating to the introduction, passage, and implementation of SB 277, see the EdSource website: https://edsource.org/storylines/vaccinations-in-california
- Also see a list of frequently asked questions from EdSource regarding the new requirements: https://edsource.org/2015/what-schools-and-parents-need-to-know-about-the-new-vaccination-law/82242
- The California Department of Public Health publishes up-to-date lists of vaccination rates for all schools and licensed child care facilities with kindergarteners or students in seventh grade (facilities with 10 or more students): https://www.cdph.ca.gov/programs/immunize/pages/immunizationlevels.aspx
- The California Department of Education webpage on immunization requirements: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/he/hn/immunization.asp
- Shots for Schools website: http://www.shotsforschool.org/laws/
- California Department of Education Immunization and Health Checkup Facts: http://www.shotsforschool.org/laws/