Despite New Vaccine Law, Confusion and Lack of Enforcement Leave Students at Risk

Last-minute changes to a new vaccine law which were insisted on by Governor Gavin Newsom are sowing confusion over immunization rules in schools—and the Public Health Department is offering little clarity.

That’s according to a troubling new report in the Los Angeles Times

Senate Bill 276 calls for the public health department to create a standardized vaccine exemption form that doctors will electronically submit to the state for review beginning next January. Newsom insisted on a second piece of legislation — Senate Bill 714 — to ensure the new rules would be “implemented in an effective manner.” While aspects of SB 714 significantly weakened the overall impact of the new law, other changes increased scrutiny of vaccine exemptions written by doctors who were disciplined or are under investigation by the Medical Board of California and Osteopathic Medical Board of California.

However, it’s unclear when that oversight begins. “This should absolutely be happening now,” said state Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), the author of the vaccine legislation.

But school nurses who review medical exemptions said that unless they receive guidance from the public health department telling them otherwise, exemptions granted by scrutinized doctors will not be reviewed until 2021.

That means physicians like Dr. Bob Sears, who was placed on a 35-month suspension by the state Medical Board, are still having their medical exemptions honored. Dr. Pan says that should not be the case, but nurses say they need the Health Department to confirm that. It hasn’t.

Doctors who are under investigation are also prohibited from writing new prescriptions. But that’s a problem too because SB 714 references a standardized form “that has yet to be created by the public health department,” according to the Times. Furthermore, it would be extremely arduous for school nurses to go through all the medical records to determine which doctor wrote a prescription, said California School Nurses Assn. President Pamela Kahn.

“Parents were promised that this fall, schools would be healthier and safer places,” Leah Russin, Executive Director of Vaccinate California, told the Times. “The departments that the governor manages have not done anything to provide guidance for this year. At the end of the day, it seems what we have is a real challenge with the late changes made in SB 714.”