Vaccine Bill: Kids With Existing Personal Belief Exemptions Could Stay in School -- For a Time

Students leave the school nurse office after receiving a vaccine against whooping cough at Mark Twain Middle School, August 7, 2012 in Los Angeles. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

SB277, the law passed by the Assembly today, contains language that would allow a certain amount of grandfathering for those who already have personal belief exemptions. To wit, unvaccinated kids can stay unvaccinated and still remain in school until the next "grade span," as long as their exemption is on file before Jan. 1, 2016. That means children cannot enter preschool, kindergarten or seventh grade without their shots, but can continue to go to school between those junctures.

So an unvaccinated child who is in kindergarten, for example, could avoid getting immunized for seven years, until she reaches seventh grade.

Jodi Hicks, with the California Academy of Family Physicians, a supporter of the bill, said that if you changed schools, you might also have to prove your child has been vaccinated, no matter which grade you were in.

Hicks said the grandfathering was included so schools could implement the new requirements "with as little disruption as possible," retaining all the current "checkpoints" at which vaccinations are currently verified.

The Mercury News had this to stay about this aspect of the bill after it passed the Senate in May:

(P)erhaps the most significant compromise was the authors' pledge to "grandfather in" many public and private school students whose parents have claimed personal belief exemptions. That would mean that more than 13,000 children who have had no vaccinations by first grade won't have to get their shots until they enter seventh grade. And nearly 10,000 seventh-graders who today aren't fully vaccinated may be able to avoid future shots because the state does not always require them after that grade.

The move was aimed at mollifying hundreds of angry California parents who have staged rallies and jammed hearing rooms, citing their concerns over vaccine side effects and asserting their parental rights.

"By scaling back the bill's reach, their chance of success becomes much greater," said Dan Schnur, director of the University of Southern California's Unruh Institute of Politics.

Because the bill was amended in the Assembly, it now goes back to the Senate for another vote before it can be sent to Gov. Jerry Brown. The governor has not said directly that he would sign the bill, but there have been indications that he is at least leaning that way.

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Here's the exact language of the grandfathering section:

A pupil who, prior to January 1, 2016, submitted a letter or affidavit on file at a private or public elementary or secondary school, child day care center, day nursery, nursery school, family day care home, or development center stating beliefs opposed to immunization shall be allowed enrollment to any private or public elementary or secondary school, child day care center, day nursery, nursery school, family day care home, or development center within the state until the pupil enrolls in the next grade span.
(2) For purposes of this subdivision, “grade span” means each of the following:
(A) Birth to preschool.
(B) Kindergarten and grades 1 to 6, inclusive, including transitional kindergarten.
(C) Grades 7 to 12, inclusive.
(3) Except as provided in this subdivision, on and after July 1, 2016, the governing authority shall not unconditionally admit to any of those institutions specified in this subdivision for the first time, or admit or advance any pupil to 7th grade level, unless the pupil has been immunized for his or her age as required by this section.

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