But is SB 276 the strictest vaccine law in the country?
Is California Considering the Strictest Vaccine Law in the Country?
To be sure, California is one of the few states that doesn’t allow non-medical exemptions. But that was accomplished with SB 277, a vaccine law that eliminated personal belief vaccine exemptions in California back in 2015.
But far from becoming the strictest vaccine law in the country, SB 276 simply catches California up with a few other states that don’t allow non-medical exemptions.
I say catch-up, because unlike California under SB 277, these states have strict rules about what counts as a medical exemption.
Doctors in these states can’t abuse the system and write unnecessary or fake medical exemptions for kids whose parents are simply scared to get their kids vaccinated.
West Virginia and Mississippi are the main states that have not allowed non-medical exemptions.
“Requests for a medical exemption from vaccine requirements shall be reviewed and approved or denied by the State Immunization Officer. “
West Virginia Medical Exemptions Information
They have recently been joined by New York and Maine.
“May be detrimental to the child’s health means that a physician has determined that a child has a medical contraindication or precaution to a specific immunization consistent with ACIP guidance or other nationally recognized evidence-based standard of care.”
New York Codes, Rules and Regulations Section 66-1.1
Do many parents homeschool their kids because they don’t want to get them vaccinated and comply with vaccination laws?
Vaccines and Homeschooling Myths
Opponents to a vaccine law in California that removed personal belief vaccine exemptions, SB277, claimed that it would lead all children currently receiving personal belief exemptions to leave those schools and become homeschoolers.
One problem with this idea is that even though 32 states don’t allow personal belief vaccine exemptions, avoiding vaccines laws is not a top reason for why most parents choose to homeschool their kids.
“Parents cite a number of different reasons for choosing to homeschool, including concerns about the school environment and desires to provide religious/moral instruction.15 In fact, a Department of Education study says that 38.4 percent of respondents claim they are homeschooling for religious reasons,16 while Christopher Klicka suggests in his book, The Right to Home School, that it is closer to 85 percent.”
Khalili et al on Off the grid: vaccinations among homeschooled children
Instead, most parents homeschool because of:
academic reasons – thinking they can provide a better education for their kids at home and dissatisfaction with public or private school
family reasons – such as a child with special needs, not being able to get into the right school, transportation issues, or simply wanting more family time
religious reasons – including providing religious instruction at home
social reasons – including negative social activity and exposures at public and private schools
The availability of virtual education, cyber schools, and charter homeschools has likely also been a factor in some parents choosing to homeschool their kids.
What about vaccines?
In one article, Homeschooling parents’ practices and beliefs about childhood immunizations, only five parents (4%) included a desire not to vaccinate children as a reason for homeschooling.
Also, homeschooling rates are about the same in every state, just over 3% of students. A few outliers include Delaware (2.1%), North Carolina (7.7%), Pennsylvania (1.1%), West Virginia (4.6%), and Wisconsin (1.6%).
Of these states, only West Virginia doesn’t allow non-medical exemptions. But neither does Mississippi, which has very average homeschooling rates (3%).
Are Anti-vaxxers Turning to Homeschooling?
If anti-vaxxers are truly turning to homeschooling to avoid getting their kids vaccinated, we might have expected to see it happen in 2015, when California passed SB 277. That law eliminated non-medical vaccine exemptions and has been in effect since the 2016-2017 school year.
Although California is dealing with fake medical exemptions, there has not been a lot of evidence that many folks are homeschooling, leaving schools, or leaving the state after SB277 because they now have had to vaccinate and protect their kids.
“The law, however, does not apply to children who are home-schooled, a loophole that parents seem to be increasingly exploiting. Over the past three years, the number of kindergartners who were home-schooled and did not have their shots quadrupled, according to a Times analysis of state data.”
Parents who won’t vaccinate their kids turning to home-schooling in California, data show
While there were more homeschoolers last year in California (3%), the rise in homeschooling in California is also being seen in many states without new vaccine laws.
“Home-schooling mothers were concerned about SB-277 but did not report that it was directly impacting their children, their vaccine decisions, or reason to home school.”
McDonald et al on Exploring California’s new law eliminating personal belief exemptions to childhood vaccines and vaccine decision-making among homeschooling mothers in California
And, according to the Los Angeles Times, only “1.2% of the state’s kindergartners were home-schooled and unvaccinated in the last school year.”
The Homeschool Vaccine Loophole
It is also important to note that many states already have laws requiring homeschooled students to be vaccinated!
So yes, it is correct to say that the parents who are switching to homeschooling to avoid vaccinating and protecting their kids are exploiting a loophole.
“Submit proof of vaccination and receipt of any health services or examinations as required by law.”
Home Schooling in Tennessee
Interestingly, North Carolina, with one of the highest rates of homeschoolers, requires that homeschooled children be vaccinated.
Is being able to homeschool without vaccines a loophole that will have to be closed?
“And though most of their schooling may take place at home, many are part of programs that meet several times a week with other students. If one contracted a disease such as measles, they could still spread it at the park, or the grocery store, or anywhere they come into contact with other people, said Dr. James Cherry, a UCLA expert on pediatric infectious diseases.”
Parents who won’t vaccinate their kids turning to home-schooling in California, data show
It will likely depend if we end up seeing outbreaks among clusters of unvaccinated homeschoolers…
“During the six weeks after the gathering, a total of 34 cases of measles were confirmed. Of the patients with confirmed measles, 94 percent were unvaccinated, 88 percent were less than 20 years of age, and 9 percent were hospitalized. Of the 28 patients who were 5 to 19 years of age, 71 percent were home-schooled. “
Parker et al on Implications of a 2005 measles outbreak in Indiana for sustained elimination of measles in the United States.
Few people will remember the 2005 measles outbreak in Indiana that occurred mostly among intentionally unvaccinated homeschoolers and cost over $167,000 to contain. At the time, it was “the largest documented outbreak of measles in the United States since 1996.”
And it is likely that few people know about the two unvaccinated homeschooled kids in Oklahoma who got tetanus in 2012, including an 8-year-old who was in the ICU for 18 days…
Instead, we have just been seeing more and more cases of measles.
The VACCINES Act
Well, we might finally be getting a new Federal vaccine law, but it isn’t the kind of law that will force people to get vaccinated that anti-vaccine folks have been warning us about.
Instead, the Vaccine Awareness Campaign to Champion Immunization Nationally and Enhance Safety (VACCINES) Act, which was recently introduced by Representative Kim Schrier (D-Wash.) will simply help to increase public awareness of the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.
“Vaccines were one of the greatest medical accomplishments of the 20th century and have been proven safe and effective at preventing diseases that once killed or greatly harmed people around the world.
As a pediatrician, I understand that parents want to do what they think is best for their children and some do not vaccinate because of unfounded fears. We are now seeing outbreaks of diseases like measles, which was considered eliminated 19 years ago, in part because of an anti-vaccine campaigns around the country. This bill will make sure that parents have access to facts about vaccines, so they can make an informed decision.”
Rep. Kim Schrier
The VACCINES Act will:
provide for a national system for surveillance of vaccine rates
And trust me, we don’t want to surpass any records beyond that!
If we do break those records, reaching thousands of cases this year, then we will reach epidemic levels of measles.
And many of us who know what that means, remembering that there were 55,622 cases of measles and 123 deaths in the United States between 1989 and 1991, a time when we had good nutrition, hygiene, sanitation, and health care…
What else did we have?
A lot of unvaccinated kids!
But we learned our lesson, got more kids vaccinated, and eliminated the endemic spread of measles.
We even got to a record low of measles cases, just 37 cases in 2004!