Health officers group voices concern over vaccine exemption form

California's new vaccine exemption forms were intended to make sure parents got complete and accurate information about immunizations before they opted against having their children get shots. Will a separate religious exemption undermine the form's intent?
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Two days after the California Department of Public Health released its new form requiring parents who want to exempt their kids from required vaccinations to speak with a doctor, an association of public health officers is voicing concern over an option on the form that allows parents to easily bypass the requirement.

A box parents can check allows them to skip talking to their doctor if they vouch that they’re “a member of a religion that prohibits me from seeking medical advice or treatment from authorized healthcare practitioners.”

The new form is an outgrowth of the passage of AB 2109. That bill, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2012, sought to limit the number of people who chose against vaccinating their children by requiring such parents to speak with a medical provider first. The doctor, nurse practitioner or other health worker would be required to provide information about the benefits and risks of vaccines, and then sign the exemption form, before a child could enroll in school or day care without required immunizations against diseases such as measles and whooping cough.

Such diseases have become more widespread at the same time more people have skipped getting vaccines because of concerns about safety -- most of which are not supported by scientific evidence. Health officials hoped that providing accurate information to parents would curb the number of exemptions.

As per a signing statement from Brown, however, the new form also allows parents to check a box and claim a religious exemption -- easily bypassing the medical consultation.


In a statement released Friday, Bruce Pomer, executive director of the Health Officers Assn. of California, said his group’s members would help implement the law, providing education and tracking vaccine use in months to come.

But, he added, they would also keep a close eye on vaccination rates.

“If monitoring demonstrates that personal belief exemption rates are not declining and religious exemption is being used frequently, then we intend to ask the governor to revise the form,” Pomer said.

He added that the health officers association was “extremely disturbed” by language in a news release from the California Department of Public Health that mentioned “protection of constitutional rights,” which he called “inappropriate to the conversation about this law.”