Despite furious opposition from parents who believe vaccinations are dangerous, a measure by state Sen. Richard Pan to tighten up vaccine exemptions passedan initial committee test last week on a 6-2 vote. Senate Bill 276 would make California only the second state – after West Virginia – to mandate that students can only be exempted from vaccinations on medical grounds with the permission of state public health officials.

Pan, a physician, introduced his bill after the Voice of San Diego reported in March that a single doctor had provided nearly one-third of all the medical exemptions granted in San Diego Unified, the state’s second-largest school district, since June 2015. Anti-vaccine activists share lists online of doctors around California that they consider friendly to their cause.

Medical exemptions have more than tripled statewide since the 2014-15 school year. That was the last year before Pan’s bill banning exemptions based on personal beliefs took effect.

Pan and other physicians say there is no conceivable explanation for the surge in medical exemptions outside of concluding that doctors are giving parents what they want without adequate medical justification. The Centers for Disease Control says fewer than 1 in 100 children have problems with impaired immunity or risk of severe allergic reactions that would justify medical exemptions.

Public health officials say at least 95 percent of the general population needs to be immunized against contagious diseases to create “herd immunity” that makes outbreaks unlikely. In the United States, immunization against measles was so common and effective that in 2000, it was declared to have been eradicated in the nation.

400,000 state students could face higher risk

While measles remains common in nations with poor health care – killing an estimated 100,000-plus people in 2017 – it had been rare in developed nations for decades. But over the past 11 years, skepticism about vaccine safety has been fanned online by new-age groups and several celebrities. They tout a discredited study published in 2008 in The Lancet, a British medical journal, that linked one of the most common childhood vaccinations to autism. That vaccination – the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) – can have negative health side effects with a small percentage of children. But there’s never been a study finding its risks came anywhere near its benefits.

Nevertheless, anti-vaccination sentiment led to a tripling of measles cases in Europe from 2017 to 2018. In the United States, 2019 has seen the most cases in a single year this century, according to a CNN report last week. CNN said California was one of 22 states reporting a total of nearly 700 cases of measles.

Problems could get much worse in the Golden State. According to a Los Angeles Times analysis, immunization rates among kindergartners at 105 elementary schools are so low that “herd immunity” might not be intact. A report last week by the Health Officers Association of California said as many as 400,000 of the state’s 6.2 million K-12 students could face heightened risk of measles.

Fears about measles are playing out in dramatic fashion in Los Angeles. At UCLA and Cal State-Los Angeles, more than 1,000 students and staff members were either quarantined in their dorms and offices or sent home late last week. Those affected have been unable to satisfy administrators that they have been properly vaccinated.

At least 325 students and staffers subsequently established they had gotten their shots. But the two colleges’ decisions could be widely copied in coming weeks and months if measles keeps spreading in the U.S.

Originally published at CalWathDog