Bill would make it tougher for parents to exempt their kids from vaccines in California

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The rate of children entering California private schools without vaccinations has jumped by 10 percent over last year.

That's according to a survey released this week by the Associated Press.

And it's one more reason doctors and public health officials are urging Governor Brown to sign a bill that would make it harder for California parents to exempt school-age children from state-mandated vaccines.

California law allows parents to opt out their children from mandatory immunizations for personal or medical reasons. All they have to do is provide the school with a signed exemption form instead of the proof of vaccination form.

But legislation now on the governor’s desk would change that.

AB 2109 by Assemblyman Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), would require parents who want a vaccine exemption to get counseling from a doctor or other licensed health care worker first - and get a signature, too - before they can enroll their child in school.

"This is really about trying to protect the public health and make schools safe for kids and be sure kids can get a good education," said Pan, who's also a pediatrician. "Outbreaks basically lead to school closures. It’s very expensive. It certainly can get very scary for the community."

Opponents of Pan's bill say they support informed parental decisions about the benefits and risks of childhood vaccination. But they also say the measure's in-person vaccine counseling requirement imposes a costly penalty on moms and dads for exercising their parental rights.

Barbara Loe Fisher, president and co-founder of the non-profit National Vaccine Information Center, said there's no need for a new law to make sure parents get proper vaccine information.

"The information about vaccinations and the benefits of and risks of vaccination could be posted on the health department’s website, and parents could sign, 'Yes, we've reviewed this information.'" she said. "But to force them to pay for a doctor’s visit and face hostile doctors is not right."

Loe Fisher also said there’s nothing in the legislation that would require a doctor to sign the opt-out form. That could mean a parent might have visit several health care providers to find one that will sign, and multiple medical appointments could get expensive.

Governor Brown has until the end of the month to sign or veto the measure. If he signs it, it would take effect in January of 2014.