Critics of vaccine bill cite privacy risks

With crucial votes due soon on a bill to make it more difficult for parents to get vaccine exemptions for their children, opponents are emphasizing a different criticism of the measure. Instead of continuing to focus on vaccine safety, they say one of its provisions is an ominous and unreasonable invasion of privacy.

Most of the attention paid to Senate Bill 276, by state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, has dealt with its broad parameters. It would require the state Department of Public Health to review all vaccine exemptions at individual schools if fewer than 95 percent of students are immunized. That’s the minimum percentage that public health officials say is necessary for “herd immunity” from infectious diseases. The department would also investigate doctors who issue five or more exemptions in a year.

But Pan’s bill also requires parents seeking exemptions to provide their children’s medical records if public health officials choose to investigate whether exemptions were properly provided. A recent San Francisco Chronicle story noted how much this galled some parents.

“Who’s to say they won’t use that information for something else in the future?” Allison Serrao, an Orange County mother of three, told the newspaper. “It’s really scary to me as a parent. It crosses a lot of lines.”

‘Loophole’ blamed for shielding doctors

Supporters of the bill note that the state already deals with confidential medical records – such as by tracking sexually transmitted diseases – without problems. Some see the privacy complaints as an attempt to preserve what they consider a “loophole” that has let doctors who issued dubious exemptions off the hook.

That’s because under the 2014 law, also introduced by Pan, that ended “personal belief” exemptions – approved after a measles outbreak that began at Disneyland – parents can impede investigations. They can refuse to answer questions from investigators and decline to allow release of their children’s medical records.

In 2017, the Los Angeles Times reported on the phenomenon of scores of doctors being accused of authorizing invalid medical exemptions but almost never being punished.

As California Healthline reported last month, the state can sue for access to doctors’ medical records. This year, the state Department of Consumer Affairs – which oversees the California Medical Board – has sued to obtain records from two physicians in the Santa Rosa area and two in Sacramento.

Only one of nearly 200 complaints upheld

But such actions are relatively rare. As of early August, only one state physician out of the nearly 200 accused of wrongly writing exemptions over the last four years has faced sanctions, according to the Chronicle. And the only reason that officials were able to build a case against Dana Point pediatrician Bob Sears was because one of the parents of a child he gave an exemption to objected to the decision and provided investigators with medical records. That led to Sears being put on probation by the Medical Board in 2008.

Pan’s bill was approved 24-10 by the state Senate on May 22. In the Assembly, the bill was weakened after Gov. Gavin Newsom questioned whether it would set up an unwieldy bureaucracy. The modified version of SB276 passed the Assembly Health Committee 9-2 on June 20.

To become law, the modified bill must pass both the full Assembly and the Senate by Sept. 13, when the current legislative session ends. 

The vaccine fight is playing out as U.S. public health authorities struggle with measles outbreaks in New York and Washington states. The problem is even more severe in nations as varied as Italy, Israel and the Philippines. Worldwide, there has been a 300 percent increase in measles cases since last year.


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  1. Richard Rider
    Richard Rider 24 August, 2019, 21:49

    Embarrassing headline.

    Reply this comment
  2. SH in SF
    SH in SF 24 August, 2019, 22:43


    Reply this comment
  3. Standing Fast
    Standing Fast 25 August, 2019, 10:20

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t one of our fundamental rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution Freedom of Choice? Do we not have the right to make our own decisions about medical treatment? Do we not have the right to make decisions about medical treatment for our children?

    If not, then the government can force unwanted treatments on us and our children. That’s what they do in The People’s Republic of Red China.

    Sorry, but I’m on the side of those who think they know better than the government and the medical industry what is good for them. If they make a mistake, that is their responsibility. And when it comes to vaccinating children and adults who might suffer severe complications or die from a vaccination, that is too high a price to pay. Doctors and medical science are not infallible.

    As for those Progressive Libertarians who live in fear that they will catch a dread disease from someone who isn’t vaccinated, the solution is obvious: make sure your vaccinations cover all the possibilities. Then, get on with your life and leave the rest of us alone.

    Reply this comment
    • ttttttt Ted S
      ttttttt Ted S 30 August, 2019, 09:29


      Freedom of choice!!!!!!!!

      I want to build a private prison and a massive meat packing plant next door to your house! Because I have Freeeeeeeeeedom of choice!!!

      Reply this comment
  4. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 25 August, 2019, 15:49

    Get over it. Public health programs took humans out of the dark ages. Why risk pandemic?

    Now to the real CWD issue….there are a continuous stream of individualist barkers who know it’s politically/realistically over in California, but they continually give us their futile pap.

    The penny loafer party is no more….your conventions are now in dank caves….quashing crab cakes and Mojitos replaced by fast food crispy fried chicken and 32 oz. off brand vitamin waters.

    Immunizations protect everybody from the unthinkable: millions dropping dead in the gutters, mass graves, poverty, economic collapse.

    Reply this comment
  5. Standing Fast
    Standing Fast 26 August, 2019, 10:32

    Ah, but if everybody in every generation receives vaccinations, nobody will have immunities to pass on to their offspring.

    We also have no moral or constitutional right to force people to be immunized against their will, or their parents’ will. And those whose immune systems cannot tolerate vaccines have a right to say no. Those who for reasons of faith or fear wish to bypass immunizations have a right to say no.

    Also, if you are vaccinated, why are you worried about getting sick? Or don’t you believe they actually work all that well?

    Reply this comment
  6. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 27 August, 2019, 18:41

    Great. The doomer kooks are back!

    Reply this comment
  7. Standing Fast
    Standing Fast 28 August, 2019, 09:46

    “Millions dropping dead in the gutters”? There are places in the world where nobody except tourists have been vaccinated, and although they may suffer from epidemic diseases, the number of people who contract them or die from them is nothing close to “millions”,

    The recent resurgence of epidemic diseases in the U.S. is connected to two things: arrival of illegal aliens in large numbers (who are not required to be vaccinated before or after they come here) and the homeless living in the streets in filthy conditions (who are also not vaccinated).

    The approach of the Public Health authorities is unnecessarily unilateral and doesn’t address the problem in a rational way.

    Reply this comment
    • ricky smith
      ricky smith 28 August, 2019, 11:38

      Standing Fast is the wise chief of the Sensible tribe.

      Useless Uly speaks with a forked tongue spreading fear to weary citizens fleeing the liberal tyranny of Cali.
      All to the benefit of his lagging trailer rental business in the sidewinder/scorpion ridden town of Hemet.

      Reply this comment
  8. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 29 August, 2019, 18:47

    Ricketeee is hilarious.

    Business is booming.

    We have Vicious in lock down….he cannot handle anyone wearing red hats.

    Unfortunate, we do have a full gross of MAGA hats available in our redecorated bunker…. move em out….buck a hat this holiday weekend.

    Reply this comment

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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