At its annual meeting in Chicago, the American Medical Association adopted a policy to support the end of non-medical exemptions to school vaccination requirements. This policy aligns with legislative efforts in many states to end personal belief exemptions that allow parents to cite a strong conviction as a reason to lawfully exempt their children from mandatory vaccinations required for school entry. The AMA policy goes further by recommending that religious exemptions be eliminated as well.
Vermont just passed a law, effective July 2016, that would end philosophical belief exemptions in the state but leave religious exemptions in place. A similar bill is pending in the Pennsylvania legislature. (We hosted a panel discussion on this legislation in mid May.) Also in May the California Senate advanced a bill that would end all non-medical exemptions for school entry. The California Assembly Health Committee is considering the bill as of Tuesday, June 8. (UPDATE 6/10: The Health Committee passed the bill on a 12-6 vote and the House will now consider it.)
And even in states that are maintaining non-medical exemptions, parents may find them more difficult to obtain. In Colorado, the state board of health passed a regulation in April that requires parents seeking exemptions for school age children to submit requests more frequently than they had before.
The AMA may encounter resistance to its new policy; if the vitriol around the legislation in California is any indication, emotions run high in relation to the question of mandatory immunizations. Opponents of the California bill have mounted a recall campaign against one of its sponsors, Richard Pan, MD, a pediatrician who is a member of the state senate, as well as against several other supporters of the bill. Callers claiming to be opponents have contacted the legislative office of another supporter of the bill and made comments that staffers interpreted as being threatening (see this editorial in the Sacramento Bee for details about the opposition, and another editorial describing harassment of a lobbyist by opponents of the bill).
The AMA policy addresses another immunization issue too – it encourages healthcare providers who have direct patient contact to take recommended immunizations unless they have a medical reason contradicting immunization.
Previous visitors to this site won’t be surprised to learn that the history of vaccination exemptions and mandatory immunization policies is long and filled with strife. See this article and our social history timeline for more details.
Image: A gathering in England in 1907. The Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Vaccination at Work: What It Is; and What It Does. London: The National Antivaccination League, 1913.