California court upholds vaccination law

Two years after the passage of Senate Bill 277, the California 2nd District Court of Appeal upheld California’s landmark law that banned the religious or personal belief exemption to vaccination requirements for entry into public or private schools. In Brown et al. v. Smith, the Court rejected the argument that the law violates the plaintiff’s freedom of religion or their fundamental interest in attending school. Therefore, school districts must continue to verify that all new students entering the district and every student entering transitional kindergarten, kindergarten and seventh grade have completed the vaccinations required by SB 277.

  • SB 277, which requires children be vaccinated to attend public or private school in California, was upheld in an appeal
  • At least 95 percent of a population needs to be vaccinated to prevent an outbreak of a highly contagious disease

According to the California Department of Public Health, the proportion of kindergarten students in 2017–18 reported to have received all required vaccines was 95.1 percent, a 0.4 percentage point decrease from the 2016–17 school year. The 2017–18 rate is the second highest reported for the current set of immunization requirements for kindergarten — which began in the 2001–02 school year — down from an all-time high rate set in 2016–17. This is a marked improvement from 2010–11, when the kindergarten immunization rate was just 90.7 percent. Experts say that at least 95 percent of the population needs to be vaccinated to prevent an outbreak of a highly contagious disease.

Kindergartners entering the school system with permanent medical exemptions for vaccines increased from 0.5 percent in 2016–17 to 0.7 percent in 2017–18. This trend of increasing medical exemptions is concerning to some medical professionals and lawmakers. Dr. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), who sponsored SB 277, commented in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that “people are getting fraudulent exemptions. If we continue to see abuses, then I think there should be some thought as to how to address it.” In June, the Medical Board of California ordered 35 months of probation for Dr. Bob Sears, an Orange County pediatrician who, according to an attorney general’s complaint filed Sept. 2, 2016, did not “obtain basic information needed for decision making” before exempting a child from all vaccinations.

August is National Immunization Awareness Month and serves as a reminder of the important role vaccines play in preventing serious, sometimes deadly, diseases. The National Public Health Information Coalition offers a toolkit containing key messages, vaccine information and helpful links to web resources from the Centers for Disease Control and other organizations at

California schools are required to check immunization records for all new student admissions at TK/kindergarten through 12th grade and all students advancing to seventh grade before entry. Parents must show their child’s Immunization Record as proof of immunization. Districts should have a process in place to verify vaccination records at these designated checkpoints. To ensure proper compliance with SB 277, districts should consider the following questions:

  • What is the status of our medical records and what staff resources have we committed to maintaining those records?
  • What are our policies regarding non-classroom based independent study options and how will we communicate them to our students and their families?
  • What is our relationship with local and state public health agencies? Who is our key contact? What resources do they have that we need to help us ensure the health and safety of our students?