Dr. Richard Pan is a California state senator representing the Sacramento region. He is also a pediatrician with a long history of advocating for childhood vaccinations. He was a driving force behind of Senate Bill 277 in 2016 which reduced the exemptions for parents who opposed to their children receiving the vaccines.
On Tuesday Senator Dr. Pan and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez from the San Diego area held a joint news conference at the state Capitol to promote a new bill intended to strengthen oversight of the medial exemption process. The lawmakers say Senate Bill 276 is needed because a handful of doctors in the state are abusing the system by selling medical exemptions to parents.
"Medical exemptions have more than tripled since the passage of SB 277. Some schools are reporting that more than 20 percent of their students have a medical exemption," said Dr. Pan. "It is clear that a small number of physicians are monetizing their exemption-granting authority and profiting from the sale of medical exemptions."
"Three years ago, we stepped up our state’s vaccination laws to protect students and the entire public from being exposed to potential diseases. Now, we’re seeing ant-vaccination parents and a few doctors get around that law by loosely seeking and issuing medical exemptions when families are willing to pay," Assemblywoman Gonzalez said. "The real cost is a threat to herd immunity and public health. That’s why I am co-authoring legislation today with Sen. Pan to say enough is enough."
Pan and Gonzalez said the new legislation will change state law to require that doctors submit to the California Department of Public Health the reason for any vaccination exemption request. The doctors will also have to include their name and license number with the request, so the CDPH can verify that they have personally examined the patient seeking the exemption.
The bill is co-sponsored by the California Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, California and Vaccinate California.
Additionally, CDPH will have to create and maintain a database of medical exemptions, and both state and county health officials will have the authority to revoke medical exemptions if they are determined to be fraudulent.
Pan and Gonzalez claim that the vaccination rate in the state is at a level which protects communities and will prevent the spread of a recent measles outbreak.
"Vaccinations save millions of lives every year, and the California Medical Association was proud to stand with Dr. Pan to support SB 276," said CMA President David H. Aizuss, MD. "This new legislation will close a loophole in the current law that has allowed a small handful of rogue doctors to skirt the spirit of the original law and has put millions of Californians at risk. CMA strongly supports SB 276 and believes that all physicians must do their part to protect the health of children and the public at large."
"Vaccinating our patients is one of the most important tools pediatricians have to prevent illness and death," said Kris Calvin of the American Academy of Pediatrics, California. "It is the rare physician who does not take this responsibility to heart, but they put all of us, our children and our communities, at risk. By ensuring medical exemptions to vaccines are reviewed and valid, this bill will protect the health of California's children and of our larger communities. It is a reasonable and urgently needed measure."
The CDC reports that in 2018, 21 people contracted measles in California. So far, in 2019, six people have already contracted measles in the state. Left unchecked, we will continue to see the number of cases and outbreaks rise. A very small percentage of the population, less than 1 percent, suffers from qualifying medical condition, such as a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine component that would lead to the granting of medical exemption.
When measles spreads in a community with immunization rates below 95 percent, the protection provided by 'community immunity' is lost, according to Pan's office. They also said that means many people are at risk of becoming infected including people who cannot be immunized, including infants, chemotherapy patients and those with HIV or other conditions.
Pan has also insisted that numerous subsequent studies worldwide involving hundreds of thousands of children have proved that vaccines are safe and do not cause autism.
He has knocked heads with those involved in the anti-vaccination movement. That includes Robert F. Kennedy Jr. who was very public with his concerns during a 2015 visit to Sacramento for the showing of a film linking autism to the vaccine preservative thimerosal. Kennedy also strongly suggested that public health officials cannot be trusted.
"They can put anything they want in that vaccine and (the officials at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) have no accountability for it," Kennedy told the cheering audience at Sacramento's Crest Theater.