California lawmakers want more state oversight of immunizations, and under a bill they are pushing, the state would begin collecting sensitive health information of schoolchildren whose doctors have exempted them from vaccinations due to medical reasons. But that proposed data collection has alarmed some parents already opposed to state-mandated vaccinations, who question whether California can be trusted to guard kids’ private medical data.
Experts, even those in support of broader immunizations, say that privacy question is a debate worth having.
Reports of healthcare data breaches are increasingly common, with more than 500 incidents over the past 16 months in the United States involving nearly 18 million people, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data. Among the victims of hacking and theft of healthcare information are state agencies, including some in California.
“There has been so much cybercrime that it’s natural that parents are concerned about the protection of privacy,” said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, professor of public health and medicine at UCLA and former public health director for Los Angeles County. “I can’t say it’s an illegitimate concern, but you do have to weigh the importance of trying to prevent outbreaks and broader epidemics of a number of diseases.”
Senate Bill 276, by Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), would give the state health department the final say over whether a child should receive a medical exemption from some or all vaccines required to attend public or private school. Currently, doctors can excuse a child from vaccines, but Pan said some “unscrupulous” physicians have compromised that practice by advertising medical exemptions for cash.
Amid a nationwide surge in measles — the most reported in the U.S. since 2000 — Pan said the state must ensure everyone who can be vaccinated gets their shots in order to attend school.
His fix under SB 276 is to give the state’s Department of Public Health authority to approve medical exemptions, creating a new oversight arm in the agency. The department would be tasked with creating a standardized medical exemption form that doctors would fill out and send to the state. The state’s public health officer or their “designee” would approve or deny requests.