A new state law went into effect Jan. 1 making it a little harder for California students to skip required vaccinations. The law says parents can now only claim a personal belief exemption from vaccines if they have a signed form from their doctor.
But there's still an easy way out for parents who don't want their kids to get shots.
California law requires students be vaccinated against diseases like polio, measles and whooping cough before they can attend school. But parents have been able to skip these requirements by signing a personal belief exemption, which says immunization is contrary to their way of thinking.
Under the new California law, parents will still be able to do that. But they have to get a signed form from their pediatrician saying they've been informed of the "benefits and risks of immunization."
Although the law took effect at the start of 2014, students only need this new form when they start kindergarten or middle school or move to California from out of state. Otherwise, their existing exemption will still apply.
But there's a way around this new requirement.
The new form also has a box that says the family belongs to a religion that prohibits "seeking medical advice or treatment." If parents check this box, they don't need a doctor's signature to exempt their children from vaccinations.
This religious exemption was added by Gov. Jerry Brown when he signed the law. Catherine Flores Martin, the director of the California Immunization Coalition, told NPR she worries the additional box on the form will weaken the law, because parents don't have to provide proof of their religion to check it.
A joint KPBS/inewsource investigation in September showed nearly 90 percent of San Diego County's schools had kindergarten classes with at least one student not current on vaccines at the start of the 2012 school year, the most recent year data was available from the California Department of Public Health. It found just less than 4 percent of San Diego County kindergartners entered school in 2012 with a personal belief exemption on file.