Why is the Church of Scientology helping antivaxers in a last ditch attempt to block passage of SB 276? - 2019-08-13
As regular readers know, we've been in the midst of a measles epidemic since last year, and it's been the worst in a generation. As of August 8, the CDC has confirmed 1,182 cases of measles. Contrary to the the way antivaxers like to point to a 50 year old Brady Bunch episode that made light the kids catching the measles and having to stay home from school as evidence that measles isn't serious, measles can be very serious. The CDC also notes that 124 of the people infected with measles had to be hospitalized, and 64 had complications, including pneumonia and encephalitis. Indeed, the past and present rebuke antivaxers who claim measles is just a mild childhood illness that provides natural immunity. Quite the opposite. Measles actually suppresses the immune system for up to three years or even more, leaving children more susceptible to other diseases. Contributing to these outbreaks has been vaccine hesitancy leading to the failure to vaccinating, leading to areas where vaccine uptake is below the level needed to maintain herd immunity, leading to—you guessed it!—measles outbreaks. To combat this, states have been cracking down on nonmedical exemptions known as "personal belief exemptions" (PBEs). California was the first to do this, passing SB 277 into law and joining Mississippi and West Virginia as a state in which only medical exemptions to school vaccine mandates would be permitted. This brings us to the discussion of another California bill under consideration, SB 276 and the strange involvement of the Church of Scientology in opposing it.
What is SB 276? It's a successor to SB 277 necessitated by a loophole in SB 277. The greatest flaw in SB 277 is that it permits basically any physician to write a letter claiming a medical exemption to school vaccine mandates for a patient, rather than requiring state oversight to mae sure that only medically valid medical exemptions were granted. Predictably, the antivaccine quacks in California saw this loophole as an opportunity. SB 277 took full effect at the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year, and for a while things went quite well. Early results showed that SB 277 was working swimmingly. The percentage of children not vaccinated plummeted. There was, however, a troubling sign when the study showing the improvement in vaccine uptake was published two years ago. There was a significant uptick in the medical exemption rate. At the time it was speculated that some of the increase in the medical exemption rate was due to parents of children who did have medical conditions for which a medical exemption was legitimately indicated but had just opted out using a PBE because it was so much easier. Into this morass soon plunged Dr. Bob Sears leading the way teaching parents how to secure medical exemptions for questionable indications. Soon, there was a cottage industry of quacks selling bogus medical exemptions to school vaccine mandates, even online. Indeed, in the Bay area five doctors wrote one-third of the medical exemption letters. Last month, it was noted that, for the first time since SB 277 went into effect, vaccination rates in California declined slightly.
In response to these problems, Senator Richard Pan, who co-sponsored SB 277 and was the driving force behind getting it passed, introduced SB 276, a law that would mandate a database of medical exemptions, so that the state can keep track of which doctors are issuing the most medical exemptions, and require that requests for medical exemptions to school vaccine mandates be approved by the State Public Health Officer or designee, who could reject exemptions not supported by science. The bill's been watered down a bit since then, with amendments removing the provision that would authorize the State Health Officer to review medical exemptions and revoke the ones he deems fraudulent or inconsistent with medical guidelines. On the other hand, the bill would require that the state health department to provide a standardized form for use for medical exemptions: