A seventh-grader at Toyon Middle School cannot enroll this year due to new state legislation that does not recognize her prior vaccination exemption for medical reasons.

The child’s mother, Jennifer Pratt, says that her daughter was issued what she believed to be a permanent vaccination exemption in 2016 after she received genetic testing that led a doctor to deem her at risk of serious health problems if vaccinated.

Pratt did not name a medical condition with which her daughter was diagnosed, but said that a family history of health scares following vaccinations made her choose never to vaccinate her child.

Until this semester, her daughter was able to attend school with her pre-existing exemption. However, state Senate Bill 714, passed in 2019, requires an updated exemption under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) criteria for all unvaccinated students by Jan. 1, 2021, or when entering a checkpoint year, such as the seventh grade.

In 2015, vaccination exemptions due to personal belief were made no longer valid under state Senate Bill 277. According to Calaveras County Health Officer Dean Kelaita, MD, a small number of doctors writing “bogus exemptions for money” caused the state to implement SB 714 several years later.

Stricter guidelines under the new law have effectively tied doctors’ hands in writing vaccination exemptions for reasons that are not recognized by the CDC. This includes genetic predisposition, which is not listed as a reason for exemption.

Pratt’s daughter has not been able to attend school since the beginning of the semester, despite a distance learning format that has kept all students at home. Pratt fears for her daughter’s education and is afraid she might soon face legal repercussions for not sending her child to school.

“The main issue here, at this point, is that we don’t have any other options,” Pratt said. “Because she has this medical condition, the school district should be making these accommodations. I’m not saying she should go into a class. We should be extending this period of trying to obtain some kind of agreement here, instead of just dropping her.”

California schools do not have many options, either, in admitting students without their mandated vaccinations.

“California has a requirement for children to be fully vaccinated to enroll in school,” Kelaita said. “This includes distance learning, as well as in-person classroom attendance. The coronavirus pandemic has not changed this reality. Children enrolled in accredited home school programs (such as Mountain Oaks/CCOE) are also subject to the vaccine requirement.”

Schools that do not comply with vaccination requirements can be fined daily by the state Department of Public Health or even face an injunctive court order in which the noncompliant student may be physically removed from campus, according to leading vaccine rights attorney Greg Glaser.

Glaser, who practices law in Calaveras County, has witnessed an exodus of families out of California’s school system, primarily due to medical vaccine exemptions no longer being honored. He says the only real options for those families are to home school or move out of state.

If any change occurs, it will likely be in the form of litigation, which has thus far been unsuccessful in challenging CDC guidance.

“I think that litigation will continue to open new doors for freedom. The cases have been so focused on privacy issues or settle before they go to court. Only a couple of challenges to mandatory vaccine law, and those challenges were not well-brought,” Glaser said. “What happened was you had a lot of parents with questions about vaccines, whether they wanted no vaccines or a different schedule. Their current doctor said, ‘No, we’re only vaccinating on a CDC schedule.’ Turns out, the most reasonable doctors are integrative physicians.”

Presently, a medical board hearing in Oakland is underway for Kenneth Stoller, MD, which could set a precedent for integrative medicine as a separate standard of care in issuing vaccine exemptions.

“(Stoller) wrote medical exemptions for patients, including (some) based on genetic criteria, and the medical board questioned his medical exemptions, saying the criteria he used is not used by the CDC,” Glaser said. “The question that will be decided in court is ‘Are there two standards?’ Are integrative doctors able to practice alternative medicine, or do doctors like Stoller have to follow the CDC?”

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Dakota graduated from Bret Harte in 2013 and went to Davidson College, NC where she earned a bachelor's degree in Arab studies. After spending time studying in the Middle East and Europe, she is happy to be home, writing about the community she loves.

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