Abuse of California’s vaccine personal belief exemptions

If you have been following the news, or even this blog, you probably are aware of SB 277, a bill sailing through the California legislature which, upon enactment, will essentially eliminate the California vaccine personal belief exemptions (PBE) to vaccinations of children entering in public schools or day care centers.

One of the favorite tools of the vaccine deniers is a personal belief exemption that allows them to essentially refuse to vaccinate one’s child based something other than a valid medical contraindication to vaccinate a particular child. These exemptions, at least in California, can be for almost anything, including the nonsense “religious exemption.” Ironically, it’s difficult to find a real mainstream or even non-mainstream religion that is opposed to vaccinations.

Court case after court case has supported vaccination of children and has generally rejected many attempts at using religious exemptions to refuse vaccinations. So California, which has experienced some measles outbreaks because of unvaccinated children, has decided to get tougher on vaccinating their children, and eliminate California.

Abusing the vaccine personal belief exemption


Recent protest against SB 277 were overwhelmingly white.
Recent protests against SB 277 were overwhelmingly white.


A recent peer-reviewed article published in Pediatrics examined California parents who used the California vaccine personal belief exemptions to exclude their children from routine vaccinations. The researchers found that they are typically white and well-to-do, living in some of the most politically liberal parts of California.

These results confirmed what other studies have suggested in California (citation, citation, citation and citation)–the abuse of California’s vaccine personal belief exemption is strongest among wealthier white families. I guess not needing a vaccine is a white privilege sentiment.

Orac mentioned this study in a recent post. He remarked that “the stereotype (of the typical vaccine denier) is that it’s a bunch of liberal, hippy-dippy lovers of “natural” living, but that’s not quite it.” I’ve seen many memes (I hate memes, they’re trash) that have a photo of a hipster/hippy young woman who obviously is opposed to vaccines.

Basically, this study examined the rate of PBEs in over 5000 kindergarten schools across the state. They then compiled data on the location of the school, the white ethnic make-up of each, income, and other factors.

This study found the demographic that uses vaccine personal belief exemptions to avoid immunizations for their children to be at odds with the stereotypical hippy.

  • The schools with the highest rate of PBEs also had the highest percentage of white students. In fact, the highest percentage of schools with the highest PBE rate were over 75% white.
  • The schools also clustered in areas that are generally considered to be “liberal,” although not always so.
  • Some of the schools had PBE rates up to 79%. A successful herd effect–a scientific theory that states when a small number of people remain unvaccinated, they are still protected by the “herd immunity” that builds when most people in a community are immunized–requires around 95% vaccination uptake, so many schools fail to meet that standard.

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Clustering of PBEs


This study gave us a graphic that dramatically establishes how PBEs cluster in the wealthier, whiter and more liberal areas of California:


But the data from the study has even worse news. California schools with high rates of personal-belief exemptions often had high rates of exemptions for medical reasons. Why? It’s unknown, but one could speculate that some pediatricians in the area might also be antivaccine, and they sign off on a lot of medical exemptions.

You think I’m inventing a conspiracy where there is none? Some physicians advertise that they will fill out vaccine exemption forms. Bob Sears, antivaccination cult doctor, actually lists physicians (and quacks like chiropractors and naturopaths) who will “consult” on vaccines. It’s not that hard to provide a disingenuous vaccine medical exemption to vaccinations.

Of course, I am concerned that some children exempted for medical reasons could be put at risk if their classmates are not vaccinated against diseases like measles, mumps, whooping cough and chickenpox.

As of 1 May 2015, 169 people in 20 states and Washington, D.C., had been sickened by measles, according to the CDC. As is well known, the main outbreak was traced to the Disneyland amusement park in Anaheim, California. The CDC states that the outbreak probably started with an unvaccinated traveler who became infected in another country before coming to Disneyland, where came in contact with other unvaccinated children and adults.

Opponents of the restriction of PBEs argue that parents should be able to choose for their own children. However, there are a number of issues with that argument:

  1. Some vaccine personal belief exemptions are based on fake religious arguments invented by vaccine deniers – most religions are strongly supportive of vaccines.
  2. PBEs are based on unfounded beliefs that there are risks to vaccination that simply do not exist (like the discredited vaccines and autism link).
  3. In reality, people are not allowed to put their children at risk of harm. That’s why we require everything from car seats to proper nutrition for our children.
  4. It is not a personal choice to put others at risk. Courts have supported the state in mandating vaccines for the benefit of the community over and over and over.

Dr. Margaret Carrel, Ph.D., the main researcher for this study and a member of the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Iowa, states that “vaccines protect not only an individual child but the children around them, and they constitute an enormous public good.”




  • Most of the schools with a higher rate vaccine personal belief exemptions are overwhelmingly white.
  • Most of these schools are generally in wealthier and more liberal areas of the state (thought political affiliation is more scattered, with wealthy conservative areas also having higher PBEs).
  • The rate of medical exemptions is frequently correlated with high vaccine personal belief exemptions which may indicate that some healthcare professionals are signing off on medical exemptions.


Key citations:


The Original Skeptical Raptor
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Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!
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  • kfunk937

    Somewhat OT, but scuttlebutt has it that SB277 opponents of the more rabid kind are now scurrying about trying to establish their own church*, thinking that Jerry will somehow manage to preserve religious exemptions.

    Apparently they a) haven’t read the bill, and b) are unaware that no established religion opposes vaccination, and c) have completely overlooked 2 pre-existing CA online “churches” already around. The Universal Life Church, founded in Modesto in 1959, will ordain anyone for free; it may have been a tax-dodge originally, but now functions mostly, IMO, to facilitate non-secular marriage ceremonies (which is why ~blush~ my dad became a “minister” way back when, although he quit the wedding biz after the 8th consecutive divorce among his “flock”). Then for the more libertarian-minded, whack-a-doodle contingent, there’s always G2C, genesis2church.is, who promote industrial bleach injestion and enemas as panacaea (including as “cure” for autism) and are already strongly anti-vaccine, as well as Big Gubmint Can’t Make Me. Oddly, exemption from “mandatory voting” is included in the explication of their core beliefs, under the heading “2. We of the Church believe in good health for all mankind.”

    You just can’t make this stuff up.

    Returning to the topic, sort of . . . many of the very-high (over 50%) PBE rate schools are run by the thinly-veiled religious, but overtly crunchy, Steiner-Waldorf loons. Coincidence? I think not. I think Waldorfs are mostly private schools in CA,, but are insidiously creeping into publically-funded charters elsewhere, blurring the line. In any case, it’s a really good thing that SB277 covers private and charter, as well as public schools.

    *At least we can give them points for finally admitting that their “beliefs” are indistinguishable from religious fervour.

  • TellItAsIs99

    SB277 coerces parents into giving their kids risky controversial vaccines and a federal bill has just been introduced in Florida which will also pressure parents in the entire US to vaccinate kids or be denied school access. These coerced vaccination bills will be legally challenged all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.
    Some vaccines shots contain toxic mercury and many vaccines contain toxic adjuvants such as aluminum to stimulate immune reaction. Vaccine supporters also fail to mention that because of better nutrition, sanitation, hygiene and hospital care that deaths from infectious diseases all but disappeared before the first measles vaccine was given in 1963. Supporters also do not mention that vaccines rates were well under 90%, the so called herd immunity minimum rate, in many parts of the country in the 1960s to 80s without any major outbreaks of diseases that the vaccines are claimed to protect against.
    Big pharma funded test trials and financing to politicians, the FDA and medical advisory committees have created just another marketing group. Vaccines are not guaranteed to be either safe or effective and vaccine companies are protected from law suits by the 1986 Vaccine Injury Act. They know their vaccines cause harm and even death but don’t know which children are at risk; see the HRSA vaccine injury table list.
    A well nourished child with a healthy immune system will fight off most infectious diseases and in the rare case of measles the child will have life-time immunity after recovery without taking the risk of toxic vaccines some of which require later booster shots. Vaccines are a decision that must remain with the parents.
    Corporate interests have also lead to other controversial deadly treatments drugs. The highly deadly mandatory clot-buster TPA drug given in the ER for a non-life threatening moderate ischemic stroke has a history of deadly failed test trials and controversial if any benefit modest benefit. This stealth euthanasia drug is now starting to be delievered to home’s after the 911 call. Search: AAEM TPA position, The NNT TPA stroke, or in ER emergency blogs or http://www.stroketreatmentrisktpa.co.nf for the stroke TPA drug controversy.

    • Chris Preston

      SB277 coerces parents into giving their kids risky controversial vaccines

      There is nothing specifically risky or controversial about the vaccines that are listed. They are all on the CDC schedule and most have been for years.

      a federal bill has just been introduced in Florida

      It is not possible to introduce a federal bill in Florida. Florida is a state legislature.

      Some vaccines shots contain toxic mercury and many vaccines contain toxic adjuvants such as aluminum to stimulate immune reaction.

      Here we go again. Someone else who doesn’t understand the difference between elemental mercury and mercury compounds, or between aluminium and aluminium salts, or the concept of a dose response curve. There is no evidence that any of the aluminium salts or thiomersal are toxic at the amounts present in vaccines.

      Vaccine supporters also fail to mention that because of better nutrition, sanitation, hygiene and hospital care that deaths from infectious diseases all but disappeared before the first measles vaccine was given in 1963.

      Well that is really weird, because the incidence of measles for example was unchanged for more than 100 years prior to the introduction of the first vaccine. It promptly dropped by more than 90%. No I think it is the anti-vaxxers who have been telling lies.

      If you like, I am happy to eviscerate the rest of your claims, just let me know. For the present I think I have shown well enough that you are full of it.

      • Katia

        Also, there is no mercury of ANY kind in children’s immunizations.

      • You all saved me the trouble of mocking this poor soul. And again with the mercury gambit. There was NEVER any mercury in vaccines, unless I flunked chemistry and ethyl mercury is elemental mercury. Which it isn’t. And I didn’t flunk chemistry. It would have kept me from getting my Associates Degree in Janitorial Science.

    • Sullivan ThePoop

      So, you come here with the same old tired arguments that all antivaxxers use. Why do you think these oft repeated and always debunked arguments are going to change anything this time?

  • I really do think it’s more about socioeconomics than it is about politics. Orange County, for instance, seems to be one hotbed of antivaccine activity. (It’s the home of “Dr. Bob” Sears, and it can hardly be characterized as leaning left. In my own state, with the exception of the Ann Arbor area and a couple of other liberal enclaves, the areas with the lowest vaccine uptake and the most outspoken antivaccinationists are all very much counties that lean heavily conservative. What I think tends to be the issue are privilege and entitlement. We have parents who are privileged and full of Dunning-Kruger who don’t think they have any responsibility to society at all while also highly overestimating their ability to read the science.

    • I realize that there’s some correlation, but not much, to left-leaning counties or cities in the state. Orange and San Diego Counties are, of course, very conservative, and are hotbeds of the antivaccination crowd.

      I’m actually trying to push a theme across many articles that there are anti-science dumbasses on the left as much as on the right. There are always articles on Daily Kos that pontificate about the superiority of the left’s science knowledge, when, of course, the left is a significant part of the anti-GMO and anti-vaccine movements.

      I really am trying to show that there is science denial across the political spectrum. But it really is about white privilege, left, right or center.

      • Nor am I arguing that antivaccine beliefs are more common among conservatives. Indeed, existing research, as limited as it is, has consistently failed to find a correlation between antivaccine beliefs and where one falls on the liberal-conservative political spectrum.

        • Katia

          I have long said that the lunatic left and the lunatic right meet together at the back of the circle in regard to immunizations.

          • The meet together in the back of the circle on lots of things, not just vaccines.

  • Sandy Perlmutter

    Interesting trend: well-educated, wealthy white idiots. A contrast with the pro-polio idiots who have ignorance and superstition as their excuse.