Activist state

State bill would increase student access to COVID vaccine data

California school officials could more easily verify students’ COVID-19 vaccination records under a bill introduced Friday that would expand access to a statewide database, as part of a broader effort by the legislature to increase vaccination rates in schools.

The state Department of Public Health oversees a centralized and confidential online portal for all immunization records, the California Immunization Registry. Health care providers can voluntarily submit vaccine information to the portal, and school officials can check the registry to ensure that students have the necessary vaccines for enrollment. Vaccines currently required include those against varicella, poliomyelitis, measles, mumps and rubella.

The new proposal would allow school administrators to verify students’ COVID-19 vaccination status and implement a mandate for vaccine providers to submit all vaccination records to the registry. A third provision of the bill would require providers to report race and ethnicity data to help determine demographic groups in which vaccination rates are lagging.

Assemblyman Akilah Weber, a Democrat and physician from San Diego, told a press conference Friday that the bill would equip schools with important vaccine data so they can keep their doors open during the pandemic. Weber said the onus is currently on parents to provide immunization records, which can be a burden on families and can prevent schools from getting critical information if it isn’t provided.

“[Schools] don’t have access to the COVID vaccine right now to see which students exactly got it and which students didn’t,” Weber said. “So they rely on the parents to give that information. I am a parent. It is difficult to always have to look for the vaccines that my children have received. Having it already in a system is one less thing for schools to worry about, one less thing for parents to worry about. And this greatly facilitates the task of doctors.

Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin) said the bill raises privacy concerns by proposing to increase access to personal information in California’s immunization registry. In 2020, the state began allowing people to withdraw share their information or that of their children with organizations that use the vaccine registry.

“They flipped the course and want to use it to target students based on medical choices made by their families, while removing their option for a personal belief exemption,” Kiley said. “I will oppose this latest affront to parental rights.”

Weber’s office said the bill would not change existing privacy policies. Parents could still opt out of sharing information through the registry’s “lockout” feature, which prevents doctors and school staff from seeing personal vaccination status. But the data would still be collected anonymously in the registry, which public health and school officials can refer to without identifying individual students in order to check general vaccination rates.

If parents refuse to share a child’s information through the registry, they will need to provide proof of vaccination or a rare medical waiver to the school.

Weber is one of seven lawmakers who have formed a vaccine task force this year, and his proposal is the third the coalition has put forward to increase childhood immunization rates and keep schools open. So far, only 26.3 percent of children ages 5 to 11 are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to state data. For 12 to 17 year olds, the rate is 64.4%.

State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced a bill last month that would allow children 12 and older to be vaccinated against COVID-19 without parental consent. Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) drafted a bill last month to mandate shooting for school children; in October, Governor Gavin Newsom announced a narrower COVID-19 mandate for students, which Pan’s measure aims to reinforce with a broader requirement.

The lawmakers’ efforts have drawn fierce opposition from anti-vaccine activists and other groups opposed to the mandates, who argue the bills represent government overreach and a violation of parental rights.

Pan, a pediatrician and author of California’s tough school vaccine laws, said Friday the latest measure would help bring “confidence and certainty” to schools, families, staff and students who have endured nearly two years of disruptions due to the pandemic.

“This registry is really critical to making sure we have the necessary data on vaccination rates to protect students in schools,” Pan said, adding that misinformation about vaccines has complicated the fight to keep schools open. and getting more students vaccinated.

Other bills are expected to be tabled before the February 18 legislative deadline.