California Mandatory Immunization Laws and Exemptions


California’s Immunization Requirements

What are the Immunization Requirements in California?

Absent an exemption, students enrolled in Transitional Kindergarten/Kindergarten through the twelfth grade in both private and public schools are required to obtain the following vaccinations:

  • Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis (TDAP);
  • Polio (OPV or IPV);
  • Hepatitis B;
  • Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR); and
  • Varicella (Chickenpox)

At the beginning of the seventh grade, some children might additionally be required to get re-vaccinated for Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis (TDAP), and Varicella (Chickenpox).

Homeschooled students do not have to meet any of the immunization requirements as the students in private and public schools. As a result, if your child attends a home-based private school or an independent study program and does not receive classroom-based instruction, she/he does not need to be immunized.

Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Required for your Children to Attend School?

Not yet. California law states that students are required to obtain immunization for in-person learning only at the start of the term following the Federal Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) full approval of the vaccine for their grade span. California will not initiate the regulatory process for a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for the 2022-2023 school year. Thus, any COVID-19 immunization requirements would only take effect after full FDA approval and no sooner than the 2023-2024 school year.

Exemptions to the Immunization Requirements in California

In California, there are currently 2 exemptions to the immunization requirement, including a medical exemption and a special education/IEP exemption.

Medical Exemptions to the Immunization Requirements

The concept of medical exemptions from immunization first came into place in February of 2015 when Senate Bill 277 regarding public health and mandatory vaccination of children was introduced. Beginning on January 1, 2016, you could obtain an exception from immunizing your child based on “a written statement by a licensed physician to the effect that the physical condition of the child is such, or medical circumstances relating to the child are such, that immunization is not considered safe, indicating the specific nature and probable duration of the medical condition or circumstances, including but not limited to, family medical history, for which the physician does not recommend immunization, that child shall be exempt.”

However, as of January 1, 2021, immunization exemptions must be administered through the California Immunization Registry (CAIR-ME) medical exemption site, a state-wide database for collecting and filing medical exemptions for vaccinations. Accordingly, a written statement from a doctor is no longer valid as an exemption to vaccination requirements.

What Happened to my Children’s Medical Exemption Filed before 2021?

Any medical exemption filed will remain valid until your child enrolls in the next grade span, the expiration date outlined in a temporary medical exemption, or upon revocation because the issuing physician received disciplinary action from their licensing entity. Your children’s existing exemptions from before 2021 will remain on file at schools and childcare facilities and do not need to go through CAIR-ME.

How Can my Child Obtain a Medical Exemption for a Required Immunization?

Parents can create an account in CAIR-ME and apply for an exemption. They will receive an exemption application number for their child’s physician. The physician can register for an account on CAIR-ME and log in to issue the medical exemption. Once the exemption is issued, the physician prints the required form and provides a copy to the parents to give to their child’s school.

CAIR-ME requires the following information be provided:

  • Child’s name
  • Identification and contact information for:
    • Physician issuing the exemption
    • Child’s primary care physician is different from the issuing physician
    • Child’s parents or guardians
    • Child’s school or other institution for which the exemption is being ought
  • A statement acknowledging that the child received a physical examination and evaluation that meets the standard stipulated in the code
  • A statement explaining why the primary care physician is not issuing the exemption (if applicable)
  • The amount of time that the issuing physician has been treating the child
  • A separate description of the medical basis for the exemption for EACH vaccination
  • A statement as to whether the exemption is permanent or temporary
  • An authorization of release of information for the Department to contact the issuing physician
  • Certification from the physician that the statement and information are accurate, correct, and complete

As a note, the California Department of Public Health must, by law, review exemptions in CAIR-ME in the following situations:

  • when a school or childcare facility’s immunization rates drop below 95%
  • when a school fails to provide reports of their vaccination rates
  • if a doctor writes more than five medical exemptions annually
  • if it is necessary to protect public health

IEP Exemptions to the Immunization Requirements

Under Federal law, students with disabilities are entitled to be placed on Individualized Education Programs (IEP) and receive special education services. Lack of immunization cannot prohibit students with disabilities from accessing those services. As such, students with IEPs may access any special education and related services deemed necessary by the IEP without proof of immunization. Access may include in-person teaching, counseling, therapy, or other activities or services that require in-person delivery.

It is important to note that this exemption does not automatically apply if students have an IEP. Specifically, the services students are entitled to per their IEP must need to be administered in-person for the student to qualify for the exemption. Suppose your child is placed on an IEP by his/her school district. If your child is entitled to a one-to-on behavioral aid or is in a special needs class per the IEP, your child cannot be stopped from accessing those services simply because he/she does not possess the immunization requirements. However, if the only service your child receives is one hour of counseling per week, which can be done remotely, he/she will likely not qualify for the exemption.

Additionally, students may be exempt from the vaccination requirements if their IEP mandates they are placed in a non-public school to meet their particular needs. But, if a parent unilaterally and voluntarily places their child who qualifies for an IEP in a private school, the vaccination exemption does not apply.

Speak with an Experienced Education Attorney about  Immunization Laws and Exemptions

Concerned about the health of your child? Do you worry that your child may be at higher risk for having a reaction if they are vaccinated? Many parents have been through this situation. If you’re concerned about vaccinations, you should talk to a lawyer. Our law firm can help. We’re here to answer your questions and concerns. We can help you decide if your child qualifies for an exemption. Contact our law firm today to learn more.