The Validity of Juvenile Court to Order Vaccines for Children

In June of 2019, the San Luis Obispo County Department of Social Services [DSS] filed a juvenile dependency hearing alleging Father [F] and Mother [M] neglected and failed to provide for their three children.  M had a history of mental disorders and substance abuse.  Both she and her third child tested positive at birth for methamphetamine and marijuana.  F also had a history of mental illness and substance abuse, and was recently incarcerated.

The court granted the DSS petition, and placed the children in the care of the foster system.  The children were seen by pediatricians for their regularly scheduled medical appointments and were also given vaccinations at the appropriate ages.

When F and M found out about the vaccinations, they petitioned the court to stop them.  They argued that in March of 2018, A doctor [D] provided F and M with an exemption for vaccinating their children.  A hearing was held on the motion and D testified along with the children’s current pediatricians.  The court ordered the vaccinations to continue as medically advised.

The juvenile court said, “The reality is that [D] issued the exemption on March 11, 2018, after receiving a request for an exemption supported solely by an uncorroborated or unverified family history provided by the parents, and without anything resembling a medical evaluation or examination of the minors.  [D] does not take any blood or tissue samples or anything of that nature. He does not conduct any neurological exam… He testified that neither child had an existing medical condition at the time of his examination… To rely solely on the information provided by a parent (the ‘family history’) without any rudimentary medical evaluation is simply ripe for abuse and patently wrong.”

F appealed arguing that the new California law provides a state public health officer (SPHO) or a doctor designated by a SPHO “may revoke the medical exemption.” (Health & Saf. Code, § 120372, subd. (d)(3)(C).) He argues this means the juvenile court does not have authority to revoke an exemption.

The Appellate Court agreed with the juvenile court: “Statues should be given a construction consistent with the legislative purpose.  The Legislature was concerned with the public health consequences of doctors issuing improper exemptions. Section 120372 increases the number of people who have authority to revoke exemptions. It does not preclude a court from taking appropriate action where the evidence demonstrates the exemption was fraudulent or without foundation. To conclude otherwise would divest the court’s authority and could endanger the children’s health. There is no statutory bar to preclude the juvenile court from ordering dependent children to receive medically necessary vaccinations…”

The Appellate Court also agreed with the juvenile court that D’s testimony did not provide an exemption to the children’s need for vaccinations, and that D was not even a credible witness.  (It should also be noted that D was placed on 10 years’ probation by the Medical Board of the State of California for providing false documentation in other medical cases.)

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