Some California doctors are selling ‘medical’ exemptions from vaccinations to anti-vaxxer parents.
After a 2015 outbreak of measles in the state, California banned non-medical exemptions from shots for religious or philosophical reasons.
Despite the risks, some parents have remained adamant that their children not be vaccinated, so they’ve found a work-around – and some physicians are profiting.
These doctors are charging as much as $100 to give parents a medical exemption from getting their children vaccinated – even though these children may not really need these exemptions for their safety.
What’s more, their suspect exemptions may help to fuel outbreaks of completely preventable diseases like measles, which are already on the rise in many US states.
Some California doctors are helping anti-vaxxer parents keep shots away from their kids by writing what they claim are ‘medical’ exemptions from vaccination – and profiting from it
For a very small percentage of children, vaccines are not safe.
But these people make up a minority and the reasons they shouldn’t get shots – particularly the combination vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) – are fairly obvious.
Vaccines may not be safe for people that allergic to some component of them, have inherited blood clotting disorders or weakened immune systems that may be vulnerable to the weakened versions of the viruses that are in the vaccines.
Only about one in every 2,000 US children has a primary immune deficiency.
By contrast, before the MMR vaccine was introduced, nearly every child would get the measles before age 15, and between 400 and 500 would die each year of the highly-contagious virus.
By the 1980s, the disease was all but eliminated.
But then Dr Andrew Wakefield published a now-debunked study that purported to link the MMR vaccine to autism.
Despite a much larger body of research – before and after the Wakefield study – disproving that theory, many Americans latched fearfully onto the notion and refused to vaccinate their children.
Anti-vaccination lobbies have helped to push non-medical vaccination exemption laws through 18 state legislatures – including in California.
But following a 2015 measles outbreak notoriously spread linked to Disney theme parks in California, the state did away with its non-medical exemption laws.
Parents, however, have held onto their beliefs.
As have some doctors, who charge a pretty penny to help parents keep their children shot free (and at-risk).
The website California Coalition for Vaccine Choice advertises resources for ‘assistance obtaining a medical exemption,’ including evaluations by Dr Ken Stoller and Dr Kelly Sutton.
Dr Sutton advertises a whole program to guide parents on dodging vaccinations for $97.
In June, Orange County pediatrician Dr Bob Sears was put on 35 months probation by the Medical Board of California for issuing unwarranted medical exceptions.
So far, Dr Sears is the only physician that the Board has disciplined for the practice.
But spokesperson Carlos Villatoro told Daily Mail Online that 36 other complaints for ‘inappropriate vaccine exemptions’ were been logged with the Board in 2018 – up from 44 in 2017 and 12 in 2016, the year after non-medical exemptions were discarded in California.
Dr Sears remains an outspoken anti-vaxxer in his Facebook posts.
California is a hotbed for anti-vaxxers and measles cases alike, though nothing has come close to the 2015 Disney outbreak that sickened 147 people.
Keeping an outbreak at bay means having a minimum saturation of vaccinated people, amounting to so-called herd immunity that protects those who truly can’t be vaccinated – those with immune deficiencies and infants – relatively safe.
The Medical Board of California is willing to take action against doctors selling undeserved exceptions, but it has to know about them to begin with, and that creates a problem.
‘One of the challenges that the Board is facing with these type of complaints is that oftentimes the patients’ parents do not approach the Board with the complaint because they are seeking the medical exemption,’ explained Villatoro in an email.
‘In these instances, the Board must be able to prove good cause to issue a subpoena for the medical records.’
So far, it has only gotten that far in Dr Sears’s case, but is prepared to take action against anyone it can prove is acting in bad faith.