Dr Tara Zandvliet is a general practitioner in San Diego, and has written 141 out of the 486 total medical exemptions given to San Diego school children since 2015
A single doctor is responsible for a third of all shot exemptions written in San Diego, California, documents obtained by Voice of San Diego reveal.
Dr Tara Zandvliet has written notes for 141 families saying that their children did not have to get otherwise mandatory vaccinations before starting school since the summer of 2015.
She primarily cited immune system issues (or a family history of them) and allergies – but allergic reactions are extremely rare.
In fact, one study found that out of 25 million vaccines administered, just 33 people had anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening reactions.
So far, the southern Californian city has remained safe from the measles outbreaks sweeping the US.
But with six cases reported elsewhere in the state and outbreaks in four other states, health officials are on high alert, urging parents to make sure to get their children vaccinated.
Pockets of anti-vaxxers across the nation are fueling a rise in cases of the measles, the highly contagious and potentially life-threatening infection.
These families are typically fearful that vaccinations can actually harm their children, largely due to either religious beliefs or now-debunked research.
A number of states (17) have so-called ‘philosophical exemptions’ that allow parent to not vaccinate their children because they ‘object to immunizations because of personal, moral or other beliefs.’
The philosophical objection has given credence to parents’ misguided beliefs and effectively sanctioned anti-vaccination sentiment in these states.
California used to have such an exemption, but after a significant measles outbreak struck Disneyland between December 2014 and April 2015, the state swiftly changed its laws. It now has some of the strictest vaccine laws in the nation.
But, of course, there are the very rare individuals that cannot get vaccinated, due to immune system disorders allergies, or other health concerns.
For that reason, medical exemptions cannot be done away with.
So while most doctors give these exemptions in only extraordinarily rare cases, they can do so at their discretion – and some may dole them out on a looser basis.
For example, the records obtained by Voice of San Diego via a public records request are redacted for names, but do list reasons given for exemptions. Dr Barnet Meltzer wrote an August 2016 exemption for one child because they had ‘compromised immune system and risk of antigenic neurotoxicity.’
I have two main sayings in medicine: ‘Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should’, and “everything is a medical intervention, so consider the consequences’
Dr Tara Zandvliet, San Diego physician who wrote 141 vaccine exemptions
An exemption written by Dr Zandvliet around the same time attributed the child’s need to go unvaccinated to ‘unexplained anaphylaxis’ and gave ‘permanent medical exemption from all vaccines.’
Dr Zandvliet lays out her beliefs about vaccines and measles in two separate blog posts on her website.
The New York Medical College graduate claims not to take issue with vaccines themselves so much as with the recommended vaccine scheduling (the order and timing of shots that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends).
But more broadly, she states her personal motto: ‘I have two main sayings in medicine: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”, and “everything is a medical intervention, so consider the consequences.”
‘I view vaccines the same way. I wouldn’t do a tonsillectomy on every entering kindergartner (even though it would eliminate strep throat), nor would I vaccinate with a vaccine I don’t feel they need.’
When it comes to measles in particular, however, Dr Zandvliet’s site says that she believes the risk the disease poses is greater than the risk the vaccine poses.
Yet since 2018 alone, she’s written over 20 exemptions.
For context, the county physician who wrote the next most exemptions gave out 26 – since 2015.
Dr Zandvliet’s reasoning – that children who have ‘hyper immune systems, such as those with eczema or allergies’ don’t tolerate the multiple shots often given at the same time as MMR well – is not wholly off-base from the CDC’s advice, but it is a stretch.
In fact, the CDC says that no one should get the MMR vaccine if they have had other shots within four weeks, as too many live vaccines given too close together might diminish on another’s effectiveness, so it’s unclear why this would be a concern to begin with.
I wouldn’t do a tonsillectomy on every entering kindergartner (even though it would eliminate strep throat), nor would I vaccinate with a vaccine I don’t feel they need
People with weak immune systems or family history of an immune system disorder are advised against getting the shot.
So are people with ‘severe, life-threatening allergies’ to the vaccine or any component of it.
But that is highly unusual. Doctors once cautioned that people with egg allergies – about two percent of children – might have bad reactions to the vaccine. That concern has been addressed, and Dr Zandvliet’s site says the shot is safe for most people with egg allergies too.
Regardless, the number of children who have been given medical exemptions from shots since 2015 has tripled in California, and has increased by six-fold among kindergartners in San Diego since 2015, threatening the county’s herd immunity.
And, according to the San Diego Unified School District’s records, Dr Zandvliet plays an out-sized role in helping families keep their kids unvaccinated and at-risk.