I live in California, where we passed a tough law eliminating religious or spiritual beliefs as an excuse for not vaccinating children. Instead, the state said the children must have a note from their doctor.
It seems like a good idea, right? I thought so, at first. Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of physicians who will write bogus vaccine exemptions for… wait for it… religious and spiritual beliefs.
Things have actually gotten worse since California’s law, S.B. 277, was enacted. And no doctors have been punished for writing unnecessary medical excuses, according to the LA Times.
Public health advocates are still concerned that doctors are writing improper exemptions to get kids out of vaccines. The number of children with medical exemptions tripled last year, and dozens of complaints against physicians have been filed with the Medical Board of California.
But the way California law addresses medical exemptions has created a challenge for officials, experts say. It leaves the decision of whether a child should be allowed to skip vaccines fully up to the doctor.
S.B. 277 was passed in response to a measles outbreak at Disneyland, which revealed that California had a severe problem with unvaccinated children. That can probably be linked to certain people in Hollywood *cough* Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey *cough* who have repeated debunked myths about vaccines causing autism and other severe side effects.I personally thought California’s 2015 law would be a positive step in the fight against anti-vaccine mentalities that are so prominent within the state. After all, we should be able to trust our doctors to make good recommendations based on science and the health of our children, right?
Unfortunately, doctors aren’t immune from the same biases and false beliefs that permeate the rest of society. All it takes is a few anti-vax doctors to attract various people from around the state, and then you have what’s happening in California: these few doctors become beacons of light for anti-vaxxers who will do anything to drag our nation back in time in terms of health and disease prevention.
UC Hastings law professor Dorit Reiss says California doctors are clearly abusing the new law.
“Is it an abuse? Of course it’s an abuse,” said UC Hastings law professor Dorit Reiss. “The law left discretion to the doctors and of course that means doctors can abuse that discretion.”
At 58 schools in the state, 10% or more kindergartners had medical exemptions last fall. Doctors say that at most, 3% of people could have a medical reason for not tolerating vaccines, such as a gelatin allergy or because they’re undergoing chemotherapy.
It’s clear that the 2015 law isn’t helping the problem, but something needs to be done if we are going to prevent completely unnecessary deaths at the hands of diseases we have effectively eliminated. So, what should we do? Is it just a matter of cracking down on doctors who use bogus excuses to write exemptions, or does this require rewriting the law itself? Tell me what you think.
David G. McAfee
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