Governor Gavin Newsom of California has expressed some concerns over a recent bill before the California State Legislature aimed at reducing the number of unqualified medical exemptions to the vaccine mandates in the state. He stated in a press conference that he is not comfortable with “bureaucrats” making medical decisions for a family instead of leaving those decisions in the confines of the provider-patient relationship.
The bill comes as a response to an observed increase in the number of medical exemptions to vaccination that are deemed to be unwarranted. Just last year, Robert “Bob” Sears, MD, a pediatrician who is well-known in anti-vaccine circles as being “friendly” to “vaccine hesitant” parents was sanctioned by the California Board of Medicine for, among other things, issuing a questionable vaccine exemption:
“Bob Sears, MD, the Southern California pediatrician under investigation for alleged medical negligence and inappropriately writing medical exemptions for vaccines, has been placed on probation* by the Medical Board of California until he fulfills the Board’s requirements to avoid revocation of his license.*
In the June 27 decision, the Board “revoked” Sears’ medical license but ruled that “the revocation is stayed and [Sears] is placed on probation for 35 months on the following terms and terms.”* The decision takes effect immediately and outlines stipulations that include additional education in areas where Sears’ practice is deficient and supervision by a physician-monitor with whom Sears has no prior relationship.
Sears, son of the well-known William and Martha Sears who authored several parenting books, wrote his own book about vaccines, which contains misleading and inaccurate information but has been embraced by groups that advocate against requiring vaccines for school attendance.”
Instead of a healthcare provider just signing off on an exemption and that being the end of the requirement for vaccination of a child attending public schools in California, the bill in question would require the exemption to be certified by any of the local health officers in California, or by a centralized health officer at the state’s health department. Exemptions that are not approved would not be allowed to go into effect, thus requiring the child in question to be immunized or face the prospect of not being able to attend school.
This all emphasizes the fact that vaccine policy is political by its very nature. Scientifically speaking, immunization is the best and safest way to avoid many childhood diseases that can be deadly. If you look at the history of vaccines from beginning to end, you have a medical intervention that has been proven effective and has been getting safer and safer as its technology has been improved. Yet we still have these political issues floating around and both making it easier and more difficult — depending on the situation — to have a fully-immunized public. While Maine has made it harder for parents to opt-out of vaccinating their children, states like Texas and Arizona seriously debated bills to make it easier to avoid immunization mandates. Likewise, the legislature in Oregon was held without a quorum until legislators from the Democratic Party promised not to bring up a bill to make it harder to opt-out.
It’s all politics, and it’s very complicated given the polarized political climate we are in as a nation. It is even more complicated when one realizes that vaccine-hesitancy can be found on the fringes, or even the mainstream, of the two major political parties in the United States. Thus, the work of convincing vaccine-hesitant parents to immunize their children becomes just as difficult, a job where public health workers need to tread very lightly.