$500 Will Buy You a Medical Exemption from Vaccination

A few days ago, we told you about people in Pakistan using fake ink marks on their children to get around polio vaccine requirements. In that same blog post, we told you about pediatrician Robert “Bob” Sears, MD, who is in trouble with the California medical board for giving medical exemptions from vaccination to patients who may not have needed them. (The more recent allegations against him are still being sorted out.)

A recent article in The Lancet describes a “loophole” in the yellow fever vaccination requirements for traveling into Nigeria. In that article (“The yellow fever vaccination certificate loophole in Nigeria” by Paul Adepoju, The Lancet, 20 July 2019), a scheme by airport health officials is described where they charge $10 for a signed and stamped yellow fever International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP). They sold these without any proof of the individual being vaccinated. Thankfully, the government of Nigeria has stepped up its efforts to stop these illicit transactions by introducing stricter rules on how to obtain an ICVP.

In the United States, many school districts do not allow unvaccinated or under-vaccinated children to attend school. These decisions are made on a state-by-state basis, and they tend to be very political. As a result, parents who refuse to vaccinate their children are resorting to homeschooling, sometimes to the detriment of their children’s educations. In other places, anti-vaccine parents are depending on “anti-vaccine-friendly” physicians to give them medical exemptions, even if those exemptions are not supported by evidence.

A recent scheme was reported by the Facebook group “Anti-Anti-Vaccine Campaign.” The group consists of pro-science individuals who bring to light the different “interesting” ways in which anti-vaccine individuals try to get around vaccine mandates. This time, they uncovered a $500 per child scheme:

In that posting, an anti-vaccine person is advertising the services of a “Medical Doctor who is willing to travel to [redacted] over a weekend and do (vaccine exemptions) for families in the area.” In the comments section of that posting, previous clients of this person speak to how easy it was to get the exemption, with little to no physical examination or questioning about the child’s health. Others talk about paying $500 per child for the exemption. As the posting states, the physician seems to be ready to travel once 25 families are signed up.

It goes without saying how dangerous this is to public health for different reasons. First, children with legitimate medical exemptions to vaccination truly do have a reason to be weary of vaccine preventable diseases. (If the vaccine makes them sick, imagine what the actual disease can do to them?) Reducing the rate of vaccination around them erodes community immunity, leaving them at increased risk.

Second, this type of behavior from a physician puts into question the integrity of the healthcare system. Already, enough people point a finger and blame “Big Pharma” and the profits of the pharmaceutical industry for many things. This just gives credence to the belief that physicians are only working for money and not for the health and wellbeing of the community.

As we wrote before, people will find ways around rules and laws for vaccination and for many other things in life. However, this is a very serious thing to be fooling around with as it threatens public health. The public health authorities in the state where this is allegedly happening have been notified, from what we understand.


Author: René F. Najera, DrPH

I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, an online project by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. All opinions expressed on these blog posts are not necessarily those of the College or any of my employers. Check out my professional profile on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/renenajera Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen