Are SLO County parents getting bogus vaccine exemptions for their kids?

No one denies there are legitimate medical reasons for exempting some children from receiving the required vaccinations for preventable diseases like measles, mumps and chicken pox.

But there are disturbing allegations that a type of black market exits for vaccine exemptions — and San Luis Obispo County is one of the hotspots that has health officials concerned.

Last year, 68 out of 3,013 kindergarten students — 2.3 percent — had a medical exemption, according the California Department of Public Health. As Tribune writer Monica Vaughan recently reported, that’s more than double the statewide average of 0.9%.

Vaughan also found that in some classes in local schools, fewer than 90 percent of students were fully vaccinated last year, which raises the threat of disease outbreaks. At Old Mission School in San Luis Obispo, for example, only 80% percent of last year’s kindergartners had all their shots — the lowest school immunization rate in the county.

How many exemptions are normal?

The number of people who can’t tolerate vaccines is small; according to the Los Angeles Times, doctors say that, at most, it’s 3% of the population.

Yet in some places in California — mostly smaller, rural counties — exemptions issued to schoolchildren are close to 3% or even higher; in Nevada County, an astonishing 10.6 percent of kindergartens had medical exemptions last year.

Health officials worry that the number of unvaccinated schoolchildren will steadily increase unless something is done to crack down on fraudulent exemptions.

That’s exactly what a highly controversial state bill, SB 276, aims to do; it would create a form doctors must fill out to grant a medical exemption. State health officials would then determine if the exemption is appropriate. If an exemption is denied, doctors could appeal.

The bill has been been vilified by a cadre of parents opposed to mandatory vaccines. Backers of the legislation say they’ve even gotten death threats.

That’s got to stop.

No one likes the idea of the state intervening in the doctor-patient relationship, but there have been too many efforts to “game” the exemption system, and that’s putting everyone in danger.

Exemptions for sale?

Some public health officials claim doctors have, in effect, been “selling” exemptions by charging exorbitant amounts for consultations or exams.

If that’s true, it’s outrageous, and California should go after them as hard as it can.

What appears more prevalent, though, are doctors who believe their patients have the right to choose whether or not to vaccinate their children.

One group, Physicians for Informed Consent, says as much on its website: “PIC’s vision is to live in a society free of mandatory vaccination laws.”

The founder of the group, Dr. Shira Miller “felt personally assaulted” when the personal belief and religious exemptions were phased out.

“Dr. Miller doesn’t think she or any other parent should ever be bullied or coerced to vaccinate (medicate) their children against their better judgment.”

The website babycenter.com offers a list of “anti-vaccine friendly doctors,” along with this advice to parents who can’t find a doctor willing to issue and exemption: “... don’t choose an MD pediatrician. Instead, just a regular family doctor MD, or better yet, a chiropractor (D.C.), a naturopathic doctor (ND), osteopathic doctor (DO), nurse pactitioner (N.P.) or homeopath (DH).”

There’s no doubt that parents seeking exemptions firmly believe they are acting in their children’s best interests.

For whatever reason, they are convinced vaccinations pose a threat to their children. Attempting to bully them or shame them into vaccinating their kids will do absolutely no good.

Here’s what has a better chance of working: Accurate and honest advice from trusted medical professionals who refuse to bend the rules for the sake of worried parents or — even worse — for money.

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