San Francisco officials are investigating a doctor and outspoken vaccine skeptic on suspicion that he is handing out illegal exemptions from the shots amid the measles outbreak sweeping the US.
Dr Kenneth Stoller, a San Francisco physician of ‘hyperbaric medicine’, has been subpoenaed to turn over redacted versions of his patient files.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera announced Wednesday that his office is launching an inquiry into whether Dr Stoller ‘violated state nuisance laws by providing medical exemptions for patients who didn’t qualify for them.’
The subpoena comes amid the nationwide measles outbreak that has sickened 764 Americans, including 42 in California, and Herrera warned that inappropriate exemptions put at-risk children ‘in real danger.’
Earlier this year, Dr Stoller and other California doctors came under fire on suspicion that they were advertising and selling improper vaccine exemptions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all children get two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine – the first between 12 and 15 months of age and the second between four and six.
Shots are federally recommended, but not mandated. It is up to states to decide legal requirements and exemptions.
States must allow religious exemptions in order to comply with the First Amendment, but 17 still allow children to attend school but skip the shots if their families have moral, philosophical or other objections to vaccination.
California was among them until 2015, when it passed a law to prohibit philosophical exemptions in the wake of a 2014 measles outbreak that began at Disneyland and sickened 147 Americans.
Now, City Attorney Herrera says his office suspects that Dr Stoller is in violation of that measure, Senate Bill 277 (SB 277).
On Wednesday, Herrera accused Dr Stoller of helping to undermine herd immunity in his community.
‘As a community, we have a responsibility to each other,’ he said in a statement.
‘There are children who have serious medical conditions that prevent them from getting vaccinated.’
A community is considered broadly protected from measles if between 90 and 95 percent of people are vaccinated against the highly contagious disease.
That vaccination rate protects the small percentage of children too young to be vaccinated, as well as people of all ages with allergies and compromised immune systems.
In California, for the 2017-2018 school year, the vaccination rate among kindergartners was 95.1 percent – enough for herd immunity, but marking a 0.4 percent decrease from the prior school year.
But doctors who offer parents an arguably illegitimate way around SB 277 threaten those vaccination rates.
Dr Stoller is featured in videos on the website vaccine-injury.info, claiming that vaccines cause autism.
The website California Coalition For Vaccine Choice advises visitors to contact Dr Stoller or Dr Kelly Sutton if they ‘need assistance obtaining a medical exemption.’
Dr Stoller’s attorney, Richard Jaffe said that patient confidentiality laws protect the physician from having to turn over his files and defended the exemptions his client writes in an interview with the Sacramento Bee.
‘Now we have things like genetic testing, which provide additional information’ Jaffe said.
‘You can use that, and doctors could exercise their discretion’ to decide whether a child’s genes make vaccination medically unsafe for them.
Dr Stoller has said that he offers free 23andMe genetic tests with two visits and may base his medical exemptions on the results, despite the at-home DNA testing company’s clear statement that the product is not ‘to be used to make medical decisions.’
City Attorney Herrera has given the doctor 15 days to respond to the subpoena, and suggested that Dr Stoller’s exemptions are tantamount to deceit.
‘The scary thing is those are the kids most at risk when somebody engages in medical exemption deception,’ Herrera said.
‘If someone uses a medical exemption they don’t qualify for and introduces unvaccinated children into that environment, the kids who legitimately can’t get a vaccine — and ultimately the general public — are the ones in real danger.’