But some California doctors are starting to advertise medical exemptions based on a long list of unrelated conditions. And since medical exemptions are essentially just a letter written by the family doctor and submitted to a child's school, they aren't vetted by any regulatory body."If you're asking can doctors abuse [medical exemptions]? The answer is, right now, yes," said Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, a law professor who specializes in vaccination law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law. "A doctor who abuses this exemption is failing his or her patients just as much as a doctor who doesn't take care of a child in other ways."
"Can doctors abuse medical exemptions? The answer is, right now, yes."
But it also opens up the possibility of medical exemptions being used to fill the role of personal belief exemptions. The only way a doctor might be subject to discipline for handing out questionable medical exemptions would be through the Medical Board of California."You could complain to the board and say it's a violation of the standard of care, but it's not formalized," Reiss said. "Doctors that advertise online saying they'll give medical exemptions are kind of natural targets. They kind of deserve to be closely monitored."A spokesperson for the Medical Board told me it's not specifically monitoring who gives out medical exemptions or how many, but that just like anything else a doctor does, this decision would need to meet the board's standard of care.So does this all mean that California's strict new law is actually toothless? Not necessarily.For one, we've already seen the vaccination rates in California start to rise, from 90.4 percent in the 2014-2015 school year to 92.9 percent this past year. Sawyer told me that increase is more likely due to an earlier change in the law that required families to visit the doctor before applying for a personal belief exemption, rather than the new change, but that it's a good indicator some families might not be as staunchly anti-vaxx as we thought.And if dodgy medical exemptions do start to stand out as a problem, there are measures California could put in place. In West Virginia, where only medical exemptions are allowed, doctors have to submit requests for exemption to a state immunization officer for review."We'll just have to see what happens," Sawyer said. "This question is on everybody's radar here."
"They kind of deserve to be closely monitored."