San Francisco officials have subpoenaed the medical records of an anti-vaxxer doctor to determine if he gave bogus medical exemptions to parents who didn’t want to immunize their kids.
The investigation comes as the nation grapples with a growing number of measles outbreaks fueled by vaccine skeptics and opponents who believe the shots are harmful for children despite a pile of studies showing they are safe.
“As a community, we have a responsibility to each other,” City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement Wednesday announcing the probe of Dr. Kenneth Stoller, who has promoted the debunked theory that vaccines cause autism.
“There are children who have serious medical conditions that prevent them from getting vaccinated. The scary thing is those are the kids most at risk when somebody engages in medical exemption deception. 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.”
Stoller’s attorney, Rick Jaffe, said they had not yet received the subpoena but would be fighting it.
“He has no legal basis to make this request,” Jaffe said. “He has no evidence.”
Three years ago, California passed a strict vaccine law that prohibits children from attending school unless their immunizations are up to date and bars parents from opting out for religious or philosophical reasons.
Only a medical exemption allows an unvaccinated kid to attend a public or private school. Herrera said reasons could include an allergy to vaccine components or because a child is undergoing chemotherapy.
Jaffe acknowledged that Stoller issues exemptions based on other factors, including genetic tests such as 23andMe and family history. “He stands by the exemptions he has written,” the lawyer said.
Jaffe also said privacy of the health records is protected by law. Herrera, however, is seeking anonymized records with any information that would identify individual patients redacted.
Since the 2016 law, SB 277, was passed in the wake of a measles outbreak at Disneyland, the number of medical exemptions has quadrupled, leaving health officials suspicious that some are invalid.
There have been three measles cases reported in the Bay Area in recent months, but medical authorities fear the stage is set for a larger outbreak because of low vaccination rates and high medical exemptions at a cluster of schools.
They worry about a repeat of the outbreak sweeping through the Orthodox Jewish community in New York City, where officials say some yeshivas have flouted an emergency order to ban unvaccinated kids.
The number of measles cases nationwide hit 764 this week, the highest since the disease was deemed eradicated in 2000.