Two more California doctors are now under investigation by the state's medical board for writing questionable vaccine exemptions for children. That brings the total to five physicians in the state under official scrutiny.
Mercury News reports the five physicians are responsible for a third of all the vaccine exemptions written in eight Bay Area school districts.
Medical vaccine exemptions should be rare, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and reserved for children with severely compromised immune systems, like those being treated for cancer, or for those who are allergic to a vaccine component.
The investigation comes during one of the worst measles outbreaks (over 1000) in the country, and in California (55) in decades, and pits some parents' concerns over the safety of vaccines against the state's concern over protecting the public from the spread of communicable diseases that can have deadly effects on infants and pregnant women.
California passed legislation to ban all philosophical and religious exemptions for immunizations in 2015 after a huge measles outbreak at Disneyland. Vaccinations rose after the bill was enacted. But vaccination rates have declined since then, partly due to doctors writing what some call questionable exemptions.
The only doctor ever sanctioned thus far by the state of California for writing improper immunization exemptions is controversial pediatrician Robert Sears, best selling author of The Vaccine Book.
A bill pending in the California legislature would provide more oversight into vaccine exemptions, and would prevent doctors already under scrutiny for writing inappropriate exemptions, from handing out new ones.
"Frankly, trying to refuse vaccines when your child needs it is an issue of privilege," state Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), a pediatrician who wrote SB 276 as well as the original 2015 vaccination law, told The Los Angeles Times. "What you are doing is relying on everyone else to vaccinate their child to protect yours."
Rebecca Estepp, a San Diego mother who opposes the new bill, said she thinks the focus on medical exemptions is misguided.
Estepp told the newspaper that before California banned the personal belief exemption, there were more than 14,000 kindergartners with either medical or personal belief exemptions. Now, just 4,800 kindergartners have an exemption, a major drop.
"There's only a third of the exemptions there used to be, so I don't understand this overreaching bill," she said.