George Boardman: It’s time to prosecute some of our local medical exemption charlatans
The passage of a state law restricting the ability of parents to exempt their children from vaccinations has led to a boom in medical exemptions in Nevada County, providing an opportunity for the district attorney to do something that could actually benefit the community.
Statistics show that less than 1% of school age children in Nevada County were granted medical exemptions from vaccination before a state law was passed that allowed only medical exemptions. That rate jumped to 7.7% after the legislation became law.
Kaiser Health News estimates that 30% of kindergarten students in Nevada City had medical exemptions for the 2017-18 school year, 52% at Yuba River Charter School—the highest for any school in the state. How is this possible?
Well, now that people don’t need the approval of a doctor to use cannabis for medical reasons, the easy money for unscrupulous practitioners is in providing medical exemptions for the children of anti-vaxxers. “The word on the street is that they’re getting (paid) $800 per exemption letter,” Sharyn Turner, school health services coordinator for the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools, told The Union recently.
This provides an opportunity for District Attorney Cliff Newell to get out of his comfort zone of recycling the same losers through the criminal justice system and strike a blow for medical ethics and public health. It’s time to hold one of these sleaze bags accountable.
For starters, Newell might want to follow the lead of San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who has subpoenaed the anonymous medical records of Dr. Kenneth Stoller to determine whether Stoller violated state law by providing medical exemptions for patients who didn’t qualify for them. Herrera claims Stoller is a vocal opponent of vaccines and has used 23andMe genetic test results to fabricate exemptions for children.
“If someone used a medical exemption they didn’t quality for and introduces unvaccinated children into the environment, the kids who legitimately can’t get a vaccine—and ultimately the general public—are the ones in real danger,” Herrera said.
Stoller, who has a degree from the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine, has told an anti-vaxxer web site he bases his medical exemption decisions on two 30-minute visits and a 23andMe genetic test, even though the company states test results should not be used to make medical decisions.
Genetic tests have become a popular tool for anti-vaxxers seeking medical exemptions, and. as is usually the case with this crowd, they distort the science in an effort to deceive officials and the public. I’m referring specifically to a gene called MTHFR.
If you look at anti-vaxxer blogs and web sites, you’ll find activists sharing step-by-step instructions for ordering 23andMe tests, downloading the raw data, and using a third-party app to analyze MTHFR, a gene where certain mutations supposedly predispose children to have bad reactions to vaccines, possibly even leading to (stop me if you’ve heard this before) autism.
Here’s where deception enters the picture. This interest in MTHFR can be traced to a 2008 paper that linked a variant of the gene to “adverse events” after a smallpox vaccination. A decade later, James Crowe, senior author of the paper and director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center, offered a revised assessment of his own study.
“It’s just not a valid study by today’s methodology,” he said last year. To use it for granting vaccine exemptions, he said, “is illogical and inappropriate.”
The original paper was based on two small studies involving 85 and 46 people. As researchers started looking at hundreds and then thousands of people, they found the variant might exist in up to 40% of the population. Nowhere near that percentage of people have bad reactions to vaccines. One more thing: The original study focused solely on the smallpox vaccine, which is no longer given because the disease has been eradicated.
All of this is ignored by the anti-vaxxer crowd, which continues to cite the study to get medical exemptions and has even used it in legal filings. That licensed medical professionals beat the same drum is a disgrace to their profession. It’s past time we hold these charlatans accountable for their actions.
Why stop now?
The Camp Fire was clearly a wake-up call for residents of Nevada County, as in: It can just as easily happen here. Town hall meetings on how to prepare for a fire have been packed, and the sound of chain saws and weed whackers has filled the air as people create defensible space around their homes.
The recently concluded free green waste drop off event was a big success, with more leaves, brush and pine needles piling up every weekend of May. Jamie Jones, executive director of the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County, estimates that one million pounds of fuel was removed from the landscape. As YubaNet reported:
“Each weekend, the collection sites were extremely busy, residents participated in large numbers by hauling brush in cars, trucks and trailers. Each weekend, the operation was scaled up with more containers being added and a constant stream of Waste Management trucks picking up full containers and rotating in empty ones.”
Too bad the program has ended for the year. Unless Lake of the Pines, where I live, is unique, weeds, brush and other fuels will continue to need cutting until at least the Fourth of July to retard a fire season that is now year-round. Why cut off the program when it was clearly building momentum? Why limit it to just four weeks?
I tried to call Jones Thursday and may have inadvertently received answers to my questions when I was greeted by the longest recorded message I’ve ever heard. I was encouraged to seek information or services online, and was informed there are just two people available to answer the flood of calls the council receives.
A vital service understaffed and under funded? Sounds like Nevada County to me.
George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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