California Doctor Who Wrote 1,000 Vaccine Exemptions Charged With Gross Negligence

A California doctor who has been described as "anti-vaccine" and who has made around $180,000 from issuing vaccine exemptions was charged with gross and repeated negligence for issuing approximately 1,000 dubious exemptions over the past five years.

Out of every doctor in the San Diego area, Dr. Tara Zandvliet has written the most vaccine exemptions—which are the only medical exemptions legal in California, according to Ars Technica—since 2015. However, the state has called her methods into question after determining that she issued a vaccine exemption based on irrelevant medical information, according to Voice of San Diego.

California law allows children to enter school without vaccinations if "their medical circumstances are such that immunization is not considered safe under the standard of medical care." A spike in the number of parents using this loophole to avoid vaccinating their children in recent years has led to decreased herd immunity in California schools, which in turn has led to calls for increased scrutiny of exemptions and more oversight by the state's Health and Human Services Agency.

Charging documents detail how one "Mr. A" emailed Zandvliet in 2016 requesting an exemption for his four-year-old daughter, who up to that point had only been "barely vaccinated."

"If you can find four or more people affected with [the type of illnesses listed on my webpage]," Zandvliet's replied, "I could make a case that she likely has inherited a tendency to over reactive immune system." Voice of San Diego described this response as "probing for a family history that might show higher incidents of autoimmune disorders."

In his response, Mr. A described how his grandmother, mother, uncle and brother all had asthma as well as some other conditions, including "hives from sulfur" and "allergies to cat dander and dust."

Zandvliet replied "Great! ... Looks like 4 more people to me!" according to the filing, and went on to grant a vaccine exemption to Mr. A's daughter after receiving letters confirming that the family members in question had the conditions Mr. A described in his email.

California health authorities found a few issues with the doctor's conduct in this situation. First, the Centers for Disease and Control do not recognize a family history of asthma as a legitimate reason to not be vaccinated, according to Voice of San Diego, even though Zandvliet has written dozens of exemptions on similar grounds. Second, the state holds that letters from relatives, or anything besides legitimate medical records, do not constitute a reasonable basis for believing that someone has or had a medical condition. Yet Zandvliet accepted this documentation as adequate.

For these two reasons, Zandvliet was charged with gross negligence by the state health board. If the board determines she granted the exemption on insufficient grounds, she may have her license revoked. However, she is currently allowed to continue her medical practice while her case is pending, as she has not been charged with a crime, reported Voice of San Diego. An administrative law judge will hear her case if it goes to trial.

In the charging documents, Zandvliet has admitted to writing "roughly 1,000" vaccine exemptions between 2015 and June 2019. Voice of San Diego reported that she charges $180 for an office visit relating to exemptions, meaning that she has made at least $180,000 from granting them to patients.

According to Zandvliet's website, she is board-certified in internal medicine, pediatrics and integrative medicine. It also says that she graduated from Stanford University with a degree in biology and later earned her medical degree at New York Medical College. She may continue practicing medicine while her case is pending.

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