San Francisco’s city attorney has subpoenaed a doctor for patients’ medical records to investigate whether the physician has been illegally exempting children from vaccines.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a news release that he needs the anonymized medical records from Dr. Kenneth Stoller to figure out if Stoller has broken state nuisance laws by giving parents permission to bypass a California law that has forced all school children in the state to be vaccinated unless they get a valid medical exemption.
Examples of valid exemptions include allergies to vaccine components or risks associated with undergoing chemotherapy, the City Attorney’s Office said in a news release. But Herrera has accused Stoller of being a “vocal opponent of vaccines” who has said he bases exemptions for children on “two 30-minute visits and a 23andMe genetic test.”
“There are children who have serious medical conditions that prevent them from getting vaccinated,” Herrera said in a statement. “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 medical practice referred questions to his attorney, Richard Jaffe, who told McClatchy in a phone interview Wednesday that he is still analyzing the city attorney’s subpoena and the rationale behind it.
“We’re going to review the matter,” Jaffe said, adding that “I don’t see how this has anything to do with the city of San Francisco. He’s a medical doctor giving advice to patients.”
In announcing the subpoena, Herrera pointed to SB 277, which went into effect in 2016 and prevents parents from claiming personal or religious beliefs to avoid immunizing children before they go to school. But after that change, “the number of medical exemptions issued has increased dramatically, despite legitimate qualifying conditions being rare,” the City Attorney’s Office said.
The subpoena comes amid growing concerns about low vaccination rates and measles outbreaks across the country — a resurgence that has been blamed on lagging vaccination rates and misinformation, the Associated Press reports, despite scientific consensus that avoiding vaccines poses grave risks and that immunizations are safe except in rare cases.
Jaffe said his client’s actions don’t run afoul of the newly implemented California law because of the way it was written to allow physicians “to use medical exemptions broader than what the CDC” advises in its more restrictive guidelines.
Specifically, Jaffe pointed to genetic testing — such as 23andMe — as a tool that could inform doctors’ decisions about whether a vaccine is safe for a child.
“Now we have things like genetic testing, which provide additional information,” Jaffe said. “You can use that, and doctors could exercise their discretion.”
Herrera suggested 23andMe results shouldn’t be used for vaccine exemptions, citing language on the ancestry testing company’s website: “The test is not intended to tell you anything about your current state of health, or to be used to make medical decisions, including whether or not you should take a medication, how much of a medication you should take, or determine any treatment.”
Jaffe said he’s “skeptical” the city attorney has the right to Stoller’s patient records. Jaffe also pointed to pending legislation that could alter the vaccination law that went into effect in 2016.
“There are many doctors who thought that they had the ability under the law to do exactly what they’re doing — and now (state Sen. Richard) Pan is calling them fake exemptions,” Jaffe said.
That’s a reference to legislation that Pan, a Sacramento Democrat, introduced earlier this year to “strengthen oversight of the medical exemption process which a handful of doctors in the state are abusing by selling medical exemptions to parents,” according to a news release from his office.
“Medical exemptions have more than tripled since the passage of SB 277. Some schools are reporting that more than 20 percent of their students have a medical exemption,” Pan, a doctor himself, said in a statement in March. “It is clear that a small number of physicians are monetizing their exemption-granting authority and profiting from the sale of medical exemptions.”
The city attorney’s subpoena “specifically directs Stoller to redact all information that could be used to identify individual patients, including names, addresses, birth dates and medical record numbers,” according to the City Attorney’s Office.
Stoller has 15 days to respond, according to Herrera.
Stoller is listed as a part of Physicians for Informed Consent, according to the San Francisco Chronicle — a group whose mission is “to live in a society free of mandatory vaccination laws.” He has said that his own polio vaccination caused temporary paralysis when he was young, the newspaper reports.
“Thus, having been vaccine-injured myself, it altered the way I evaluated the efficacy and safety of vaccines,” Stoller wrote on the group’s website, according to the Chronicle.