Clinic opens for parents who oppose vaccinating children

UC Davis Medical Center physician Dean Blumberg stood in front of the state Legislature last year and testified in support of a new law that will make it more difficult for families to opt out of vaccinating their children.

Next month he is opening a clinic to make it easier.

Families will be able to meet with a medical practitioner in the hospital’s pediatric outpatient clinic to get the counseling and signature required to enable them to enroll their kids in school without immunizing them.

The new state law, passed in August 2012, goes into effect Jan. 1. It requires parents filing a personal belief exemption to also submit a document signed by a doctor or other approved medical practitioner acknowledging they have been told about the benefits and drawbacks of vaccines. Personal belief exemptions are largely filed by parents who are afraid that vaccines could harm their children, a position disputed by most medical authorities.

More children should be given vaccines, said Blumberg, the chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases for the medical center. “Immunizations work and children do benefit,” he said. “I thought the law was a good one. I was all for it.”

So, why start a clinic with the primary focus of signing immunization waivers?

The doctor said he was motivated to start the clinic after listening to the passionate parents who came forward to testify against the immunization law. Many believed their health providers would not sign the personal exemption form, he said.

“I’m pro-immunization, but I’m also in support of parental rights,” Blumberg said. “That’s why we decided to set up the clinic as a community service, in case there are parents whose health care provider won’t sign the form or some parents who don’t have a primary care provider.”

Blumberg doesn’t expect shots to be given at this clinic. “I would encourage them (parents) to get a physician and to get a medical home.”

The doctor said he believes most of the parents who come to the clinic will already have made up their mind about immunizations and won’t change it after counseling. Others may be on the fence or have questions about immunizations. “There will be discussions about the risks and benefits,” he said. “I don’t plan on trying to force somebody.”

Barbara Loe Fisher, an opponent of the California law, says she is encouraged by the “public service” Blumberg is doing. The co-founder and president of the National Vaccine Information Center, a nonprofit that supports parents’ right not to vaccinate, says her organization has been concerned that California pediatricians would refuse to sign the exemptions or would deny care.

Prior to the law passing California was one of the easiest states to get a personal exemption, Blumberg said. In the Sacramento region, the number of children entering kindergarten with a personal exemption waiver last school year was one in 20 – double the statewide rate, according to Bee research.

The law is likely to result in more vaccinations, Blumberg said, because many parents sign the personal exemptions out of convenience. This happens when school is about to start and families haven’t gotten around to getting their children vaccinated. They sign the exemption instead. Now parents will be required to visit a doctor either way, so “why not get their immunizations instead of getting their forms signed,” Blumberg said.

The clinic will be open a half day a week at first, depending on demand. The doctor expects the demand will ramp up in the fall when families are enrolling their children in school. The staff will include Blumberg and a pediatric nurse practitioner, as well as clerical help. The cost of a visit is still being worked out with the hospital’s administration, but the doctor has recommended a flat fee of about $25.

Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, proposed the law. He is in support of the clinic, although he thinks most people will be able to get these services at low or no cost in their own communities. “I do appreciate that Dr. Blumberg is giving people another opportunity as well,” he said.