Illustration by Adriana Heldiz

State officials have brought new charges against at least five doctors for improper vaccine exemptions, Medical Board of California records show.

If the charges against the doctors are sustained they could lose their medical license, be suspended or placed on probation.

The charges are part of a concerted effort by Medical Board officials to crackdown on improper exemptions following a Voice of San Diego story in 2019 that revealed multiple doctors granting exemptions for reasons that didn’t comply with medical guidelines.

At the time, Voice published a list of all vaccine exemptions in San Diego Unified granted over a nearly four-year period. The list did not contain student information, but listed doctors’ names and the reason they granted an exemption. Dozens of doctors listed reasons outside the scope of medical science.

Medical Board officials then subpoenaed the records of 30 doctors whose names appeared on the list from the San Diego Unified School District.

So far, 16 local doctors from the list have been charged with granting improper vaccine exemptions. Statewide, a total of 27 have been charged, Medical Board records indicate.

The five new charges are against Drs. Timothy Dooley, Seth Camhi, John Humiston, Dan Harper and Bob Sears.

Sears, who practices medicine in Orange County, was one of the first vaccine-skeptical doctors to rise to prominence nationwide. He was also the first to be charged for improper vaccine exemptions in California. Sears is already on probation and now faces new charges.

Almost all of the charges against doctors writing vaccine exemptions – including the newest five – have a common thread: they relate to exemptions based on a family history of autoimmune conditions.

The theory, promoted widely among vaccine skeptics and some doctors, goes like this: Vaccines can trigger autoimmune conditions, from lupus and eczema to multiple sclerosis, in those who are predisposed to them.

Autoimmune conditions are both inherited and triggered by external events. A person must first be predisposed to, say, Guillan-Barre syndrome – then an infection or a high fever might trigger the condition to become active in a person.

Most studies – and there have been many – show vaccines do not trigger autoimmune conditions. In some cases – and this is where the dialogue has become polluted and the research misinterpreted – vaccines do appear to trigger autoimmune conditions in a very small amount of people.

After receiving a measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine, for instance, one in 30,000 people developed autoimmune thrombocytopenia, one study showed.

But here’s the hitch: The chances of actual measles triggering thrombocytopenia are much higher, at one in 5,000.

The same is true for the flu vaccine and Guillain-Barre syndrome. A case of flu triggers the condition far more often than its vaccine.

For most vaccines, there is no evidence they create an elevated risk of triggering an autoimmune condition.

Still, the majority of doctors who have been charged with writing improper exemptions consistently say they suspect vaccines might trigger autoimmune conditions or injuries for people with a family history of autoimmune conditions.

Dooley, one of the recently charged doctors, addressed this in a previous email exchange with me. He did not, nor did any of the other recently charged doctors, respond to a request for comment for this story.

“The purpose of an exemption is to protect susceptible children. Most of these susceptibilities are currently poorly understood,” he wrote. “It is always our duty to err on the side of safety. Always.”

Dooley is only looking at one side of the equation, said Dr. Mark Sawyer, an infectious disease specialist at Rady Children Hospital. Vaccines do come with risks and do sometimes injure people, said Sawyer, but for the vast majority of people the risk of not getting a vaccine is worse than the risk of getting one.

“Making decisions about vaccines is an equation. You have to have every part of the equation to make accurate decisions,” said Sawyer. “People only quoting one side of the equation are not doing the math right.”

In some of the recent cases, links to serious autoimmune conditions were especially weak.

Humiston granted one exemption because a child had a history of “allergic rhinitis, irritable bowel syndrome, persistent fatigue, and mild depression.”

None of the conditions are reasons not to get a vaccine, Medical Board officials noted.

Harper, another recently charged doctor, pointed several of his patients toward writings that indicated a link between vaccines and autism.

For one of his patients, Harper noted, “vaccine induced autism in sister,” according to Medical Board officials.

The myth that vaccines have a link to autism traces back to a 1998 study that was later retracted. A recent, exhaustive study out of Denmark thoroughly debunked any link between the two.

Out of the 16 doctors from Voice’s list who have been charged, two – Drs. Kenneth Stoler and Monica Murphy – have had their medical licenses revoked. Another two doctors voluntarily surrender theirs. Five doctors were placed on probation and another seven are still awaiting an administrative trial.

Will Huntsberry

Will Huntsberry is a senior investigative reporter at Voice of San Diego.

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3 Comments

  1. It’s unfair for a Board of unelected bureaucrats to scrutinize Doctors and their patients for making personal decisions about what goes into their bodies and the bodies of their children. This outlet should spend more time investigating vaccine injury instead of promoting the pharmaceutical fascism which is happening to California and the rest of the country. Absolutely ridiculous that these Doctors are getting this type of political bullying! Shame on this outlet for endorsing it!

    1. Doctors still need to be evidence based in their decisions. The same goes for an investigation into vaccine injury, which is more rare than your brave maverick doctors let on.

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