Dr. Robert Sears is one of the leading voices in the anti-vaccination world, a hero to parents suspicious of childhood immunizations that public health officials say are crucial to preventing disease outbreaks.
So when the Medical Board of California announced last week that it was moving to pull the Orange County pediatrician’s medical license, it immediately set the stage for a new battle in the long-running fight over whether schoolchildren should be vaccinated.
At the heart of the case is whether Sears used sound medical practices when he wrote a doctor’s note for a 2-year-old boy, saying he should have “no more routine childhood vaccines for the duration of his childhood.” In its six-page accusation, the medical board said Sears made that conclusion without obtaining even basic medical information, such as a detailed history of vaccines the boy previously received and any reactions that occurred, before deciding to recommend against future immunizations.
Vaccination advocates see the medical board’s action as essential to enforcing a new California law that prohibits parents from opting out of inoculations if they want to send their children to school unless they have a doctor’s note.
As the law took effect this year for children entering day care, kindergarten and seventh grade, websites popped up coaching parents how to request a medical exemption, including lists of doctors believed to be open to writing these notes.
For UC Hastings law professor Dorit Reiss, the meaning behind Sears’ case is clear: “We’re not just going to stand by and let you give unjustified exemptions and prevent children from being protected from these diseases.”
But vaccination skeptics both in California and nationally expressed alarm at the action against Sears, fearing it marks the beginning of a witch hunt against doctors and others who object to the state vaccination schedule.