Doctors who oppose vaccine freedom of choice have been frustrated for years over this issue. Finally, they will have the power to impose their beliefs on their patients.
by Dr. Bob Sears
The California legislature is currently considering a bill that would require parents to obtain their doctor’s signature on a government form prior to enrollment in public school if they wish to skip one or more vaccines for their child. Current law allows parents to decline vaccines by signing an exemption form at the school — no doctor’s signature needed. The new law would require “a written statement signed by a health care practitioner that indicates that the practitioner provided the parent with information regarding the benefits and risks of the immunization and the health risks of specified communicable diseases.”
On the surface, this doesn’t seem like a bad idea. It will require parents to prove that they’ve had an informed discussion with their physician. Most parents already have such discussions anyway. However, what gravely concerns me is that some doctors will refuse to sign this form. I know how doctors think. Many doctors strongly believe that vaccines should be mandatory, and that parents should not have the right to decline vaccines. Some doctors are willing to provide care to unvaccinated kids, despite this difference in philosophy. But now the power over this decision will be put directly into doctors’ hands. He or she can simply refuse to sign the form. Doctors who oppose vaccine freedom of choice have been frustrated for years over this issue. Finally, they will have the power to impose their beliefs on their patients. Patients will be forced to find another doctor to sign the form, submit to vaccines, or get kicked out of public school.
Supporters of this bill believe that all doctors will be willing to sign this form, as the signature does not imply agreement with the parent’s decision; it simply signifies that the doctor has provided the parents with information regarding the pros and cons. I disagree. I know for an absolute fact that some doctors will not sign this form out of principle or over fears of liability.
Parents will be forced to “doctor shop” for another doctor to sign their form. This won’t be easy. Some doctors are reluctant to take new patients who don’t vaccinate. Many doctors will be unwilling to sign an exemption form for a new patient or a patient who is only there for one visit (just to get the form signed). Some doctors get financial incentives from insurance companies for having high vaccination rates into their practice; seeing patients to get their form signed will put such bonuses at risk. How many doctors will parents be expected to call? How many “no’s” will a patient need in order to be allowed into school? Natural and alternative health care providers can NOT sign the form; it must be a “regular” medical professional. Some families only see naturopathic or holistic health care practitioners instead of pediatricians. These families will have a difficult time getting the form signed. And what will happen to those kids who can’t get their formed signed? They will be denied entry into public school.
The sponsors of this bill may have some good intentions, as their primary “public” reason for the bill is to make sure that parents who don’t vaccinate their children are making an informed medical decision under the guidance of their doctor. But it isn’t difficult to see the REAL reason for the bill: to increase vaccination rates in our state by making it more difficult for parents to claim the exemption. But whatever the reason, this bill will likely NOT increase vaccination rates, nor will it create closer partnerships between doctors and patients. It will create anger, financial hardship, animosity, and further mistrust in our medical system.
For those patients who CAN find a doctor to sign their form, these “doctor-patient lectures” are not going to increase vaccination rates: Parents who are seeking a doctor’s signature have already made up their mind. The doctor isn’t going to change it during a ten-minute discussion. The time for a doctor to influence parents’ opinion and trust of vaccines is during the initial well-baby checkups, years before such exemption forms even come into play. By the time a child will enter school, the parents have made up their mind to decline vaccines. A lecture from a doctor at this point won’t matter. It’s a waste of everyone’s time and money. At a time when we are trying to decrease health care spending, this bill will add millions of dollars of extra health care visits for families every year. If this unfortunate bill passes in California, the rest of the country will be soon to follow.
And it’s a government intrusion into our personal freedom to make health care decisions for our children.