One Doctor Is Responsible for a Third of All Medical Vaccine Exemptions in San Diego

Dr. Tara Zandvliet doesn’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach to medicine. It is a philosophy most of her colleagues would agree with, most of the time – just not when it comes to vaccinations. Zandvliet appears to have cornered San Diego’s market of vaccine-skeptical parents. She has written nearly one-third of all 486 medical exemptions from vaccinations for the entire San Diego Unified School District since June 2015, according to vaccination records obtained by Voice of San Diego following a public records request; far more than any other doctor.

Amid ongoing measles outbreaks across the country, other doctors expressed concern science doesn’t back up her rationale for granting exemptions and worry she is unnecessarily putting school children, and the public, at risk. Using medical exemptions to bypass California’s mandatory vaccinations for school children is a practice on the rise, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics. The number of medical exemptions has tripled since 2015 when California became the third state to stop allowing families with children in public school to opt out of vaccinations because of personal beliefs.

Countywide, the percentage of kindergartners receiving a permanent medical vaccine exemption has increased six-fold since the 2015-2016 school year – from 0.2 percent to 1.2 percent, according to data from the California Department of Public Health. San Diego Unified “has noticed some physicians issuing exemptions that appear to be excessively frequent and based on criteria that are not aligned with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” district spokeswoman Maureen Magee wrote in an email. She said the district has raised its concerns with legislators, as well as the local chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

But based on the numbers, Zandvliet could be threatening that 95 percent threshold. In San Diego Unified, 12 elementary schools have classes of kindergarteners with a lower than 95 percent vaccination rate for the measles vaccine. Another 14 schools have kindergarten classes below the threshold for diphtheria and whooping cough vaccine, called DTaP, according to California Department of Public Health data analyzed by Voice of San Diego. By Zandvliet’s own estimation, these are two of the most important vaccines a child can receive in this part of the country.