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How genetic quackery is being used to give out bogus medical exemptions for vaccines

How genetic quackery is being used to give out bogus medical exemptions for vaccines
A single dose of the MMR vaccine is ready at a pediatrician's office in Northridge. (Damian Dovarganes / AP)

To the editor: As a pediatrician and medical geneticist, I want to share an egregious example of how physicians have misused their positions and the field of genetics to circumvent California’s laudable elimination of personal belief exemptions for childhood vaccines.

I saw a child in my clinic whose physician submitted the child’s DNA to a direct-to-consumer genetic testing company, an act in itself contrary to American Academy of Pediatrics policy from 2013, a policy that was reaffirmed this October. The physician then analyzed the results with software lacking any clinical validation and concluded that the child’s “genetic signature” indicated that vaccines should not be given.

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This is pure quackery. California requires that all newborns are screened for rare genetic immunodeficiencies that might legitimately make vaccines dangerous. Beyond this, there is no “genetic signature” — and certainly not from direct-to-consumer testing — to inform vaccine safety for healthy children.

California’s Medical Board can and should hold physicians responsible when medical exemptions are given based on bad science and bad medicine.

Dr. Bryce Mendelsohn, San Francisco

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To the editor: Health officials are up in arms that medical exemptions have increased from 0.2% to 0.7% of children attending public schools. And apparently, the majority of them feel that any medical exemption is a bogus exemption.

A decision not to vaccinate or to delay vaccination should be a confidential matter made on a case-by-case basis between a doctor and his or her patient. SB 277, the California law banning personal-belief exemptions, provides that “a written statement by a licensed physician” suffices.

A backlash against doctors who choose to provide exemptions will only result in more concerned parents being forced to withdraw their children from public schools.

Sharon Martinez, Glendora

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