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Sansum Clinic Pediatrician Refutes Claim Doctors Are Refusing to Sign Vaccine Waiver, Outlines Steps

While public health officials remain concerned about vaccination rates in the Santa Barbara area, doctors from one local clinic say they will still sign personal belief exemptions, provided the person requesting an exemption brings in the child for an exam and a consultation.

Dr. Karen Johnson, a pediatrician with Sansum Clinic, notes the challenge of reversing the “fear factor” among a small percentage of parents who oppose immunizations. “It’s not huge, but it’s definitely a trend, and Santa Barbara has been identified as one of the pockets,” she says. (Sansum Clinic photo)
Dr. Karen Johnson, a pediatrician with Sansum Clinic, notes the challenge of reversing the “fear factor” among a small percentage of parents who oppose immunizations. “It’s not huge, but it’s definitely a trend, and Santa Barbara has been identified as one of the pockets,” she says. (Sansum Clinic photo)

Noozhawk received a tip last week that Sansum Pediatric Clinic providers were refusing to sign the Personal Belief Exemption form required for children entering school without the necessary vaccinations.

Local doctors and public health officials have expressed concern over the number of parents opting out of vaccinating their children, particularly in wealthier pockets of the South Coast.

Last month, doctors met at a public forum on immunization, and stated that for about 40 percent of schools in the area, there is excellent immunity, but for most local schools, the rates of immunity need to rise.

Dr. Karen Johnson, chairwoman of Sansum’s Pediatrics Department, spoke with Noozhawk last week and said that while her colleagues don’t want to sign the waivers and would rather that children be immunized, “we do sign the documents under certain situations.”

Johnson said doctors in the department will sign the forms if an appointment is made, and the doctor has a chance to counsel the parent about the benefits of vaccination.

If the parent still refuses, the doctor will sign the form, she said.

“People will fax them in or drop them off at the desk when they haven’t had an appointment in the last couple of years,” she said. “That’s inappropriate.”

The doctors will recommend that families without an appointment have the form handled by another qualified signer, which would include nurse practitioners, physicians’ assistants, naturopathic doctors or credentialed school nurses.

Johnson said parents can also sign the form themselves under a religious belief exemption.

She said she’s had several people fax in the forms rather than come in for an appointment. When she asked why, she said, they replied that they didn’t have time.

Johnson, herself a mother of four, said she understands but doesn’t think it’s a valid excuse.

Of the thousands of children the clinic sees each year, she said those whose parents have opted out of vaccinations make up a small percentage.

“It’s not huge, but it’s definitely a trend, and Santa Barbara has been identified as one of the pockets,” she said, with areas like Hope Ranch and Montecito compiling higher rates.

“It’s really the wealthier patients who do it,” Johnson said.

She recalled one father who brought in his children for their check-ups but was refusing vaccination. She said she was able to explain each vaccine, and the father eventually allowed the immunizations.

Johnson said doctors must help parents with the “fear factor” about what they have read or have heard from other sources.

“It takes a lot of energy and time to go through and reverse the hysteria,” she said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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