- Voice of San Diego - https://www.voiceofsandiego.org -

Vaccine Exemption Doctor on Probation, Can No Longer Write Exemptions

The exterior of Dr. Tara Zandvliet’s office in South Park / Photo by Megan Wood

This post has been updated.

Dr. Tara Zandvliet – who became well-known as the vaccine exemption doctor of choice in San Diego – will be placed on three years of professional probation for issuing vaccine exemptions that were deemed as grossly negligent by the Medical Board of California.

As a condition of her probation, Zandvliet will not be allowed to write any vaccine exemptions – which had become a significant part of her practice in South Park.

The charges against her are administrative, rather than criminal, in nature. The probation applies to her medical license, which could be revoked if she does not follow the terms of the probation.

Zandvliet is now the second doctor in California to be sanctioned for charges related to improper vaccine exemptions. The first was Dr. Bob Sears, a prominent vaccine skeptic in Orange County.

In accepting the terms of the probation, Zandvliet did not admit to wrongdoing.

Zandvliet first became widely known in 2019, when Voice of San Diego revealed she had written nearly one-third of all vaccine exemptions in San Diego Unified School District [1] – the second largest school district in the state.

She later told investigators she had likely written 1,000 exemptions since 2015, when a state law banned vaccine exemptions on the basis of personal beliefs.

Zandvliet previously told me she denies seven out of every 10 requests for an exemption. For each appointment related to a vaccine exemption she previously charged $180.

That means she made somewhere between $180,000 and $600,000 writing vaccine exemptions after the 2015 law went into effect. Zandvliet disputed that the figure could be as high as $600,000 in an email to VOSD. She said that patients without the right paperwork were not granted an appointment and never charged. She declined an interview request.

Documents obtained by Voice of San Diego showed Zandvliet wrote many exemptions for reasons well outside the scope of accepted medical science. She frequently wrote exemptions for patients with a family history of autoimmune diseases – which goes against guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatricians.

Zandvliet has admitted there is little proof to back up her theory that a family history of autoimmune disease might put someone at greater risk of vaccine injury. She said she believes, however, that if she or anyone else ever completes such a study she could be vindicated.

Her website also claimed she would write exemptions for people with psoriasis, eczema and asthma. After being contacted by Voice of San Diego, she removed those conditions from her website. Many doctors believe patients with those conditions are actually at greater risk than others when they don’t receive vaccinations.

The charges against Zandvleit came as a result of an exemption she issued in 2016. Zandvliet relied on family letters, rather actual medical documents, to establish that a child had a history of autoimmune disease.

She considered the child at great risk of adverse reaction to vaccines. But, in fact, the child had already received some vaccines with no adverse affect. Zandvliet didn’t know this, because she hadn’t checked the child’s medical record, according to a charging document [2] from the Medical Board.

Zandvliet is also charged with a second instance of gross negligence related to vaccine exemptions that is still pending.

In the second case, Zandvliet also found a history of autoimmune disease. She believed the child should receive a slower schedule of vaccinations, according to a charging document [3], rather than no vaccinations at all. Nonetheless, she wrote the child a permanent exemption for all vaccines.

Zandvliet previously told me her own children have been vaccinated and she believes they are a critical tool to protect the public health. She acknowledged many vaccine-skeptical and anti-vaxxer parents find their way to her office.

“I can’t force them to do anything. But I can recommend it,” she said. Not getting vaccinated “is a public health risk. It absolutely is.”

As part of her probation, Zandvliet will be required to take a medical ethics course.

After Zandvliet’s story became public in 2019, state legislators passed a new law designed to prevent large pockets of unvaccinated children in certain schools [4] and subject doctors like Zandvliet who write many exemptions to more scrutiny.

Update: This post has been updated to include comment from Dr. Tara Zandvliet sent after this story initially published.