This article about Dr. Ken Stoller was written by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), who is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines, medical issues, social policy, and the law.
Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also a member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease. She is also a member of the Vaccines Working Group on Ethics and Policy.
On February 16, 2021, the Medical Board of California revoked the medical license of Dr. Ken Stoller because of his writing baseless medical exemptions from school vaccine requirements to ten children (and charging their parents hundreds of dollars for the privilege). The Board found multiple repeated acts that justified revoking the license permanently. Dr. Stoller’s lawyer announced that he intends to appeal the decision.
It is fair to describe Dr. Ken Stoller as anti-vaccine and to describe the exemptions in questions as baseless. The decision is justified and should be upheld.
The case against Dr. Ken Stoller
Dr. Ken Stoller has over 30 years of practice and long history of anti-vaccine activism and statements. He was also willing to sell baseless and dangerous treatments like chelation and hyperbaric oxygen treatment to, for example, children with autism on the basis of the false claims that vaccines cause autism.
Dr. Stoller was also investigated by the New Mexico Medical Board for treating an autistic child with hyperbaric oxygen, which the FDA considers a fake treatment for autism. He eventually came to an agreement with the Medical Board where an advisory letter was placed in his file, but no other actions were taken.
This specific complaint focused on ten children that Dr. Stoller provided medical exemptions to – some temporary, some permanent. None of these children qualified for medical exemptions under the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) or American Academy of Pediatricians guidelines. Dr. Stoller was not the treating physician for any of them; the parents brought them in expressly to buy medical exemptions. Dr. Stoller did not ask for any child’s medical records or consult any child’s treating physician.
As described below, none of the children had what experts would consider a good reason not to vaccinate. To give one example, a brother with neuro-developmental delays would not be a reason to not vaccinate. Even a brother with an actual adverse event would not normally be a contraindication.
Previous serious adverse events would be a contraindication to a specific vaccine, but there would need to actually be evidence of one, and Dr. Ken Stoller did not bother to check.
To give another example, Dr. Dean Blumberg, the expert testifying, pointed out that a child with ventricular septal defect – like patient 1 has – is at higher risk from preventable diseases, so should, actually, be vaccinated. For some of the other children, vaccines do not cause food allergies and Dr. Stoller’s conclusion that the allergies of some of the children he sold exemptions for were vaccine-related were against the scientific evidence.
Further, Dr. Stoller’s approach to giving an exemption is highly problematic. Apparently, for most of these children, he told the parents to get a 23andMe DNA test and give him the data. Then he wrote very similar reports for each child arguing for complete exemptions for the children. 23andMe should not be used this way – it’s not a good basis not to vaccinate children. The decision also suggests the reports were not very convincing, and not well referenced.
For none of the children did Dr. Stoller talk to the treating physicians or obtain records. He exempted all of them from all vaccines.
It’s hard not to see Dr. Stoller’s approach as giving exemptions on demand, for large fees, to any child, based on genetic testing.
List of Dr. Stoller’s exemptions
|Child number||Age when seen||Genetic Testing?||Reason?||Sum charged?|
|4 months (August 2016)||Yes, via lab.||Ventriculoseptal defect (VSD abnormal opening between two lower chambers in his heart).||$550|
|30 months (September 2018)||Temporary exemption till genetic testing, none on record.||Brother (patient’s 3) experience)||$400|
|Almost 5. (September 2018)||Temporary exemption till genetic testing, none on record.||Mom alleged child woke up after 6 months vaccines with his crib pillow “covered in blood”. Dr. Stoller describes it as loss of a lot of blood and “near SIDS.” No issue in June 2014 – 6 months – in medical records, one email about nose bleeding at December 2014, no life threatening emergency with lot of bleeding. Treating doctor disagrees.||$400|
|4 year (December 2015)||23andMe.||Unvaccinated. Alleged allergies, dietary sensitivities, mental health issues for child, parents, relatives. Dr. Stoller concluded she would experience “an overreaction” to vaccines.||$500|
|6 (September 2017)||23andMe.||Brother’s (patient 6) issues)||$550|
|12 (September 2017)||23andMe.||“many allergies or sensitivities” (dairy, sugar, metal, gluten) which Dr. Stoller characterized as “post vaccine auto-immune issues”.||$550|
|5 (September 2017)||23andMe.||“dyspraxic” and first cousin, allegedly, had an adverse vaccine reaction.||$550|
|12 (August 2017)||23andMe.||“severe” reaction to her first infant vaccine – “an almost immediate full-body rash followed by a year of what can only be described as an encephalitis reaction – inconsolable crying that lasted a year and four period of estropia [an eye turning inward towards the nose] soon after the vaccine that may have been due to a stroke.”||$600|
|12 (September 2017)||23andMe.||Ill frequently as an infant and small child, especially with respiratory problems – blamed on vaccines. Treating physician would not give exemption.||$550|
|Almost 6 (September 2017)||23andMe.||“family history” and alleged allergy to eggs and gluten. Sibling, by notes, had “developed overt neuro-behavioral delays after vaccine received.||$600|
To counter the testimony of Dr. Blumberg – an actual expert on vaccines and infectious diseases – Dr. Stoller provided testimony from Dr. Kelly Sutton. Dr. Sutton is not an expert in vaccines, infectious disease, or any other relevant field, and further, much of her testimony was, apparently, deferring to Dr. Stoller’s expertise. In other words, she was not a very qualified expert in a case like this.
Dr. Sutton does have a relevant characteristic – she herself engaged in selling medical exemptions. In fact, Dr. Sutton has previously made a series of videos aimed at teaching families what to say to get an exemption. In other words, she has engaged in the same problematic conduct as Dr. Ken Stoller. No wonder she would like to see him exonerated. But she is still not a qualified expert for this kind of claim.
As the decision pointed out, “[n]o independent expert testimony corroborated respondent’s testimony about genetic testing’s actual or potential value for predicting a patient’s response to any vaccine.” He did not also demonstrate a good understanding of up-to-date science.
Dr. Blumberg pointed out that “no research has identified any specific alleles of any human genes that even correlate with, let alone cause, differences among patients in their immune responses to vaccination.” So genetic testing is not particularly helpful here. Nor did Dr. Stoller (or Sutton) provide research that the family health factors Dr. Stoller mentioned in reports affected the risks of vaccines.
The Board concluded that Dr. Stoller issued medical exemptions relying on “spurious genetic analyses” and “unverified and medically irrelevant personal and family health histories.” It found that Dr. Stoller had no basis to issue lifelong medical exemptions or exemptions from all vaccines – generally, contraindications are vaccine-specific, and reasons to exempt someone from all vaccines are temporary (e.g. acute illness). The Board also found that he did not keep good records.
Mr. Richard Jaffe, Dr. Stoller’s attorney, argued that the Board could not discipline him because he relied on “alternative” medicine. Under s. 2234.1 of California’s Business and Professional Code, a physician cannot be disciplined just because the basis of treatment or advice was alternative or complementary medicine, as long as the physician, among other things:
- Provided informed consent and a good-faith prior examination
- “medical indication exists for the treatment or advice, or it is provided for health or well-being.”
- “the physician and surgeon has given the patient information concerning conventional treatment and describing the education, experience, and credentials of the physician and surgeon related to the alternative or complementary medicine that he or she practices”
- “ it does not cause a delay in, or discourage traditional diagnosis of, a condition of the patient.”
- “provide a reasonable potential for therapeutic gain in a patient’s medical condition that is not outweighed by the risk of the health care method.”
Mr. Jaffe’s argument was, in essence, that Dr. Stoller was practicing alternative medicine when he gave the exemptions, and therefore, cannot be subject to discipline. The Medical Board of California rejected the argument. The Board found that Dr. Stoller “did not make a good-faith prior examination” of the patients, and the goal was to delay or discourage vaccination, even though there were no medical reasons not to receive the vaccines. The Board also found that vaccine avoidance increased the children’s – and their communities’ – susceptibility to disease without offering any benefit.
Medical Board of California decision
Therefore, the Board found that Dr. Stoller did not qualify for the exception to discipline for practicing alternative medicine – he did not meet its requirements. The Board also found that Dr. Stoller’s exemptions “undermined public health and welfare” and that his behavior shows his “contempt for medical science and his unsuitability for probation”. Public safety, the Board concluded, “requires revocation” of his license.
Mr. Jaffe announced that he will appeal, on the grounds that Dr. Ken Stoller does qualify for the alternative medicine exception, in his view, and does not have to follow ACIP guidelines.
That his certainly his right. But given Dr. Stoller’s willingness to approach medical exemptions in a fundamentally unscientific manner, to accept baseless reasons to exempt children, to use unsuitable genetic testing, and then essentially invent conclusions based on it, revoking his license seems well justified, and will hopefully be upheld.