The XX Factor

Leading Vaccination Skeptic Dr. Bob Sears Is at Risk of Losing His Medical License

Live in California and want to skip this? You’ll need a real, and documented, medical reason.


Dr. Robert Sears, a leading vaccination skeptic and son of attachment-parenting advocate Dr. William Sears, is at risk of losing his medical license. The Medical Board of California filed an accusation against Sears earlier this month, contending that the doctor committed “gross negligence” while treating a two-year-old boy.

The charges against Sears center around his recommendation that the boy forgo vaccinations for medical reasons without looking into the boy’s medical history. He allegedly relied only on what the boy’s mother told him about her son’s previous response to vaccinations—he supposedly lost urinary function and went limp—instead of obtaining medical records. The absence of an “evidence-based recommendation” for the boy’s medical exemption left the boy, and everyone the boy comes into contact with, “at risk for preventable and communicable disease,” according to the medical board’s accusation.

The board also claims that Sears failed to conduct neurological testing on the child, after the boy complained of a headache following a blow to the head by a hammer two weeks before the visit. During another appointment, Sears prescribed garlic for an ear infection, despite there being no evidence of the effectiveness of this treatment.

California recently enacted a law requiring that every child be vaccinated, or lose their right to a public or private K-12 education. Parents can no longer seek personal belief exemptions to get out of vaccinating their child, which leaves medical relief exemptions as their only shot to abstain from vaccines and still send their kids to school. As the Los Angeles Times reports, the anti-vaxx community has responded to this by publishing advice on how to request a medical exemption, as well as a list of doctors who might be open to giving one without a thorough investigation. While Sears is not opposed to vaccinations overall—he considers himself a skeptic and is a proponent of the scientifically bogus delayed vaccination schedule—he was opposed to this law, arguing that parents should have a choice.

Although Sears’ treatment of the boy took place before the law was enacted, some legal experts see the medical board’s actions as a warning to doctors who might be inclined to give their patients medical exemptions without cause. In California, such decisions are left up to individual doctors. By comparison, West Virginia, where there is a similar law, requires that all requests for medical exemptions be reviewed by an immunization officer and prove consistent with recent guidance from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other organizations.

The next step for Sears is a settlement conference, where he can negotiate disciplinary measures with the medical board. If there is no agreement, Sears will face a hearing before a judge, who would decide what action should be taken against the doctor. This could include probation, a revocation of his license, or a dismissal of the case.

No matter the measures taken, anti-vaxxers will see this as further evidence that the state is trying infringe on their rights so it can continue supporting big pharma. In reality, it’s the state doing exactly what it should be doing: protecting public health.