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San Diego Vaccine Exemptions

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Medical records show one doctor is responsible for a third of vaccination exemptions in the San Diego Unified School District, Tijuana residents are stealing razor wire from the southern border fence for protection and imagine living by the beach without the million dollar housing commitment. Guests this week: Peter Rowe, San Diego Union-Tribune; Wendy Fry, San Diego Union-Tribune; Will Huntsberry, Voice of San Diego.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 Medical records reflect that one doctor is responsible for a third of vaccination exemptions in the San Diego unified school district. Her reasons, and they'll look at the data. Do you want a residents or finding a different use for the razor wire and installed by the Trump administration at the border, why they're committing theft for safety and living beach side on the cheap with $1 million view, why van life is becoming more appealing. I'm mark Sauer. The KPBS roundtables starts now.

Speaker 1: 00:39 Welcome to our discussion of the week's top stories. I'm mark [inaudible] and joining me at the KPBS round table today. Reporter will Huntsburg from the voice of San Diego reporter Peter row from the Union Tribune and report when be fought fry also from the San Diego Union Tribune. Well, a number, the number of San Diego parents skeptical of vaccines for their children appears to be rapidly growing. State public health records show kindergarteners. Granted exceptions to vaccination requirements has tripled in the county in the past few years and one San Diego doctors in the eye of the storm of controversy over vaccinating children. So we'll start there. Uh, who is this doctor and the how many metal medical exemptions has she written?

Speaker 2: 01:21 So her name is doctor Tarzan Vliet and um, she has written far and away more medical exemptions than any other doctor in this area. About a third of the 500, roughly 500 that have been written for San Diego Unified. I think the next closest doctor is like 26. So as employee really has the market cornered a, you know, it seems to be like a snowball effect. People here, she's the person who will hear their concerns about it. She ends up getting all the business and um, so a really high number from one doctor.

Speaker 1: 01:54 All right. We're going to get a little more detail on, on her and, and that practice now. But give us a bit of background. Under California law, kids are required to be vaccinated before starting school. And what were the, some of the common diseases? They're vaccinated,

Speaker 2: 02:06 right, right. So kids are required to be vaccinated and um, you know, there's quite a few of them. Um, I think there's at least 12 different vaccines, but then they need several date. You need to need several different shots sometimes, but, so we're talking measles and mumps, measles, mumps in the more serious ones that people like me, if totally and all of us have forgotten about like polio, you know, totally gone or, or there's even a vaccine for meningitis, like a very deadly disease. Okay.

Speaker 1: 02:33 And, uh, how could parents get their kids exempted from having to have these vaccinations?

Speaker 2: 02:37 So used to before 2015, you could just get out of it from a personal belief exemption. Just sign a paper. I don't believe in vaccines and nine to get my child vaccinated. That changed in 2015 and uh, all of a sudden, no more personal belief exemptions were allowed. So now you have to go to a doctor, you have to get a exemption, you know, written on a slip of paper and take it to the school district. And that's the only way you're getting out of the vaccine.

Speaker 1: 03:05 And it's been in the news a lot lately, uh, all over the place. You've seen some spikes in some of these, uh, these diseases since kids aren't getting us vaccinated as commonly as they work.

Speaker 2: 03:14 Absolutely measles, you know, uh, we're hearing about it all over the country now. Uh, you know, Portland, Washington State, um, New York City, uh, and, and even doctors Amfleet she acknowledges that these measles outbreaks seem to be taking off. At first she said it was something she wasn't very worried about. You know, it's something we seem to have gotten rid of in the United States, but, but she acknowledges this a problem. Now. I was just wondering, I mean, it was doctor Van Fleet. Does she not believe in the efficacy of, of vaccinations or is she just doing what these patients want her to do? So, um, that's a great question. She definitely does believe in the efficacy of vaccines. She says, um, that being said, she also is getting a lot of the clientele who are people who don't believe at all. Um, she says her goal is to talk everyone into it.

Speaker 2: 04:09 You know, let's, let's make sure they get their vaccinations and everything. I mean, the reasons she's using for these vaccines, I think are where the issue gets murky, right? I mean there's a list of reasons to get a medical exemption that's put out by the CDC and most doctors agree on what that is. What would be a couple of the things. So if you had an autoimmune disease yourself or if you were being treated for cancer, there's also a small subset of the population who vaccines don't even work for them, you know, so they're always at risk when other people don't get vaccinated.

Speaker 1: 04:40 Okay. But these exemptions are broader than those. Um, those specific reasons.

Speaker 2: 04:44 Exactly, yes. So she, the reason that she is relying on is a family history of autoimmune diseases. And there's a small pocket of physicians, I guess you'd say in this state who are using that as a reason. It's basically a theory they have that, you know, if you have a family history of autoimmune conditions, you're more likely to have a bad reaction to a vaccine. But I talked to other doctors who were like, this is absolutely just a theory. There is no evidence whatsoever to back that up. And I'll just give you one other of doctors and fleets theories. You know, in the past she had said, right, I know there's no link to autism from vaccines, but maybe I'm, you know, maybe it's a trigger, the vaccine that sets off the autism. Uh, there was a study that completely debunked that about a month and a half ago. She totally admitted, you know, she was wrong about that theory.

Speaker 1: 05:37 All right. And she had to be clear, she denies most of the requests for exemptions for vaccines. Right.

Speaker 2: 05:42 She said she denies about seven out of 10. Okay.

Speaker 1: 05:45 10. Okay. And you touched on an issue, mentioned a, you interviewed an infectious disease specialist. And what's he saying about the reasoning with Dr Zahn bleeding and other doctors who are this of, yeah,

Speaker 2: 05:58 I mean, you know, like I said, I, he, he's saying that they're relying on a theory, an end by relying on that theory. They're putting the rest of the public, especially school children in danger. They're creating little pockets where an outbreak can happen. Like we're seeing in the rest of the country. Portland, Washington, like we saw in Disneyland in 2014 like we saw in San Diego in 2008 when that measles outbreak happened, a child with the measles went to the emergency room. There is a 10 month old there who hadn't wasn't old enough for his vaccines yet. He got the measles. I mean, so that's the what's at stake, what happens. Yeah.

Speaker 3: 06:35 Do they track with data at a state level of where these pockets are? Cause I know like any parent will tell you it's kind of cumbersome to keep track of all those shots you mentioned. There's lots and all they give you at the pediatric pediatrics offices, like a yellow sheet of paper that you're supposed to keep it right and track it and bring it every time you go to the doctor. Do they keep it in a computerized system where they can tell you where these pockets are of kids that are,

Speaker 2: 06:59 yeah, it's totally an a, you know with San Diego Unified, for instance, we've got 12 schools. I listed them in the story where the vaccination rate for measles is under 95% 14 schools where the vaccination rate for whooping cough is under, um, 95%. You need that 95%. So disease won't spread. That was of the tipping point. Then. What about the doctor herself? A, she's kind of gotten this a known as it just backs friendly doctor. How's it affected her personally? Well, um, you know, personally she was at first a little upset to learn we were doing this story. She said because she's listed on vacs friendly websites, she's already gotten death threats. Uh, you know, this is obviously an issue with some kind of intractable beliefs on both sides and that was kind of the scary thing I noticed covering, I mean I've gotten a lot of feedback, a bit more negative than positive.

Speaker 2: 07:57 Oh, okay. I was going to ask her if she has children. Has she had her own children vaccinated? She has. She has good, good points. But I think she has putting your money where your mouth is there a short time left on this segment. The medical board, the State Medical Board concerned about doctors, uh, maybe giving too many exemptions here in statewide. I think the medical board is concerned, but they have a lot of trouble of doing something about it. There's one doctor, Dr Bob Sears from Orange County. He's been sanctioned for inappropriately giving one of these, they told me they were going to take a close look at my list and um, you know, a state senator has said he may try to strengthen the medical boards ability to get records to do something about this. Uh, we'll see where it all guys and the legislator who, uh, who made these restrictions recently a doctor himself and he's not keen on this reasoning, right? Uh, no, no. Doctor Pan is his name and he is not a keen on this at all. Uh, he is actually put in a bill. He's going to try to this medical

Speaker 1: 08:56 exemption, but what's become a loophole? Basically? The other option I think he has, people may not like it, but um, there'll basically be a central authority or a county authority who will have to approve these medical exemptions. All right. Good story. We'll see how this plays out going forward. All right, we're going to move on at the behest of Homeland Security, u s troops last fall strung, sharp concertina wire on top existing barriers along our border, Donald Trump heroin, the installation of the reinforcing wire. He invited news chrome cruise to film it and then Trump admired it at one of his rallies.

Speaker 4: 09:35 And I noticed all that beautiful Barb Dwyer going up today. It was Barb wire used properly, can be a beautiful site.

Speaker 1: 09:44 Well now some of that beautiful Barb wire here, that razor wire has gone missing and it has to be replaced. And Wendy o start here. What has happened to the shiny new wire at the border?

Speaker 3: 09:53 Great. So it's actually, it's not barbed wire, it's the razor wire. So that as being stolen right now and that's being taken by thieves and Tuwanda and they, um, are reselling it there. So they're going around house to house saying, I can put this up for you, 40 pesos and I'll put it all around your house. And the residents so far that we found had been saying they unwittingly new, you know, bought this stolen wire.

Speaker 1: 10:17 Right. And so, um, the uh, how the Mexican authorities, no, it's not the, it's the same way or that was put up there by US homeland security and not just Barb wire you can buy at Walmart

Speaker 3: 10:27 free. So it's very severe. It's very specific. It's like get up about an inch wire razor razor on either side like this on either side of the little thing that goes into and um, so it's more strong. It's mid to cause injury. If somebody goes through it and you can't buy it at any,

Speaker 1: 10:49 it's very obvious that this is the, the wire the u s folks have put up and they can see it just on site. It's very obvious. We've actually recovered some of it from the houses and giving it back to homeland security and people are getting arrested down there and it tell us about that. And is this from pressure from the United States?

Speaker 3: 11:04 About 15 to 20 people were arrested? I do think that the United States initially or the ones to bring it to the attention of the Mexican law enforcement and then they, they set up surveillance and started watching it the night to see who was going up there to steal it.

Speaker 1: 11:18 Then you talked to some Mexican authorities and you asked him about who specifically has been arrested, what do they do?

Speaker 3: 11:23 Right? I asked, you know, what nationality and, and, and if they were from Mexico and they said mostly Mexicans that have been in the United States and been deported and their living sort of right there by the, by the line, by the border. And they're doing it to just make a little bit of money, however much money that they can make in a day. So all homeless, almost homeless people.

Speaker 1: 11:43 So the gone at night and they still the wire and resell it down there. Right. Um, and in a homeowner's know, back to the rest of it's the folks get Kinda, that are stealing the arresting homeowners too, or both.

Speaker 3: 11:54 Right now they're just arrested people that have stolen it and they're putting it out to residents, not not to buy it because it is a stolen material. There was one report in El Sol, the Mexican Spanish language newspaper and it said the ape interviewed a couple of residents on one street and found the data was a actually at a North American blond blue eyed guy living down there and Tj that was going from house to house with a shopping cart full of the razors. So while the um, director of the border liaison team set is a majority Mexican nationals that are stealing at, there seems to be at least one North American guy too.

Speaker 1: 12:34 And I want, I wanted to talk for a minute about why this is suddenly so desirable in Tijuana because the numbers on the violence down there extraordinary.

Speaker 3: 12:42 Yes. It has been a record year. It never in the history of tea I have Tj, has there been a so many murders or so much crime and violence,

Speaker 1: 12:51 right. W W w what are some of those figures I was seeing in the month of the January alone? It's normally a, what would you see in a year,

Speaker 3: 12:58 right? So far in March is 106 so there were seven on Wednesday between Wednesday and Thursdays at eight, eight between Wednesday and Thursday. Murderers and I, it's not, it's not gone down. They would think it was about 2,400 for the year last year in 2018 and even though the national guard has come to Tj to the new program set up by a, the new president of Mexico, they, that has not impacted the numbers yet, so it's actually still still going up.

Speaker 1: 13:24 Still very violent, Pete.

Speaker 5: 13:25 Yeah. So this is one of the ironies of this story is that it turns out there is a crisis at the border, uh, and it's a crisis that in, in part is being addressed by the concertina wire. Okay.

Speaker 1: 13:37 Yeah. It's on the other side of the border. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Good point. Now you've interviewed some, a t one or residents. What did they have to say about this whole situation?

Speaker 3: 13:45 Right, so some, like I said, some said they had no idea. They were just unaware. They're just buying any, you know, they said that the people that we're selling it, we're selling it for very cheap. So they thought it was a good deal. And also in some of these neighborhoods you want to understand too, in Tijuana are very opportunistic about materials. So they also build retaining walls out of, uh, use discard tires from, from California that are accorded to the line and resold or they'll build stairs or, uh, the front of their homes out of any material that's available.

Speaker 1: 14:16 Okay. No, I wanted to talk a little bit about, this was a big story or leading up to the election of Donald Trump was talking about on the stump. We just played a bite from that. That rally haven't heard too much about US soldiers and troops. Uh, you know, with the wire stringing it, I think we had a story yesterday about them being deployed now to help in the wire at wildfire mitigation in the forest, uh, uh, activities and all. But there was an la times story yesterday about the marines common dot. And there were memos that were really complaining that, uh, troops, uh, or Trump's border deployment is affecting troop readiness as far as the marines are concerned.

Speaker 3: 14:50 Right. I haven't seen a lot of

Speaker 1: 14:51 the troops of the u s troops anymore at the border. I saw them right in November and December, you know, I saw that, saw that video of them installing that wire, but I haven't seen the presence of them down there. But, uh, it's certainly, it's certainly, certainly the wire sort of represents another effort to strengthen the border. Right. And of course the, we've talked a lot and then been a lot of national news on a, on Trump's a shut down the government for awhile. He's declared an emergency and now defied congress at the border is trying to take some military funds to, uh, to build that wall and all, but this seems like an a more immediate story about this wire and we just, what they've done to enhance the wall then even the building of the wall.

Speaker 3: 15:32 Right. I think the irony of the reason why it's resonating with so many people is because rather than Mexico paying for the wall, maybe us from Trump's Trump and the u s us by extension are actually paying for people that put walls up in Mexico around their own houses. So it is ironic. Yeah.

Speaker 1: 15:50 For a whole different need down there. It's a security as we've talked about. Well, we're about out of time on this, but might we start hearing a different chance at Trump's rallies now? Maybe restring the wire restring the wire build a wall. Well, we'll have to see going forward. I'm sure we'll have an opportunity to hear that soon. All right, we are going to move on now. Uh, our next story is, So San Diego, it has the sea and the sand and free spirits living the California dream while beating our ridiculous housing costs by doing it all on the cheap. People are living in their vans and seaside parking lots thanks to a green light from the San Diego City Council last month and, and Pete stark there. That's a such a fascinating story. Uh, what did you expect when you, uh, headed out to the beach to do the reporting on a story and then what'd you find?

Speaker 5: 16:38 Yeah, it was very surprised by the population. First of all, there's so many people living in vans or an RV's and these beach parking lots. And what you find is, is that like any neighborhood, anywhere, there's a whole range of people doing this. So you have your good neighbors, you know, who were in really nice a vans. They keep 'em up well. And then you have your kind of problem neighbors who were in these junk heaps. Maybe there are three guys sleeping in the back of a van with two dogs. Virtually everyone travels with one or more dog. Uh, and um, you know, it's, it's just a wild group of people who were there for different reasons.

Speaker 1: 17:20 And you're not seeing a lot of families down there though.

Speaker 5: 17:22 I wasn't seeing families. I interviewed a woman who had lived with her three children in a car for three years. Uh, but she stayed away from the beach. She was kind of afraid of the beach because there are actually four parking lots in Lund that are patrolled that offer counseling on jobs and housing that have lighted bathrooms, places for you to plug in your electronic devices. That's where she went with her children, uh, because she felt safer there. But at, at the, at the beach I found mostly, um, single guy characterize these folks. Who are you saying down there? Well, okay, like I say there, there's a range of people. So, so there are latter day hippies a, there are a couple of vans. When you approached a, you weren't hit immediately with the marijuana smell. Um, and they're kind of, as you say, I mean these are, these, your typical free spirits are traveling up and down the coast. Uh, and they love it. They're having a great time. Uh, I've found others who are kind of maybe mid career professionals who decided they were going to sell their homes and just kind of hit the road and see the countryside. And there were others who were even younger who were, you know, just uh, maybe surfers, you know, going up and down the up and down the coast. All right, we'll,

Speaker 2: 18:43 so Pete, you know, I think, you know, the, these people kind of can get a bad rap. It's like a scorge in our community, but, but what were you hearing from them about how they were treated by people who have homes in the area? You know, I mean, I've heard, I live in ob, I've heard of people getting harassed by the neighbors before June or anything like that. Yeah, I mean it's,

Speaker 5: 19:04 some of them were, were talking about how they were disrespected and people would come into the parking lot and give them a hard time, tell them that they really need to move on. And in fact they do need to move on every day of the parking lots have limited hours where you can, you can actually be there. The change in the law didn't affect that. The change in the largest makes it legal for you to be asleep in your vehicle. You can do that now. But I mean at the, at the ocean beach parking lot where he caught most of these people are between two and 4:00 AM you have to be gone. Um,

Speaker 1: 19:39 yeah. And tell us a little about your story. I kind of broke this down on the council changed this just just last month as I said at the open and there was some resistance during the debate before council. Right. And, and the uh, the rules were we're not everybody's crazy about it.

Speaker 5: 19:54 Well that's, that's an understatement. I mean there, there are a lot of folks who are, who are crazy mad about it, who feel like this is a terrible thing and they're saying, wait until summer comes, these parking lots are already difficult for locals to find a spot to park. And they say, wait until summer comes. And you've got even more people park there.

Speaker 1: 20:14 Yeah. Now I'm going to get a little bit more into the rules here, but uh, I want to, I play this bite. We have, uh, KPBS and went down to ocean beach and kind of followed your, you're a lead there. And we've got a montage of some of these folks lists here, but they have to say here.

Speaker 2: 20:33 Wow,

Speaker 6: 20:35 I really love this last out. I think because of the amount of self growth that I experienced was in myself, waking up in a new spot all the time. Pretty awesome. That's nice.

Speaker 7: 20:52 I get along with people who live in vans more than I get along with anybody. I felt very confined and when I told my friends about how I felt confined, nobody understood me at the time. So I met some travelers and I hit the road.

Speaker 6: 21:07 Our philosophy is more so just like focusing on building a foundation that's more tangible and that we can create for ourselves rather than like a paying, somebody rang for something that we're never going to own. Pardon me? That kind of misses the luxuries of like having a set spot by like my house move. It's pretty messy in here, having a work studio like at the beach or in the forest or wherever because we make our inside the bus. So we just pull up and we've got a kitchen in there and just hang out and make food and art and enjoy the view.

Speaker 7: 21:50 Got a bed in the back, hardwood floor. Um, some cabinets, the holding my books and I keep all my kitchen gear in the back so I can just open it up, pull everything out, cook a delicious meal for me or my friends and um, it gets horrible gas mileage. It's very messy inside. I was actually just now cleaning it. It's so messy. I wouldn't show anybody,

Speaker 6: 22:16 this is pretty much like full vehicle life right here though. It gets messy every day. So we have to clean every day. As far as, uh, vehicle living goes, I definitely go for bus. Oh, a couple of things there.

Speaker 1: 22:32 Those folks were identified in those clips and not a lot of them are crazy by giving their full names and all. Is there a stigma to, to this whole thing?

Speaker 5: 22:39 Yes. Uh, one of the, uh, the van livers that I spoke with, his, uh, uh, semiretired songwriter, she had sold her home in Nashville and set out, she's got a beautiful van. It's like two years old. It's got every convenience you could want. And she said she, when she steps out of the van, she sometimes feels a little gross. It's like, Oh, here come the van people, you know, they're kind of like these mole people. Um, so yeah, I think there is a little bit of, um, maybe discrimination against the van people they feel that they've been stigmatized.

Speaker 1: 23:13 What does your say? Not Everything's a rust bucket down there. There's, there's different kinds of, no, no,

Speaker 5: 23:16 but I mean, even, even the folks who have really nice vans, really nice vehicles, they say it's not for everyone. Uh, you spend a lot of time looking for water at one van person. Say you don't realize how much water you go through and, uh, a typical day until you don't have running water. Um, and there's also a question even in San Diego about staying warm, staying comfortable at night. Most of your vans aren't really insulated like a home.

Speaker 1: 23:46 Right. Of course. We've had a cold and rainy winter, not that comfortable down there. Wanted to ask you about safety or cops on the beat down, their incidents happen or that can happen in any neighborhood. But this is a unique neighborhood.

Speaker 5: 23:57 Yeah. A cops are on the beat. Uh, some of the van people complained that they don't get the kind of respect from cops instead they're hassled by the cops. Um, the photographer Howard lipping and I, we, we were there when a police officer came by, uh, but really to tell one of these guys to put the dog on the leash, um, which is a law,

Speaker 1: 24:21 not a serious incident there. But you heard about some, some rough incidents. Did you know

Speaker 5: 24:25 where we heard, we heard about some, it was kind of hard to really judge, you know, how serious this was. Um, more serious, I think were assaults that took place within the parking lot. Sometimes among the van people themselves. So you get a, like I say, you get a range of people and some of them are not all there.

Speaker 1: 24:42 Yeah. And again, the whole, the whole dynamic could certainly change come summer. As you mentioned earlier, I do want to ask you, we had a little bit of time left of of one other thing you learned about this whole a lifestyle, which is a jugging gas jugging. What does that

Speaker 5: 24:55 right. The guy says, well, we don't have to spend any money on gas. We just go jugging and I, I look kind of blank. And he said, okay, here's how it works. He says, if you go to a gas station and you asked someone, Hey, give me a couple of bucks, you know, so I can fill up my van, chances are they're not going to give you any money. Uh, on the other hand, if you show up with a jog and someone has already pumping gas and they say, would you mind filling my jug with gas? He said, you'd be surprised how many people will

Speaker 1: 25:27 are happy to do it for all right, well we're out of time. I, hey buddy, can you spare a gallon? That's great. It's a good story. Well, it does wrap up another week of stories. At the KPBS roundtable. I'd like to thank my guests will hunts Barry of the voice of San Diego, Peter row of the San Diego Union Tribune, and Wendy fry also of the Union Tribune. And a reminder, all the stories we discussed today are available on our website, kpbs.org I'm mark Sauer. Thanks for joining us today on the round table.

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KPBS Roundtable

Mark Sauer hosts KPBS Roundtable, a lively discussion of the week's top stories. Local journalists join Sauer to provide insight into how these stories affect residents of the San Diego region.