This article about anti-vaccine pediatrician Dr. Paul Thomas 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 December 3, 2020, the Oregon Medical Board suspended, on an emergency basis, the medical license of anti-vaccine pediatrician Dr. Paul Thomas, ordering him to stop practicing medicine until further order.
Who is Dr. Paul Thomas?
Dr. Paul Thomas is a pediatrician with a large practice in Oregon. He has, in many ways, supported, endorsed, and promoted anti-vaccine views. Among other things, he wrote a book promoting anti-vaccine myths. The book also proposed a non-evidence-based, made-up vaccine schedule that would not protect children from several diseases experts recommend protecting them from (and the basis for suspending his license included several children being harmed from diseases Dr. Thomas thinks they shouldn’t be protected from).
He is a constant speaker in anti-vaccine events. He was a co-author on more than one anti-vaccine ill-conducted study, for example, misrepresenting the effects of the tiny amounts of aluminum adjuvants in childhood vaccines, and comparing unvaccinated to vaccinated children. He had argued, again based on a very shoddy analysis, that his patients demonstrate that vaccines are bad.
Dr. Thomas’ anti-vaccine actions – non-compliance with the schedule – have led him to be removed from participating in the Vaccines for Children program, a program that provides free vaccines for uninsured or underinsured children.
In short, in word and deed, Dr. Paul Thomas is an anti-vaccine pediatrician, supporter, and enabler of the anti-vaccine movement, working to promote misinformation about vaccines and make children less protected from disease.
What was the basis for this suspension?
According to the order, the basis for the suspension was that Dr. Thomas’s “conduct has breached the standard of care and has placed the health and safety of many of his patients at serious risk of harm.” Specifically, here are the actions that put his patients at risk:
- Publishing his alternative vaccination schedule that “decreases the frequency of many recommended vaccines and omits others,” and using claims that his schedule improves health measures – claims with no evidence, and “fraudulently” claiming that his schedule will prevent or reduce autism. Dr. Thomas allegedly uses these claims to convince parents not to fully vaccinate these children. The order gives an example of a patient who Dr. Thomas attacked for requesting polio and rotavirus vaccines. It got to the point that Dr. Thomas asked her “how awful she would feel if [her child] got autism and she could have prevented it.” Reminder – vaccines do not cause autism.
- An 11-year-old child that Dr. Paul Thomas recommended receive a delayed schedule got pertussis (whooping cough), which he was not vaccinated against.
- The decision describes a now 7-years-old child, the sibling of the 11-year-old above, who had a fever for three days when he was 10 weeks old. Dr. Thomas did not send him to the emergency room or hospital for definitive lab testing. The child ended up being hospitalized and diagnosed with Kawasaki’s disease. The child also later got pertussis.
- An unvaccinated child, who is now nine, had tetanus when he was six, ending with a two months stay in ICU. After release, follow up notes “documented a referral to a homeopath, recommendation of fish oil supplements, and “phosphatidyl seine.” There is no indication that Dr. Thomas discussed vaccinating the child against tetanus with his parents. People may remember this case – it got some media coverage and was reported on by CDC in the MMWR.
- A now 10-year-old girl was hospitalized for rotavirus, and after a severe cough was treated for pertussis, too, though no lab testing was done.
- A 7-year-old was not vaccinated, but followed for “constipation, food allergies, mold allergies, and possible “chronic Lyme disease”.” Dr. Thomas did not recommend vaccination, but treated her this way:
[Dr. Thomas] ordered repeated IgE allergy panels and recommended elimination diets, vitamin supplements and provided antibiotics for acute infections. Licensee failed to provide an appropriate referral to a pediatric gastroenterologist to exclude a diagnosis of malabsorption or celiac disease, a referral to pediatric allergy/immunology or to pediatric nutrition.
- Two twins under his care were hospitalized with rotavirus suffering from “severe dehydration and serum electrolyte abnormalities.” The mother stated she thought her children had received rotavirus vaccines. The records do mention parental refusal of vaccines, but “are inconsistent regarding specific vaccines and their timing.”
- Ordering MMR titers for 905 children under his care after a single dose of MMR. The order said: “Except for rare cases of suspected immune deficiency, there is no clinical indication for assessment of antibody titers. The ordering of unnecessary testing is a violation of ORS 677.190(1)(a) unprofessional or dishonorable conduct, as defined in ORS 677.188(4)(c) willful and repeated ordering or performance of unnecessary laboratory tests.” In addition, out of patients who did not have a strong response to the mumps vaccine, 90 (out of 122) did not receive the second dose.
In short, some of the allegations are related to general practices that deviate from the standard of care; others are about children actually harmed by Dr. Thomas’s actions. It is a very severe set of allegations.
In conclusion, the Board said:
The Board has determined from the evidence available at this time that Licensee’s continued practice of medicine would pose an immediate danger to the public and to his patients.
Therefore, it is necessary to immediately suspend his license to practice medicine. To do otherwise would subject Licensee’s patients to the serious risk of harm while this case remains under investigation.
What happens next?
The order explains that Dr. Paul Thomas may request, in writing, a formal hearing to contest the suspension, within 90 days, in which case a full evidentiary hearing will be held. Not requesting will be considered a waiver of the right to a hearing.
I would expect Dr. Thomas to request a hearing, though I do not, of course, know what he will do. But both the decision to emergency suspend his license and the severity of the allegations are indications that he is in real risk of permanently losing his license (though he can, of course, mount a defense).
Anti-vaccine sites have been silent about this decision. However, the day that it came out, the anti-vaccine organization Children’s Health Defense launched a fundraising campaign in his favor, without mentioning it. I do not know if they launched it before seeing the decision, or intentionally decided to omit reference, but it would be appropriate to change the article and link to inform people who may choose to donate of the suspension.
Given that he is openly and aggressively anti-vaccine, given that he intentionally chose to put his patients at risk of preventable diseases, and that they have suffered such diseases, in my view, he deserves to lose his license. The Oregon Medical Board acted to protect children, as they acted, in another case, to protect patients from a doctor who refused to wear a mask.
I hope they hold the line and unless Dr. Thomas can convincingly rebut the claims and exculpate himself in the many cases of children harmed under his care, through his actions – refuse to reinstate his license.