Judge Orders Anti-Vaccine Beaverton Pediatrician To Identify Patients In Study

Dr. Thomas Paul YouTube channel.JPG

An Oregon Medical Board investigation of a Beaverton pediatrician who opposes some federal recommendations on vaccines for children has landed in court, with the state filing a lawsuit to obtain some of the physician’s records.  

The board, through the Oregon Judicial Department, PDF iconsued Dr. Paul Thomas in July in Washington County Circuit Court over his failure to turn over documents it had subpoenaed in August 2020. 

The subpoena stemmed from a complaint against Thomas alleging he had conducted “unethical” research, court documents said. The subpoena directed Thomas to turn over the names and birthdates of more than 1,200 children in his study of autism rates that compared children who had received childhood vaccines according to the federally recommended schedule with those who had shots delayed or weren’t vaccinated at all. The results were published in a book — “The Vaccine-Friendly Plan: Dr. Paul’s Safe and Effective Approach to Immunity and Health-From Pregnancy Through Your Child’s Teen Years” — that he co-wrote with author Jennifer Margulis, who’s also written about addiction and parenting. 

The subpoena also demanded documents related to a separate study by Thomas that was never published. 

The pediatrician has refused to comply. In court records, he said he had no records related to the second study and that revealing patient names and birthdates would be unethical. Documents filed by Thomas’ attorneys accuse the medical board of overstepping its authority in a “frontal assault” to “destroy” his medical practice.

The two sides argued their cases before Washington County Circuit Court Judge Theodore Sims on Aug. 30.

In an order dated Sept. 5, Sims ordered Thomas to give the Oregon Medical Board all of the information it sought, including the names and birthdates of patients in the study. 

The lawsuit offers the first inside glimpse into the investigation, which pits an opponent of federal vaccine schedules against state medical officials at a time when the latest vaccine to hit the market — against COVID-19 — has caused a split in society as health officials try to persuade vaccine skeptics to get inoculated. 

Thomas’ attorney, Troy Bundy, declined to comment on the lawsuit. The Oregon Judicial Department also declined to comment. Nicole Krishnaswami, executive director of the Oregon Medical Board, did not comment on the case but indicated it was unusual for a doctor to withhold records.

“The OMB issues subpoenas as a regular part of the investigative process, and licensees routinely provide the requested records,” Krishnaswami told The Lund Report in an email.

According to the complaint, the medical board is investigating whether Thomas “engaged in unethical conduct or otherwise violated standards of conduct” in connection with his studies on the impact of alternative vaccine schedules for vaccines such as the measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, shots. 

Delayed Vaccine Schedule

Oregon’s immunization schedule, which follows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, calls for administering the first MMR dose between the ages of 12 and 15 months and the second dose at age 4 through 6. The shots are required by Oregon schools, though parents can obtain an exemption.

Thomas’ schedule recommends that parents consider giving the first MMR shot at age 3. If the family travels through an area where measles is prevalent, he recommends giving the first dose at 1 years old. PDF iconHis schedule does not mention a second shot.

Many vaccine skeptics have worried about an alleged link between the MMR vaccine and autism since 1998 when a British physician, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, published an article in The Lancet, suggesting that the vaccine might cause autism. The article was widely cited by the media but successive studies have debunked the link. In 2010, The Lancet retracted the article, saying the study was faulty. Wakefield was subsequently stripped of his license by British authorities. Nevertheless, suspicion about the vaccine has lingered among vaccine skeptics — including Thomas.

At issue in the lawsuit is Thomas’ retrospective study of autism rates among more than 2,200 of his patients. Nearly 900 were vaccinated following CDC guidelines, more than 200 received no vaccines and about 1,100 followed Thomas’ schedule, court documents said.

The Oregon Medical Board wants the names and birthdates of those patients over concerns that some of them received the MMR vaccine later than Oregon Health Authority recommendations, court records said.

The documents from both sides said Thomas gave the board a spreadsheet showing dosage and other information but had declined to turn over the names or birthdates.

Doing so would violate the terms of the study’s protocols, Thomas’ lawyers argued in court filings. The protocols were approved by an independent review board, something that is standard practice in science to ensure that no one is harmed in research. The review board approved the study on the condition that Thomas keep patient identifying information secret, court documents said. 

Thomas said that abiding by the medical board's request would cause him to violate his professional commitment to the review board, PDF iconhis answer to the complaint said. 

The Western Institutional Review Board that approved Thomas’ protocols has since merged with another board, which did not respond to a request for comment.

Thomas also maintained in court documents that revealing patient names would violate federal privacy laws. 

“Ironically, the OMB seeks to force Dr. Thomas to engage in unethical conduct, as privacy rights form the foundation of ‘ethical research’ and are one of the key components the (review board) is charged with protecting,” a response to a motion said.

Documents from his lawyers said that Thomas already had complied with a number of requests from the board, including providing the spreadsheet, and said the board’s request for personal information amounted to overreach by a government entity. 

“In short, the OMB has no legitimate use or need for the information and records sought,” his lawyers maintained in a response.

Alleged ‘Frontal Assault’ By State

The board’s subpoena last year was part of a concerted campaign by the Oregon Medical Board to run Thomas out of business, according to documents filed by his attorneys. 

“On December 16, 2018, the OMB launched its campaign against Dr. Paul Thomas in order to silence his views about the growing number of vaccines given to children,” a response said. “The OMB has mounted a frontal assault against Dr. Thomas’ practice by using the media, the Oregon Health Authority, attacks against his staff, knowledge of health insurance companies and other credentialing bodies to wreak havoc on and effectively destroy Dr. Thomas’ medical practice.”

In December 2020, the board suspended Thomas’ license, citing the cases of eight patients who were allegedly harmed by his vaccine schedule. In June, it issued a new order allowing Thomas to provide acute care only. It said he could not talk to parents about vaccine schedules and could not perform any research involving patient care.

In its complaint, the medical board rebutted Thomas’ arguments for keeping the patient names and birthdates secret. It said that a regulation cited by the review board in its approval of Thomas’ study protocols did not “limit the ability of health oversight agencies like OMB to obtain patient-identifying information for purposes of lawful investigations and regulation of the practice of medicine.” It also said that regulations under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act — HIPAA — “expressly authorize plaintiff to receive the patient-identifying information” sought by the subpoena. It said that HIPAA rules allow for a physician to provide health information on individuals to a regulatory body such as OMB “for oversight activities authorized by law, including civil or administrative investigations and licensure and disciplinary proceedings.”

The lawsuit said that OMB wants the patient information for internal use in the investigation and that it would not publicly disclose any patient identities. Judge Sims’ order in favor of the state stipulated that the medical board cannot contact any of the patients or their parents or guardians as part of its investigation without approval by the court. 

It’s unclear whether Thomas will provide the patient names and birthdates as ordered. Court orders are legally binding and failure to comply can lead to a contempt of court ruling, which is punishable by jail time or a fine.

Another hearing is scheduled in the case Oct. 11.

You can reach Lynne Terry at [email protected] or on Twitter @LynnePDX.

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