An Arizona doctor who stirred up national controversy in January for publicly denouncing vaccines will not lose his license to practice medicine, the Arizona Board of Osteopathic Examiners ruled.
The board dismissed the case Saturday against Dr. Jack Wolfson, whom New Times profiled in March, citing his First Amendment right to “express his opinion,” according to board meeting minutes. The vote was 4-1.
Thirty-eight people filed formal complaints, and many more called the board to informally voice concern about Wolfson’s anti-vaccine evangelism. However, the board noted, no one has filed any complaints about the Scottsdale cardiologist’s “actual medical care.”
Wolfson celebrated the board’s decision with a grass-fed steak and some organic veggies.
“I feel good,” he says. “I always felt confident in my ability to speak my mind. Just because your opinion is different from many does not mean you cannot have one.”
The doctor quickly shot to infamy after he did an interview with 12 News during a measles outbreak proclaiming: “We should be getting measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox. These are the rights of our children to get it.” He later was featured by USA Today, The Washington Post, and CNN, among others, proclaiming that a woman who injects chemicals into her child without questioning the consequences is a “bad mother.”
The vast majority of the medical community, including the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics, maintains that vaccines are safe and effective. But Wolfson argues that they are associated with negative reactions, including fever, rash, seizure, and autism. He believes disease is best prevented through extended breastfeeding, a diet of whole, organic foods, and adequate sleep and exercise.
Wolfson’s interviews launched a national debate about whether doctors who don’t support vaccination should be stripped of their licenses.
Arthur Caplan, head of medical ethics at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, told New Times that Wolfson, and others like him, are violating the Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm” by ignoring established facts, concocting “pet theories” about vaccine safety, and spreading “junk science.”
“They deserve a place of honor next to climate-change skeptics, anti-fluoridation kooks, and Holocaust deniers,” he says.
In a column for Forbes, Dr. Peter Lipson, an M.D. from Michigan, wrote.
“Vaccination is a medical no-brainer, a public health home run, up there with clean water,” he wrote. “Doctors can help save individual patients, but public health measures can save whole populations. When doctors promote public health, such as vaccination and water fluoridation, we get to improve both individual and public health goals. But that sort of power can also work in reverse.”
Wolfson’s advice is “dangerous, irresponsible, and wrong,” he wrote.
“As doctors we have sworn an oath to protect our patients, and if our ideologies and skills prevent this, it’s time to hang up the stethoscope.”
During the board’s six-month investigation into the complaints, Wolfson's clinic kept busy, he said. He published a new book touting his natural approach to medicine, The Paleo Cardiologist, which debuted at number one on Amazon’s “hot new releases” in the heart disease category. Because of the notoriety he gained preaching against vaccines, he was invited to speak at a number of cardiology and chiropractic conferences.
Aside from social media postings, his recent work has centered on less controversial topics, such as lowering cholesterol through diet. However, he says he still gets flak for his five minutes of fame as the face of the anti-vaccine movement. A number of people who reviewed his book on Amazon (which doesn’t discuss vaccines), for example, heckled him with comments like, “dangerous anti-vaccine woo peddler laughing all the way to the bank.”
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“This whole thing has certainly been an experience,” Wolfson says. “As someone who professes to help people live stress-free lives and get plenty of sleep and relaxation, I can’t say that’s been a part of my life for awhile.”
But he has no regrets.
“I believe I’m doing the right thing,” he says. “If people were not critical of the tobacco industry, there would be no tobacco laws. If people weren’t critical of the dangers of lead, we’d still have lead paint on our walls.”