Amateurs and hucksters are not the only people telling parents not to vaccinate their children. Unfortunately some doctors — men and women sworn to the Hippocratic Oath — are purveying junk science. They say that vaccines cause autism, as in the famous case of Andrew Wakefield, whose study drawing the link has been retracted. Or that measles isn't that bad, so your child can skip the shots, as Jack Wolfson, a cardiologist in Arizona, says, adding that "the facts" show vaccines to be full of "harmful things" like "chemicals." Or that, according to some parents, vaccines cause "profound mental disorders," as Sen. Rand Paul, an ophthalmologist, warned before he walked the statement back. Or that vaccines cause "permanent disability or death," in the words of Bob Sears, a pediatrician in California.
Thankfully, only a few physicians in America have embraced fear-mongering in the middle of this dangerous and costly measles epidemic. They deserve a place of honor next to climate-change skeptics, anti-fluoridation kooks and Holocaust deniers. They doubt the facts, ignore established evidence and concoct their own pet theories. They shouldn't be allowed near patients, let alone TV cameras. But because their suggestions are so surprising and controversial, they often find themselves on cable news shows and in news reports about the "anti-vaxx" crowd. Their power, therefore, is radically disproportionate to their numbers.
Doctors who purvey views based on anecdote, myth, hearsay, rumor, ideology, fraud or some combination of all of these, particularly during an epidemic, should have their medical licenses revoked. Thankfully, states have the right tools to do so. It's time to use them.
Going after doctors for speaking their minds is a tricky business. Doctors use their judgment and experience all the time to recommend things to patients that regulatory bodies have not approved or that their peers might think inadvisable: "Yes, there are risks involved, but I don't wear a helmet when I ride my motorcycle, and I understand if you don't want to, either."