An Eden Prairie pediatrician has been disciplined by the state medical board for telling parents that childhood vaccines are not safe.
The Minnesota Board of Medical Practice said Dr. Robert Zajac engaged in "unethical or improper conduct" and knowingly provided "false or misleading information" that is directly related to patient care.
The board received four complaints against Zajac dating to 2017, some filed by other physicians. Some of the complaints alleged that he was not following evidence-based medicine and that he was "actively encouraging parents not to vaccinate their children."
Zajac went to federal court in an attempt to quash the board's investigation, claiming that his free speech and due process rights were being violated. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in February.
Zajac reached a negotiated settlement, known as a stipulation, with the medical board in May, which approved it in July.
"I think there has been great work at resolving this," said Brad Haddy, Zajac's attorney. "These things are not always easy, but I think this agreement creates an understanding and expectation for Dr. Zajac as he continues his practice."
The doctor, whose New Kingdom Healthcare has seven locations listed on its website, agreed to pay a $10,000 fine and take courses on medical ethics, communicable diseases, professional boundaries and patient communication.
Zajac could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but in a Facebook post, he thanked the board for finding a common ground for discussions.
"I still have my medical license, unrestricted. I can still see patients, serve the community, and keep moving and going where God is bringing me," the post said. "Still allowed to speak my heart in public, and will continue to provide Informed Consent with open honest dialogues regarding health and medical freedom issues."
The Minnesota Board of Medical Practice typically does not release complaint details or investigatory findings beyond what appears in the publicly available disciplinary order or stipulation, but some additional information appeared in documents filed by his attorneys as part of the federal lawsuit.
The complaints against Zajac allege that he overstated the risks that vaccines pose to children and that he encourages parents to delay or avoid routine vaccinations.
Zajac estimated that 20% of his pediatric patients received none of the recommended vaccines at their two-month visit when he was interviewed by the board's complaint review committee in August 2019.
By comparison, 1.3% of 2-year-old children nationally had not received any recommended vaccines, while 90% of 2-year-olds had received the recommended polio, hepatitis B, varicella and measles, mumps and rubella shots, a board official noted, according to court documents.
Additionally, 50% of his patients received some of the vaccines at two months, while 30% were fully vaccinated according to the recommended schedule.
Zajac told board investigators that he did recommend the CDC's vaccine schedule, but the clinic's website said it was a "non judgment clinic" about alternative schedules.
When parents ask about vaccine safety, Zajac told the board committee that he uses statements he made in an interview on an anti-vaccine website as his "starting point."
"The vaccinated kids are the sickest; the partially vaccinated kids are not as sick; and the unvaccinated kids are the healthiest," Zajac was quoted as saying in a court filing.
"The community standard of acceptable and prevailing medical practice is to counsel that vaccines are safe," wrote Ruth Martinez, executive director of the board in one document filed with the court. "Respondent [Zajac] has failed to meet this standard of care."
Zajac agreed to remove information from his website that was critical of vaccine safety research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as language promoting alternative vaccine schedules.
"I hope it is a signal to other providers that they can't just spout off," said Karen Ernst, director of the Voices for Vaccines advocacy group. "They really need to look into what the science says about caring for their patients, especially when it comes to vaccines."
Public health officials and some political leaders are concerned that falsehoods about vaccine safety and effectiveness are undermining the nation's health, especially at a time when COVID-19 is resurgent despite three highly effective vaccines.
Zajac was not accused of spreading disinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine in the state's order or in court filings. By the time the stipulation with the pediatrician had been reached in late May, the vaccine had only been available to teenagers for a few weeks.
"Physicians who generate and spread COVID-19 vaccine misinformation or disinformation are risking disciplinary action by state medical boards, including the suspension or revocation of their medical license," the Federation of State Medical Boards said in a statement two weeks ago. The federation provides advocacy and services to member boards, which operate independently.
Dorit Reiss, a law professor at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, said that doctors critical of vaccines are important to the anti-vaccine movement because it "gives them an aura of legitimacy."
"The reasons we have medical supervision is to protect the community from bad doctors," she said. "Most boards have some duty to protect the public health. Whether we will see more action is a separate question."
Glenn Howatt • 612-673-7192