SAN RAFAEL: Community ‘Shocked’ At Pediatrician Accused of Diluting Vaccines
The arrest of San Rafael pediatrician Dr. William Liebman on charges that he diluted children's vaccines to increase profits has divided the community and left many parents in a state of "disbelief, outrage and fear," the Los Angeles Times reports. Marin County prosecutors last November charged the "Marcus Welby[-like]" doctor with "willful cruelty to a child, adulterating drugs with intent to defraud and sale of adulterated drugs." Liebman, who continues to practice, wrote a letter to his patients following his arrest denying the charges, calling them "false and outrageous." Prosecutors estimate that up to 2,500 children could have been affected. They began the investigation last May, following a tip from a nurse at Liebman's office. She contended that after marking the levels on half-empty vaccine vials, the next day those vials would be "mysteriously full." Further, prosecutors said that after Liebman went on military reserve duty for two weeks last year, the office used more hepatitis B vaccine during his absence compared to the previous three months. Another employee maintained that Liebman was "cheap" and alleged that the physician broke protocol by "reusing urine cups and the oxygen hoses needed for a machine that helps asthma patients." In June, investigators seized 21 vaccine vials from the office and found that 9 had been altered. Prosecutors also allege that during a three-month period last year Liebman's office ordered 10 doses of diphtheria and other vaccines but billed patients and insurers for 20 times as much. During the same period, Liebman used a 36 milliliter of hepatitis B vaccine but billed more than five times that amount. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for April 24.
Meanwhile, county residents remain divided over the controversy. Liebman has a "flood of supporters" who have plastered his office with glowing letters of his care, launched a defense fund and held a candlelight vigil. A group of more than 40 nurses wrote a letter to the local newspaper praising the physician. All of Liebman's supporters argue that the charges "don't fit the man," who has been a member of the community for more than 20 years, raising four children and participating in local civic activities. Linda Curry, a parent who helped organize the defense fund, said, "This is a man who has devoted his life to children, six days a week, evenings. Why would he jeopardize the health of his patients, these children he loves dearly?" His supporters contend that there is little monetary gain in diluting vaccines and argue that public health officials have little evidence of suspicious illnesses among his patients. Colleague Dr. Jan Alban, a pediatrician who has known Liebman for years, said, "It's a very difficult time now in medicine, but to do this? Why would a doctor like him threaten the life of a patient or be so cheap as to falsify drugs? I've never known him to be anything but a good doctor." Liebman has reportedly lost 10% of his patients in the last few months. However, some doubt his innocence. Maria Storniolo, whose son recently failed a test for immunizations given at Liebman's office, said, "It's hard to believe anyone could do this, but then I look at the facts. The facts are my son wasn't immunized for two horrible diseases." Patricia Henle, a San Francisco attorney whose son also failed tests for immunizations given at Liebman's office, filed a malpractice lawsuit against the pediatrician. Still, she is holding out hope that the allegations are untrue. "I really do hope it's not him," she said (Bailey, 3/13).