Health & Medicine

This Kentucky doctor allegedly let his wife mishandle vaccines, causing ‘health crisis’

A Mt. Sterling doctor was reprimanded Friday by the state medical licensing board for allegedly allowing his unlicensed wife to mishandle vaccines, causing an infection outbreak in patients across Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio.

The Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure, in an agreed order, placed Dr. Paul E. McLaughlin on five years probation, beginning immediately, and ordered him to pay a $5,000 fine for delegating to someone without a medical license and because he “contributed to a public health crisis.”

The Montgomery County vaccination provider “Location Vaccination” is owned and operated by Dr. McLaughlin’s wife, Fairshinda Sabounchi McLaughlin. The private company was hired during last year’s flu season to provide vaccines to adult employees in more than 20 municipalities at their workplaces.

The Kentucky Department of Public Health first flagged McLaughlin’s vaccinations as a public health threat early this year, after people who had received his flu shots reported swelling, redness, and hard lumps at injection sites. Public health officials concluded these results were likely due to improper storage and handling of the vaccines.

The administering of this batch of vaccines began in the fall of 2018, and some patients began reporting their reactions to the McLaughlins around Thanksgiving.

McLaughlin’s wife, in turn, prescribed the patients antibiotics and steroids without taking certain “medically appropriate” steps — a severe error that could have lead to death, especially for patients with immune disorders, the medical board wrote in its Friday decision.

McLaughlin appeared before the state medical inquiry panel in late June, who accused him of contributing to a public health crisis by delegating his duties to an unlicensed professional, but he denies the allegations.

His attorney, Louisville-based attorney Tracy Prewitt, said McLaughlin has been a “valued member of the medical community for many years and has always provided careful, conscientious care to his patients.”

“While some patients reported reactions to vaccines … there has been no determination that these reactions were anything other than well-recognized side effects associated with most vaccines,” she said.

His care has never been questioned in the past, said Prewitt, who called the accusations against McLaughlin “unproven,” and said he continues to deny “all issues relating to quality of care.”

The Centers for Disease Control was first contacted about the vaccines on Nov. 5 by a caller from an unspecified Mt. Sterling doctor’s office, who said 16 of their patients, about a month after receiving flu shots, had developed “big abscess nodules” that weren’t responding to antibiotics.

“We cultured it, and it comes back negative for bacterial growth. We don’t understand what the heck is going on,” the caller said. A week later, they called back, telling the CDC that “everyone seems to be getting [the nodules]. We don’t understand why.”

The Clark County Health Department on Dec. 4 treated three patients with similar symptoms. Just before Christmas, the state health department began receiving reports from affected patients who said Dr. McLaughlin’s wife had contacted them offering free antibiotics.

Around that time, state public health officials reached out to Dr. McLaughlin, who said he’d heard the CDC had received some reports about the reactions but that he “wasn’t really interested,” according to the agreed order.

McLaughlin, himself, told officials he’d received one of the vaccines in October and suffered a similar reaction but it went away with antibiotics.

Over the next five years, in addition to the $5,000 fine, McLaughlin must attend ethics training, five hours of medical education and develop a written policy of how to properly store vaccines and what to do in case of adverse reactions.