California to punish doctors for COVID-19 misinformation

Covid vaccine (Photo/iStock)

By JOSH FRIEDMAN

California Gov. Gavin Newsom last week signed into law a bill that will allow the state medical board to suspend or revoke the licenses of doctors who give patients information that contradicts the state’s promotion of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The law already faces a court challenge. A pair of licensed physicians sued the state on Tuesday, arguing the law chills the speech of doctors whose views are not in line with the official consensus.

Authored by Assemblyman Evan Lowe (D-San Jose), AB 2098 deems the dissemination of misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19 by doctors as unprofessional conduct. The rule pertains to information including the risks, prevention and treatment of COVID-19, as well as vaccines. Existing law allows the Medical Board of California to take action against a licensed physician or surgeon who is charged with unprofessional conduct.

Newsom signed the bill into law on Friday. The new regulations are scheduled to take effect in January.

“The safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines have been confirmed through evaluation by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the vaccines continue to undergo intensive safety monitoring by the CDC,” AB 2098 states. The spread of misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19 vaccines has weakened public confidence and placed lives at serious risk. Major news outlets have reported that some of the most dangerous propagators of inaccurate information regarding the COVID-19 vaccines are licensed health care professionals.”

Mark McDonald, a Los Angeles psychiatrist and Jeff Barke, a primary care physician in Newport Beach, sued the state of California over AB 2098 allegedly violating their First Amendment rights. The suit names Medical Board officials, as well as California Attorney General Rob Bonta.

Both McDonald and Barke opposed mask mandates and have raised concerns about COVID-19 vaccines, particularly when given to children. McDonald and Barke have also supported alternative treatments for COVID-19, including ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine.

“AB 2098 declares that it will be deemed ‘unprofessional conduct’ for doctors to advise their patients of any view that deviates from the official positions of the state regarding COVID-19,” the lawsuit states. “It directs the Medical Board of California to punish any doctor who ‘disseminates’ ‘misinformation,’ defined as anything that is not consistent with what the board deems to be the official consensus. This imposition of official government-approved orthodoxy cannot survive First Amendment scrutiny and is at odds with the scientific method itself.”

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