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• The Federation of State Medical Boards issued a statement warning doctors who “generate and spread COVID-19 vaccine misinformation or disinformation” that they could face disciplinary action from state medical boards, “including the suspension or revocation of their medical license.”
• The warning did not prohibit physicians from expressing concerns about COVID-19 vaccines or sharing them with patients.
As the spread of the delta variant continues, the pressure to vaccinate more Americans is on, and as efforts to increase vaccination rates have ramped up, so has the backlash online.
Some social media users have taken to spreading conspiratorial claims about doctors having their hands tied where COVID-19 vaccines are concerned.
"I was at my doctor’s appointment the other day — my doctor, who is unvaccinated and doesn’t believe in the vaccination," claimed one woman in a video on TikTok. "He goes on to tell me that he received a letter — along with every other medical professional in the country — stating that they have to push the vaccine on every single one of their patients."
The video continues: "It also said that they cannot give their patients informed consent, which is basically the process of a health care provider educating their patient on the possible risks, benefits or alternatives of said medication or procedure. So if he doesn’t push this vaccine on every single one of his patients and if he says anything bad about the vaccine, he is at risk of losing his medical license. How messed up is that s---?"
TikTok identified this video as part of its efforts to counter inauthentic, misleading or false content. (Read more about PolitiFact's partnership with TikTok.)
The TikTok video seems to reference a warning to medical professionals from the Federation of State Medical Boards’ Board of Directors.
The federation is a nonprofit organization that "supports America’s state medical boards in licensing, disciplining and regulating physicians and other healthcare professionals," according to its website.
The federation’s board issued a July 29 statement that reads in part:
"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."
"Due to their specialized knowledge and training, licensed physicians possess a high degree of public trust and therefore have a powerful platform in society, whether they recognize it or not. They also have an ethical and professional responsibility to practice medicine in the best interests of their patients and must share information that is factual, scientifically grounded and consensus-driven for the betterment of public health."
The statement concludes by saying that spreading vaccine misinformation "threatens to further erode public trust in the medical profession," and "puts all patients at risk."
In August, a Federation spokesperson said that the organization hadn’t yet defined "misinformation" or "disinformation," but noted that an ethics committee was studying the issue and would offer more guidance in the future.
"We currently view misinformation as sharing or distributing verifiably false information," the spokesperson told Becker’s Hospital Review. "We define disinformation as sharing or distributing information that the distributor knows is false."
The federation’s warning to doctors was issued "in response to a dramatic increase in the dissemination of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation and disinformation by physicians and other health care professionals on social media platforms, online and in the media," according to the Federation’s news release.
It did not say that doctors must encourage patients to get vaccinated against COVID-19. In addition, the statement did not say anything about barring physicians from informing patients of the potential risks or side effects of the vaccines.
COVID-19 vaccine misinformation has been spread by health workers including doctors — often, without professional consequences. On multiple occasions, PolitiFact has debunked misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines that was shared by doctors, including Dr. Sherri Tenpenny and Dr. Joseph Mercola.
A TikTok video claimed doctors received a letter stating that if they "say anything bad about the vaccine," they are at risk of losing their medical license.
The claim is in reference to a statement the Federation of State Medical Boards’ Board of Directors sent to physicians on July 29. The warning did not say that doctors are required to promote the vaccine, and it did not prohibit medical professionals from talking with patients about possible side effects.
The statement warned doctors that those who spread vaccine misinformation could face professional consequences — including having their medical license revoked.
We rate this claim False.
TikTok post, Aug. 28, 2021
BBC News, "First Covid vaccine is administered in the US," Dec. 14, 2020
Washington Post, "‘The weapon that will end the war’: First coronavirus vaccine shots given outside trials in U.S.," Dec. 14, 2020
MedPageToday, "Spreading False Vax Info Might Cost You Your Medical License," Aug. 3, 2021
Becker’s Hospital Review, "Physicians who post COVID-19 vaccine misinformation may lose license, medical panel says," Aug. 5, 2021
Federation of State Medical Boards news release, "FSMB: Spreading COVID-19 Vaccine Misinformation May Put Medical License At Risk," July 29, 2021
Federation of State Medical Boards, "About physician licensure," accessed Sept. 26, 2021
Federation of State Medical Boards, "About FSMB," accessed Sept. 26, 2021
FSMB.org, accessed Sept. 27, 2021
CNBC, "The social network for doctors is full of vaccine disinformation," Aug. 6, 2021
PolitiFact, "Licensed doctors who spread COVID-19 disinformation face no consequences, report shows," Sept. 22, 2021
Associated Press, "Sweeping new vaccine mandates for 100 million Americans," Sept. 9, 2021
New York Times, "When Will the Delta Surge End?" Sept. 1, 2021
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