Tennessee lawmaker demands end to policy disciplining doctors for COVID-19 misinformation

The Tennessee House of Representatives is pictured in this file photo. / Photo by John Partipilo/Tennessee Lookout

Tennessee Republican Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, has demanded a state medical board remove a policy statement from its website warning that physicians who spread misinformation regarding COVID-19 vaccines risk disciplinary action.

In a letter sent Monday to Dr. Melanie Blake of Chattanooga, president of the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners, Ragan instructed the statement be deleted "without delay."

"If you fail to act promptly, your organization will be required to appear before the Joint Government Operations Committee to explain your inaction," wrote Ragan, the committee's House chair, in the Nov. 15 letter obtained by Tennessee Lookout.

(READ MORE: Tennessee doctors who spread COVID-19 vaccine misinformation could lose their licenses)

Newly enacted legislation, signed by Gov. Bill Lee on Nov. 12, bars licensing boards such as the Board of Medical Examiners from disciplining doctors for spreading misinformation or dispensing unproven medications for COVID-19 - like the deworming medication ivermectin - unless the board creates special rules. Those rules must be approved by lawmakers. The legislation was aimed directly at repealing the board's actions.

The policy, which remained posted on the state website Monday, was adopted by the 12-member board in September and says, in full:

"Physicians who generate and spread COVID-19 vaccine misinformation or disinformation are risking disciplinary action by state medical board, 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.

(READ MORE: Tennessee Gov. Lee signs law limiting COVID-19 mask, vaccination mandates)

"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. Spreading inaccurate COVID-19 vaccine information contradicts that responsibility, threatens to further erode public trust in the medical profession and puts all patients at risk."

Ragan's letter references prior correspondence with Blake. An email from Blake to Ragan on Nov. 9 "indicates you do not plan to even consider action until January of 2022. Such delay is unacceptable given the issue was brought to your attention three weeks ago."

The Government Operations Committee is next scheduled to convene for a routine review of proposed rules on Dec. 15. The Board of Medical Examiners is already scheduled to appear on that date.

(READ MORE: Ivermectin and outrage: The viral aftermath for a conservative Chattanooga activist who lost his brother to COVID-19)

Efforts to reach members of the board have thus far been unsuccessful.

Physicians and hospital groups opposed legislation that would strip the medical board of its powers to discipline doctors who spread COVID-19 misinformation.

"If the board cannot exert its influence appropriately in the policing of our profession, we are losing our autonomy and the trust of our patients," said Dr. Amy Bono, a Nashville physician.

Read more at TennesseeLookout.com.