COMMENTARY

7 Legal Risks of Promoting Unproven COVID Treatments

Brian W. Whitelaw, JD; Julie M. Janeway, JD

Disclosures

December 06, 2021

Julie M. Janeway, JD; Brian W. Whitelaw, JD

The emergence of COVID-19 has given the medical world a bewildering array of prevention and treatment protocols. Some physicians are advocating treatments that have not been validated by sound scientific studies. This has already led to licensing issues and other disciplinary actions being taken against physicians, pharmacies, and other healthcare providers across the country.

Medical professionals try their very best to give sound advice to patients. A medical license does not, however, confer immunity from being misled.

The supporting "science" for alternative prevention and treatments may look legitimate, but these claims are often based on anecdotal evidence. Some studies involve small populations, some are meta-analyses of several small or single-case studies, and others are not properly designed, interpreted, or executed in line with US research and requirements. Yet others have only been conducted in nonhuman analogues, like frogs or mice.

Many people are refusing a vaccine that has been proven to be relatively safe and effective in numerous repeated and validated studies in the best medical centers across the globe — all in favor of less validated alternatives. Well-intentioned medical professionals may be tempted to promote the information and products featured on websites that advocate for unproven products and protocols. This can have serious legal consequences.

The Crux of the Issue

This is not a question of a physician's first amendment rights. Nor is it a question of advocating for a scientifically valid minority medical opinion. The point of this article is that promoting unproven products, preventives, treatments, and cures can have dire consequences for licensed medical professionals.

On July 29, 2021 the Federation of State Medical Boards' Board of Directors released this statement in response to a dramatic increase in the dissemination of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation and disinformation by physicians and other healthcare professionals on social media platforms, online, and in the media:

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. 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.

 

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