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State Medical Board May Revoke Licenses of Mississippi Physicians Who Spread COVID-19 Misinformation

Physician readying a vaccination needle, inside a clinic
The Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure has formally adopted a policy that threatens the medical license—and ability to practice—of physicians who spread COVID-19 misinformation, particularly about vaccinations. Photo by Kristine Wook on Unsplash

Physicians who spread misinformation about COVID-19 in person or on social media may have their medical license suspended or revoked after a strong statement from the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure.

“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,” the licensure board explained in its new policy, which is in part a restatement of the same policy state medical boards are adopting across the country. The state board licenses and regulates a broad range of medical professionals across Mississippi. This new policy directly threatens the ability of physicians who spread COVID-19 disinformation to practice in medical environments across Mississippi.

The board has taken the position that the education and social role of physicians demands a higher measure of accuracy and ethical behavior with regards to vaccination efficacy and safety. Doctors who spread conspiracy theories and unfounded speculation about the vaccine violate their ethical and professional responsibilities, the board explained. 

“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,” it wrote. “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,” the board’s statement concludes, additionally suggesting that a broad range of COVID-19-related misinformation could be grounds for license revocation. “These principles are not limited to COVID-19 vaccine issues.”

The Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure is a complaint-driven board, meaning Mississippians must report a physician or other medical professional in order for that physician to receive disciplinary action. Mississippians with specific allegations against a board-licensed medical professional should contact 601-987-3079 to lodge a formal complaint.

The new policy applies to physicians but may also affect podiatrists, physician assistants, radiology assistants and acupuncturists, other medical professionals that the board regulates. The Mississippi Board of Nursing regulates nurse practitioners and nurses. In a Sept. 9 interview, MBN Executive Director Phyllis Johnson told the Mississippi Free Press that her board had yet to implement such a policy.

“I was not aware of what the medical board policy was until you just informed me. So I would like to look at that information more in-depth, (but) the board of nursing right now has no policy regarding that,” Johnson said. 

“I would need to look at what they have instituted before I can take that to our board of directors,” she added.

Hospitalizations Declining, But ICUs Still Full

Mississippi may be seeing the first signs of relief from the crushing delta wave of COVID-19 that has overwhelmed hospitals and surged the death rate back to pandemic highs. While storms and holidays have made the previous week of case reporting relatively inconsistent, a consistent decline in new hospitalizations may suggest that the highest peaks of the delta wave are—for now—behind the state.

Declining hospitalizations, paired with effective help from more than 1,000 federal health-care employees have provided the Mississippi’s beleaguered hospital system with a renewed grasp on the pandemic. The University of Mississippi Medical Center announced Wednesday evening that it has ceased operations at both of its field hospitals, including the original location in Garage B and the Samaritan’s Purse field hospital located in Garage C.

“All remaining patients were moved into UMMC hospitals earlier this week,” a UMMC representative wrote on social media. “The deployment of the emergency mobile facility was an effective tool in mitigating care for Mississippians who required COVID-19-driven hospitalization.”

COVID-19 Hospitalizations Trends, Reported by MS Hospitals as of 9/6/21
COVID-19 hospitalizations are on the decline in Mississippi, but remain at a critically high number, with effectively zero ICU capacity across the state. Graphic by MSDH

UMMC Director of Communications Marc Rolph confirmed to the Mississippi Free Press in an interview that the original UMMC-run field hospital treated a total of 75 patients before being decommissioned. Samaritan’s Purse treated 65 patients, providing care for a total of 140 Mississippians outside the confines of UMMC itself.

Rolph added that the arrival of more than 1,000 federal health-care workers, including many nurses and respiratory therapists, helped close some of the widest gaps in care that necessitated the field hospitals across the state. With their assistance, and the continued work of staff at UMMC, all patients have been reincorporated into the primary hospital setting.

The decline should not be confused for an end to COVID-19 or a return to the low-transmission days of spring 2021. Today the Mississippi State Department of Health announced 3,138 new cases of COVID-19, still a number comparable to the highest days of the pandemic’s winter peak. The seven-day average of new cases is currently 2,130, a sharp decline from heights of just over 4,000, although clinic closures over Labor Day may depress that number slightly.

While the downward trend is an early positive sign, total COVID-19 hospitalizations are still just around 1,300, a massive case burden and still comparable to the winter peaks. More than 400 Mississippians with COVID-19 now crowd the state’s intensive-care units. As of the Sept. 7 report, just under 300 are on ventilators. MSDH Director of Health Protection Jim Craig explained at a recent press event that ICU capacity was “effectively still zero,” in Mississippi.

Deaths, too, now climb back to some of the highest levels in the pandemic. Fifty-nine of today’s 83 deaths occurred in the previous week, and 24 are from reports between Jul. 24 and Sep. 4. Daily death reports of close to or more than 100 are now increasingly common, with one measurable distinction from earlier peaks. Very few of the new deaths are coming from the state’s long-term care facilities, in spite of a growing number of LTC outbreaks. 

Medical experts have pointed out repeatedly that high vaccination rates among LTC residents is to thank for the decrease in deaths from those facilities.

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