California weighs punishing doctors for challenging 'contemporary scientific consensus' on COVID

Assembly bill promotes long-outdated information about COVID deaths in unvaccinated vs. vaccinated, however, rather than updated Omicron variant figures.

Updated: February 27, 2022 - 10:25pm

Disagreement with the "contemporary scientific consensus" on COVID-19 issues could be deemed "unprofessional conduct" for California doctors.

Democratic Assemblyman Evan Low's AB 2098 "may" be the subject of a March 17 hearing in the Assembly Committee on Business and Professions, where it was referred last week, according to the legislative history.

The bill, which was cowritten by five other California Assembly and Senate members, goes beyond regulating how California doctors can treat their own patients. It opens their statements about COVID — public or private — to review by the Medical Board of California and the Osteopathic Medical Board of California, with possible sanctions to follow.

"Existing law requires the applicable board to take action against any licensed physician and surgeon who is charged with unprofessional conduct," according to the legislative counsel's summary, and the bill would "designate the dissemination or promotion of misinformation or disinformation" about COVID as "unprofessional conduct," without specifying what's prohibited.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom is seeking legislative funding for a related effort: a statewide department "dedicated to disseminating accurate scientific information, and countering false claims" about COVID, CBS 8 reported last week. The state is also airing "myth buster" commercials in 250 markets.

Several state medical boards are considering or actively investigating doctors for their claims about hot-button COVID issues, particularly around vaccines and alternate treatments.

Perhaps most prominent is pathologist Ryan Cole, who practices in both Idaho and Washington state and has allegedly prescribed ivermectin. A leader in America's Frontline Doctors, which challenges COVID orthodoxy, Cole was targeted by the Idaho Medical Association after he was appointed to a regional health board, though only Washington state has confirmed an investigation.

Maine went further in the case of internist Meryl Nass, who started her career as a biowarfare researcher. The state's Board of Licensure in Medicine not only suspended Nass' license to practice but ordered a neuropsychological evaluation of her. Some of Nass' claims have since been echoed by the CDC, including the higher risk of heart inflammation following two-dose vaccines and broad protection from natural immunity.

AB 2098 claims it's just adding teeth to a resolution passed by the California Assembly last fall that deems health misinformation "a public health crisis." 

HR 74 called on the state to curb "the spread of falsehoods," particularly those that lead people to decline COVID vaccines, reject "public health measures relating to masking or physical distancing," and use "unproven treatments."

The preamble to the new bill, however, promotes information that is long outdated.

"Data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that unvaccinated individuals are at a risk of dying from COVID-19 that is 11 times greater than those who are fully vaccinated," it says, referring to last summer's Delta variant wave without identifying the time period. 

Even then the death disparity between the two populations was narrowing, with vaccine efficacy plummeting the most for Americans 65 and older, the British Medical Journal reported. 

The CDC at the time was actively avoiding data collection on mild breakthrough infections among vaccinated people. It recently came under fire for hiding even more granular data, with an unnamed federal official telling The New York Times the agency feared the data "might be misinterpreted as the vaccines being ineffective."

AB 2098 is primarily concerned with statements about the "safety and efficacy" of COVID vaccines, but is written so vaguely it could ban dissemination of ongoing scientific research.

The South African doctor who discovered Omicron in November, Angelique Coetzee, said she faced physically debilitating international pressure to characterize the milder variant as more severe than the country's physicians were observing.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla admitted in January its two-dose vaccine had hit a brick wall with Omicron, with "very limited protection if any," while its booster only provided "reasonable protection" against hospitalization and death.

The California bill specifies "unprofessional conduct" as promoting false or misleading information about "the nature and risks" of the novel coronavirus, its prevention and treatment, as well as the "development, safety, and efficacy" of the vaccines. 

Medical boards shall consider four factors, but the bill text doesn't say all must be confirmed. They will examine whether the doctor "deviated from the applicable standard of care" and "intended to mislead or acted with malicious intent."

Then they will judge whether the result was "an individual declining opportunities for COVID-19 prevention or treatment that was not justified by the individual's medical history or condition" and whether the purported disinformation "was contradicted by contemporary scientific consensus to an extent where its dissemination constitutes gross negligence by the licensee."

Physicians told The Epoch Times the potential law threatens to chill ongoing scientific debate. 

Newport Beach's Jeff Barke has long challenged the state's supposed evidence for mask and vaccine mandates and argued against school closures but not the vaccines themselves. The "consensus" requirement violates the scientific process, which is "about sharing and debating ideas,” Barke said. 

Los Angeles psychiatrist Mark McDonald, who claims most of what he's written about COVID online has been flagged as misinformation or removed, told the publication he would sue the state if it tried to sanction him for his views. 

"I think when you stand up and you don't give an inch, in most cases, the bullies are actually cowards, and they will collapse," he said.

Assemblyman Low's office didn't respond to Just the News questions about whether the bill could punish physicians who are ahead of the curve on debatable issues such as the lab-leak hypothesis, efficacy of cloth masks and post-vaccination heart inflammation.