21 Jun 2021

Doctors spreading misinformation about Covid-19 may lose their job - Medical Council

8:48 am on 21 June 2021

The Medical Council is warning doctors spreading misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic and the vaccination rollout that it could cost them their jobs.

Topic picture - vaccination with the Comirnaty mRNA vaccine from BionTech Pfizer. Vaccine doses with vaccine for injection with a cannula. Close up.

File photo. Photo: AFP

Medical Council chair Dr Curtis Walker said a small number of doctors were peddling conspiracies.

"It's questioning the severity of Covid, it's questioning the safety of vaccination, it's questioning whether the whole thing is a conspiracy theory.

"You know you name it, this is what's been put out there."

The council has received 13 complaints about medical staff from the public this year - although that included instances of multiple complaints about the same doctor.

It comes after it was reported last month that dozens of heath professions, including GPs, signed an open letter opposing the Pfizer vaccine.

Chairperson of the Combined Medical Staff Executive group, Curtis Walker.

Medical Council chair Dr Curtis Walker says any doctors found to be spreading misinformation about the Covid-19 vaccine could potentially lose their job. Photo: RNZ / Karen Brown

Dr Walker said an independent body was investigating to decide if charges should be laid with the Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal.

Doctors have a professional duty to provide advice based on evidence, he said.

"There's a mountain of evidence out there of how effective and safe the Covid vaccine is.

"And we've already seen the alternative of unvaccinated populations where millions have died."

Walker said doctors were particularly respected members of the community and their opinions about health carried extra weight.

Any found spreading misinformation could potentially lose their jobs and the right to practice medicine.

Royal College of General Practitioners president Dr Samantha Murton said while people could choose not to get vaccinated there were serious consequences if the virus breached the borders.

"If those vulnerable people are being given misinformation, they may choose to do something that's really detrimental to their health.

"What worries me the most is the poorer people, the people who are at higher risk. If they're getting this ... misinformation then it's potentially putting their lives in jeopardy."

Kate Hannah, who researches misinformation at the University of Auckland, said anyone could be sucked in - including highly educated people such as doctors.

Most misinformation originated overseas - with people here adapting it to target particular demographics, she said.

"And in doing so it targets people's lived experiences of things like racism in the health system or racism more broadly, or say women's experiences of the health system where they may have experiences of previously not being listened to."

Ways to spot misinformation included if someone was trying to sell you something; was asking for donations; or the information was presented to elicit an emotional reaction.

"If it's written in a way that makes you feel upset or scared, or nervous or fearful, you know that's not normally how we convey good quality public health information.

"Good quality public health information should provide you with information and make you feel reassured and calm and like you can make good decisions."

Other red flags included asking for personal information or to sign up to receive regular updates - ways to separate you from your current community or sources of information, Hannah said.

Covid conspiracies could act as as a gateway, exposing people to online communities espousing far right ideology, misogyny, racism and transphobia, she said.

People with concerns about their doctor can contact the Medical Council; and general Covid-19 misinformation or scams can be reported to CERT NZ's website.

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