MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

RNZ reported that New Zealand doctors spreading misinformation about Covid-19 may lose their job. 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.

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.

NZ 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.

__________________________

Willful misinformation about a serious health matter amounts to a violation of medical ethics. It, therefore, stands to reason that healthcare professionals who engage in such activities should be reprimanded. If that is so, it applies not just to COVID-19 but to any medical misinformation. Moreover, I should not just apply to doctors, but to all healthcare professionals.

If we do this systematically, it would mean that also providers of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) might get struck off their professional register, if they make unsubstantiated claims in cases of serious illnesses.

Not realistic, you say?

Why not? After all, medical ethics cannot be bent to protect the interests of SCAM professionals.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

28 Responses to New Zealand doctors spreading misinformation about Covid-19 may lose their job

  • While here in the UK the regulator of doctors is happy for them to promote quackery: https://majikthyse.wordpress.com/2020/07/13/official-support-for-homeopathy-persists/

  • I think it is willfull misinformation for Fauci to say ” We should vaccinate any person at any age”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w11C2yzyT0o

    He ignores the effect of natural immunity and the low risk of death among children and those under 65. No mention of sharing the vaccine with those who need it the most ie.. India where 6000 + people are dying of covid a day.

    • @christopher h gunson

      I think it is willfull misinformation for Fauci to say ” We should vaccinate any person at any age”

      I rather think that you are misinformed.

      He ignores the effect of natural immunity ..

      Fauci has extensive medical education, is specialized in immunology, and as such has a sterling career spanning 50 years, serving as one of the most prominent public health experts under no less than 7 presidents, receiving numerous honours and awards during this time.
      Yet here you are, claiming that this man somehow has no grasp of ‘natural immunity’? Do you have any idea how ignorant as well as arrogant this sounds?
      It really is quite simple: there is no such thing as pre-existing ‘natural immunity’ against Covid-19 or any other novel disease. ANYONE can contract a new disease such as this, and only those who have lived through the infection may develop natural immunity as a result. And ANYONE can pass on the disease, including children. The best way to prevent the disease from spreading is to vaccinate as many people as possible, just like Fauci advises.

      the low risk of death among children and those under 65

      This is dangerous nonsense. First of all, Covid-19 still kills on average 0.5% of all infected in the 45-65 age group, which is most definitely NOT ‘low risk’. Second, even younger people still do not fully recover from Covid-19, but suffer from ‘long covid’, often with debilitating consequences. This may affect as many as 10% of all people who survived Covid-19. And third, children can and do spread the disease to older people, e.g. grandparents – and the risk of this is still relatively high because most Covid-19 infections in children are asymptomatic. Just to emphasize it once again: children do NOT have ‘natural immunity’ against Covid-19. They WILL get infected and they WILL spread the disease – it’s just that as a rule, they won’t get very sick themselves.
      (In fact, this is similar to the insidious way that polio spread in the 1950s: most infections went unnoticed, simply because 90% of infected people had no symptoms at all, and another 9% thought they had a simple cold.)

      Summarized: if large swaths of the US population remain unvaccinated against Covid-19, people will continue to get infected, with all possible consequences mentioned, including death and chronic sequelae. Arguing against vaccination is therefore plain stupid.

      About India: yes, they should receive lots of vaccines as well. Just like all other less developed countries. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have to vaccinate as many people as possible.

      • “there is no such thing as pre-existing ‘natural immunity’ against Covid-19 or any other novel disease. ANYONE can contract a new disease such as this, and only those who have lived through the infection ”

        Those that survive the virus aquire natural immunity which has been shown to be similar to the immunity acquired through vaccination

        • Those that survive the virus aquire natural immunity which has been shown to be similar to the immunity acquired through vaccination

          I was not aware that the immunity following a Covid 19 infection was similar to that acquired through vaccination. I was under the impression that, by and large, the immunity acquired through vaccination was better. However, as far as I know there hasn’t really been a direct comparison. For instance, it isn’t known whether the duration of immunity is similar following infection or vaccination (or indeed what the duration is in either case).

          If you have information to the contrary I would be interested if you could provide references to the original research papers.

        • Those that survive the virus acquire natural immunity

          Yes, with ‘survive’ being the operative word here.

          Over the whole population, up to 1 in every 100 people infected do NOT survive to acquire natural immunity, and even up to 10 times that number (i.e. 1 in every 10 people infected) struggle with long-term after-effects of the Covid-19 infection, some possibly for the rest of their life. And yes, this happens to quite young people too.

          Vaccination, OTOH, causes death or disability in less than 1 in every 1 million cases.

          So I’d say the choice between vaccination and acquiring natural immunity is an absolute no-brainer …

      • Richard,

        It really is quite simple: there is no such thing as pre-existing ‘natural immunity’ against Covid-19 or any other novel disease.

        That isn’t quite true. For most infections the degree of susceptibility varies between individuals, presumably as a result of their genetic make-up. There have been a handful of individuals identified, for instance, who appear to have a natural immunity against HIV. Another example is norovirus, which causes a very contagious infection characterised by vomiting, and is so infectious that the vomit from one person contains enough viruses to infect the entire country. It is notorious for causing outbreaks on cruise ships and in hospitals. However, approximately one in four people are missing the glycoprotein on their cells which the virus uses to gain access, and are therefore naturally resistent to it.

        One of the ways in which diseases such as measles have lost their initial virulence is by killing nearly everybody who was highly susceptible to them. We are the descendents of the survivors (though measles still causes a nasty infection and is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths worldwide each year).

        I would be surprised if there weren’t individuals who are genetically incapable of catching SARS-CoV-2, and it is certainly true that, for reasons that have not yet been identified, quite a lot of people who do catch it don’t develop Covid.

        The arguments for and against vaccinating children against the coronavirus are somewhat nuanced. There is clearly a small risk to the child from being vaccinated, and has to be balanced against the small risk of serious illness from the infection itself. However, although the main benefit from vaccinating children comes from reducing spread of the infection in the community in general, there is an indirect benefit to the child from reducing the risk that they may lose their carer or beloved grandparent, and a more widespread benefit since the sooner the pandemic is brought under control the less additional disruption they will have to their education.

        • You are of course correct that things are rather more nuanced, and that some individuals indeed appear innately immune to a particular pathogen. Still, it is to my knowledge impossible to tell beforehand if and to what extent any individual is susceptible to a particular disease. Which de facto makes it difficult (and quite often unwise) to rely on any pre-existing natural immunity.

          However, my reply mostly lacked nuance because of annoyance on my behalf. ‘Natural immunity’ is one of the more popular tropes among antivaccine people, who suggest that this form of immunity is at least as good as vaccine-derived immunity, often accompanied by fearmongering about the risks of vaccination. Which of course is quite untrue.

          But your heads-up is quite appreciated in any case. I shall try to keep from letting negative emotions interfere with the accuracy of what I say, and don’t hesitate to correct me again if needed – I can only learn from it 🙂

          • Richard,

            The term “natural immunity” is frequently used by people who don’t understand immunology, and by people who deploy wilful obscurantism.

            The following article describes four useful terms:
            • natural active immunity
            • natural passive immunity
            • artificial active immunity [vaccination]
            • artificial passive immunity

            A-level Biology/Human Health and Disease/immunity
            https://en.m.wikibooks.org/wiki/A-level_Biology/Human_Health_and_Disease/immunity

          • Richard,

            But your heads-up is quite appreciated in any case. I shall try to keep from letting negative emotions interfere with the accuracy of what I say, and don’t hesitate to correct me again if needed – I can only learn from it

            I have a lot of respect for your sensible and informed comments on this blog, and I am glad that you took my own comments in the spirit in which they were intended, essentially enlarging on what you were saying, rather than correcting it.

            I have just been reading Nobel prizewinner Daniel Kahneman’s new book, “Noise”, about why we make bad decisions and how to improve them. Although he was mostly talking about institutions and systems rather than individuals, he did talk about some individuals being unusually good decision makers, and how to identify them. People who disagree with statements such as “Changing your mind is a sign of weakness” for instance. I am sure that he would agree that Fauci is a good decision maker. Kahneman’s earlier book, “Thinking Fast and Slow”, shoud be on everybody’s reading list.

          • @Dr Julian Money-Kyrle
            Thank you for your kind words and your (as always) knowledgeable comments. I try to learn from every exchange here (and on other blogs such as SBM) – also in discussions with pundits and trolls, discussions that often prove to be an exercise in nuance, restraint and patience. The interesting thing about the latter is that it shows how easy one can slip from thoughtful, well-reasoned comments into just blurting out things in order to prove the other party wrong, as soon as emotions such as annoyance or disdain crop up.
            Your reference to Kahnemann’s Thinking, Fast and Slow (a copy is sitting on the shelf right here(*)) is also quite appropriate: It takes effort to stick to reason and not to let system 1 thinking take over, descending into the mud hole of impulsive (and often personal and offensive etc.) comments when the other party is being provocative.
            There’s this humorous saying neatly describing this phenomenon: “Never enter into a discussion with a fool – he will drag you down to his level, then beat you with experience”.

            I also think that conspiracy believers, antivaccine people and spreaders of misinformation etc. may be stuck in their system 1 thinking, where their false sense of “Being Right” (together with other emotions) continuously overwhelms their rational, nuanced critical thinking skills – the latter only being used to seek affirmation of their preconceived notions. On the rare occasions where they were willing to entertain the notion that they might be Wrong, they turned out to be quite reasonable and even nice people after all.

            *: I shall definitely get a copy of Noise as well.

  • Fauci is providing misinformation when he says he wants to “Vaccinate any person at any age”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w11C2yzyT0o

    He does not comment on natural immunity , the low , low mortality among infants, children , and young people.

    Nor does he offer to supply places most in need of vaccine like India where 6000 people a day are dying from covid with product.

  • Rand Paul had a good take on misinformation leading to vaccine hesitancy:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PwxIPb6HlcQ

    • Rand Paul is one of those people who should be banned from spreading lies and misinformation about Covid-19 (and perhaps even from practising medicine). His medical education is in ophthalmology, and, as it turns out, he is utterly clueless about infectious disease: after developing Covid symptoms, he had himself tested – but while awaiting his (ultimately positive) test results, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rand_Paul#2020_COVID-19_diagnosis"he still attended social meetings, risking infecting dozens of other people.

      • What does anyones credentials have to do with them talking sense?

        • What does anyones credentials have to do with them talking sense?

          Um, a lot? At least when it comes to medical advice. Or is this a trick question?

          When it comes to infectious diseases and how to handle them, Anthony Fauci has vastly superior credentials, knowledge and experience over Paul Rand. Fauci is one of the most cited medical scientists in history, whereas to my knowledge, Rand Paul doesn’t even has one paper to his name. So why would anyone prefer Paul’s rather contentious utterances over what Fauci has to say about these subjects?

          • @Richard Rasker

            The Fouch was appointed to his position, not elected as Rand Paul. That doesn’t promise much of anything. However, Dr. Fauci has been wrong about much, and flop-flopped on his positions since the onset of the pandemic.

            Why should we listen to the Fauch above anyone else ? …. not the least a US Senator that can see through the pandemic BS.

          • @Listener

            Anthony Fauci was appointed to his position, not elected as Rand Paul. That doesn’t promise much of anything.

            Indeed, it does not promise much of anything, and we have all seen what can happen through this popularity contest called ‘elections’.
            In 2016, Americans voted for the most horribly incompetent person thinkable as their president, and this narcissistic psychopath then also proceeded to replace often quite competent public servants with people based on their unquestioning allegiance to himself, regardless if they were utterly clueless about their newly allocated positions. Virtually the only one who escaped this onslaught of cronyism was Anthony Fauci, because he was the only one who managed to deal with his president’s idiocy by doing his job in the best manner possible, and never, ever antagonizing his boss, even when the latter said the most outrageously stupid things.

            not the least a US Senator that can see through the pandemic BS.

            So you think this Covid-19 pandemic or Fauci’s advice on how to deal with it is BS? What a reprehensible position.
            Fauci was and still is one of the most competent, intelligent and at the same time humble people in the American administration, and I think that we can all learn a lot from him. Sure, he was wrong about several aspects of Covid-19 in the beginning, but that is to be expected with a completely novel virus. To his credit, he admitted any mistakes and misconceptions, and corrected them when more information became available. This is how science works.

  • A related issue. In Germany, there are now first consequences for hospital employees if they do not get vaccinated against Corona.

    According to the works council, the hospital has already informed the works council to terminate three employees during their probationary period because they do not want to be vaccinated. The positions were actually open-ended. The reason given in the letter was that the application for termination during the probationary period would only be withdrawn if the vaccination deadline was met.

    […]

    In addition, according to the works council, unvaccinated employees will no longer be given management tasks in the future and would thus have to forego a better salary. This was confirmed by the Ludwigshafen hospital on request.

    https://www.swr.de/swraktuell/rheinland-pfalz/ludwigshafen/klinikum-ludwigshafen-will-gegen-impfverweigerer-vorgehen-100.html

  • AMA Debates Value of Natural Immunity to COVID

    https://www.medpagetoday.com/meetingcoverage/ama/93179

  • Quote from Richard Rasker on Wednesday 23 June 2021 at 14:00 above:
    ‘It really is quite simple: there is no such thing as pre-existing ‘natural immunity’ against Covid-19 or any other novel disease.’
    While the above is a logical statement, does it tell the whole story? I thought that it is our pre-existing natural ABILITY to DEVELOP immunity that saves us (by our defense forces such as T-Cells), so that whenever our bodies come into contact with any ‘novel disease’ they quickly develop effective natural immunity.

    • @Janice Gillgren
      As other already remarked, my claim was imprecise and even wrong in certain aspects. It also depends on how ‘natural immunity’ is defined.
      Many pseudoscience and antivaccine people define natural immunity as being immune to a disease without either vaccination or prior contact with the pathogen, simply by ‘living healthy’ and ‘boosting the immune system’ through good nutrition etc. – which is impossible and also undesirable (‘boosting’ your immune system would cause inflammatory and possibly even autoimmune problems).
      They are right in that not everyone is equally susceptible to a particular infectious disease, but this is almost impossible to determine in advance, especially on the individual level. Sure, a healthy lifestyle increases the chances of surviving serious infections, and some people may be less susceptible than others for genetic and other reasons, but it is foolish to claim that one has nothing to fear from an infectious disease based on this.

      The best definition of natural immunity is as you say: the programming of the immune system’s T and B memory cells which, after prior contact with a pathogen, enable an immediate response to that pathogen upon renewed contact. Which inevitably means that one has to let the infection run its course initially, with all the risks involved. The only way to avoid the risks of the actual disease is to get vaccinated.

      • I have not previously seen that ‘‘boosting’ your immune system would cause inflammatory and possibly even autoimmune problems”. Can you please explain this?

        • Janice,

          There isn’t a quick or simple explanation. The immune system is extraordinarily complex, possibly even more so than the brain, with different components for dealing with different kinds of infection, some innate and others specific (i.e. requiring exposure to the infection in question) and with thousands of different chemical messengers each involved in a different feedback pathway. An important function of the immune system is recognising what is part of the body and what is not. It is involved in many, many processes quite apart from infectious disease, one example being conception and pregnancy.

          If “boosting the immune system” meant anything at all (it doesn’t) it woiuld be highly dangerous. Think about boosting the brain – sounds like a good idea, until you realise that increased nerve cell activity is what happens during an epileptic fit. Indeed, an overreaction of the immune system is essentially the mechanism of death in most Covid fatalities, which is why dexamethasone, a powerful immunosuppressant drug, can save lives if given at the correct time in the infection (if given inappropriately it makes the infection worse).

          If you are interested in finding out more about the immune system you could read “The Beautiful Cure – Harnessing your Body’s Natural Defences” by Daniel Davies, an immunologist at (I think) Imperial College. It is written for laymen, though it is probably helpful to have some understanding of biology, and is both informative and fascinating, though it is far to big a subject to cover in a single book.

        • @Janice Gillgren
          [First a disclaimer: I am not an immunologist or even a medical professional, and the following information is what I learned from researching both good and bad information about supplements, vaccines and related subjects. Any corrections, comments or other pertinent information are quite welcome.]

          In most people, the immune system is already working at its optimal level: it shows a well-measured response to pathogens and foreign proteins when these enter the body in sufficient amounts, but nothing more.
          When the immune system responds too quickly or too vigorously to external triggers, you get conditions ranging from hay fever and mild allergies to more serious conditions such as asthma. In unlucky cases, the immune system can mistake proteins in the body for pathogens and attack these proteins, leading to autoimmune diseases. An extreme immune response is also believed to be the cause of severe Covid-19 cases (and deaths) – and of the huge death toll among young people during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918.

          So no, you really don’t want to ‘boost’ your immune system in any general way. Luckily, all those herbs, supplements and other products that claim to have this effect are bogus, and usually don’t do anything at all. The fact that they don’t work as claimed also becomes clear when you look at immunocompromised people such as HIV patients: if it was possible to boost the immune system, these people would benefit greatly from these products – but alas for them, they don’t work.

          I know of only one way to deliberately boost the immune system, and that is vaccination – and this happens in a very targeted way, teaching the immune system to respond to one particular pathogen or part thereof. And even then, any severe side effects of vaccination are almost always related to overreaction of the immune system.

          It is possible to weaken the immune system through e.g. malnutrition, but that doesn’t happen very easily either. There are also several types of drugs that moderate the immune response, e.g. anti-inflammatory drugs and the likes. These are generally used in cases of autoimmune disease such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, to reduce the symptoms. One of these drugs (dexamethasone) is also used to suppress immune overreaction in severe Covid-19 cases, significantly reducing the death rate.

          Summarized: apart from vaccination, there is nothing we can do to ‘boost’ the immune system, and that is generally a good thing – as in most people, the immune system is in optimal working condition already.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Recent Comments

Note that comments can be edited for up to five minutes after they are first submitted but you must tick the box: “Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.”

The most recent comments from all posts can be seen here.

Archives
Categories