Mississippi physicians form 'medical freedom' group, fueling COVID-19 misinformation online

A group of physicians from Mississippi formed an anti-vaccine-mandate group that shares misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a Sept. 20 report by ABC 11.

John Witcher, MD, started the group Mississippi Against Mandates. The website boasts at least seven affiliated physicians. Its Facebook page showcases conspiracy theories, such as a link to a video indicating the vaccine is connected to government cover-ups. The website also advertises planned protests at hospitals in Mississippi.

A billboard posted by the group said: "Stand up for medical freedom. Follow Dr. John Witcher MD on Telegram." Dr. Witcher believes his billboard, which shows him wearing a white medical coat, prompted the board of medical licensure to adopt a "Medical Misinformation or Disinformation" policy that states physicians who spread COVID-19 misinformation are at risk of losing their license.

Mississippi's medical board said physicians have the right to share their beliefs, but if they are using social media to share them, they need to separate their professional opinions and beliefs. If the physicians are putting out the beliefs and using their white coats as legitimacy, then the board may intervene, according to the report.

Board Executive Director Kenneth Cleveland, MD, said sharing unpopular opinions is acceptable, but sharing a statement like "nobody should ever take the vaccine" is not acceptable. 

For an investigation to start, someone would need to file a complaint against the physician. Dr. Witcher has had a complaint filed against him.

"I was approached by an investigator," Dr. Witcher said. "And he said that 'I just want to let you know that they have an open investigation' on me."

Secretary of State Michael Watson sent a letter to the board questioning why the board needed a formal complaint to launch an investigation. The board's executive director and Mr. Watson have a meeting scheduled, according to the report.

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