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New California Bill to Criminalize Doctors’ Free Speech

At the beginning of October, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill to “designate the dissemination of misinformation or disinformation related to the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, or “COVID-19,” as unprofessional conduct,” according to the bill’s own language. Thus, doctors in the state can now risk losing their licenses if they engage in spreading what the government deems as misinformation about the virus.

Though I’m sure there are many who cheer on this measure, the bill is incredibly problematic. This piece of legislation creates an immovable scientific dogma that cannot be questioned by physicians of good faith. Because of the ideological and profit motives that governed the US’ response to the virus, many facts were labeled (or are still being labeled) as misinformation when in fact they were true all along.

Take masks, for example. Physicians familiar with what surgical vs. higher-grade masks do were aware that loose-fitting cloth masks that were used by most people at the beginning of the viral outbreak would be ineffective at stopping viral spread. Yet suggesting that cloth masks were ineffective was considered misinformation until about a year ago. The new California law could have resulted in the loss of licenses of doctors in the state who made this claim before that time.

Now consider the role that the vaccine played in stopping the spread. In early January when the vaccines were still in the early stages, mainstream news publications like the Conversation were explaining the difference between sterilizing and nonsterilizing vaccines to the public, and saying how only a sterilizing vaccine could actually prevent someone from spreading the virus to another person. These articles compared the upcoming vaccines to existing ones from influenza, which don’t form an impenetrable barrier to infection but lessen the severity of the flu if an individual catches it.

Many physicians were aware of this difference between sterilizing and nonsterilizing vaccines and objected to claims that the new mRNA vaccines would “stop the virus in its tracks,” as former MSNBC host Rachel Maddow claimed during one of her shows. Yet at one point, claiming that one could still catch the virus after being vaccinated were considered a conspiracy. News sites spoke about the incredibly rare “breakthrough infections” that were supposedly a wildly unusual exception to the rule. Only when this narrative collapsed due to the number of people who knew others who’d been vaccinated and then infected did official health authorities change their narratives, and did YouTube change its guidelines to permit individuals to say that the vaccines do not prevent infection.

Now let’s tackle a spicy one: myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart tissue. The fact checking hounds are always baying at the gates whenever this issue is raised, and in the medical community there is a stigma against speaking of it as well. Yet an inconvenient fact from an American Heart Association article published in August demonstrates why silencing doctors who raised concerns over the connection of this ailment with the vaccine would have been a crime.

The title of the article is like the sweetest candy to salivating fact checkers. “COVID-19 infection poses higher risk for myocarditis than vaccines.” Take that, conspiracy theorists! Why can’t you just tRuSt ThE sCiEnCe?

But wait!

What is that bit of information buried deep within the AHA’s article? Let us take a look.

“Among men under 40, there were an estimated four extra cases of myocarditis associated with the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine and 14 extra cases with the first dose of the Moderna vaccine for every 1 million men vaccinated. That risk rose with the second dose for all three vaccines studied and was highest for Moderna’s, which had an additional 97 myocarditis cases per 1 million. For unvaccinated men under 40 with COVID-19, there were 16 additional myocarditis cases per million.”

The article doesn’t explain this inconvenient fact to readers very well, but the original scientific study on which the article was based spells it out clearly: “the risk of myocarditis after a second dose of mRNA-1273 was higher than the risk after infection.” This particular study found that the risk of myocarditis for women under 40 was about the same as it is after vaccination, but in the discussion part of the article the authors mentioned a study from Denmark that found an elevated risk of myocarditis for women who got the vaccine vs. who were unvaccinated and infected.

Hmmmm, shouldn’t all the fact checking articles about myocarditis include something in the title that “younger men actually have a higher risk of contracting it from the vaccine?” Do none of these people actually read beyond the headline of an article when doing their research?

One of the authors of the study, Julia Hippisley-Cox, was quoted in the AHA article as saying, “Our hope is that this data may enable a more well-informed discussion on the risk of vaccine-associated myocarditis when considered in contrast to the net benefits of COVID-19 vaccination.”

Under the new California law, raising the alarm about young men and vaccine-induced myocarditis could be considered misinformation. Doctors should be able to openly share their opinions about medical treatments and medications without fear of being censored. Despite portrayals to the contrary as of recent, science isn’t a codebook to be obeyed. Scientific progress, and medical progress, requires constant questioning. This bill not only violates doctors’ freedom of speech, but also stymies critical medical conversations that we should be having.


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