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Rep. Ragan responds after state medical board deletes policy restricting doctors from sharing COVID-19 misinformation

Representative John Ragan (R - Oak Ridge) said that he sent repeated letters to the board to remove the policy, saying it was illegal.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners deleted a policy it passed in September that restricted doctors from sharing misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines. Doctors that shared misinformation about the vaccines could be at risk of losing their medical licenses.

The decision came out Representative John Ragan (R - Oak Ridge) sent at least three letters pressuring the board to delete the policy. According to reports, he also said he would dissolve the board in discussions with the Tennessee Department of Health.

The board's original policy said that since licensed physicians "posses a high degree of public trust and therefore have a powerful platform in society," they also have an ethical and professional responsibility to share factual information about medicine.

The policy said that sharing COVID-19 vaccine misinformation contradicted that responsibility, and threatened to cause patients to distrust medical professionals. So, doctors could face disciplinary actions including losing their medical licenses.

Ragan said that it was illegal for the board to adopt the policy and said that it was his duty as the chair of the Government Operations Committee to ask them to fix it. He also said it was within the General Assembly's power to dissolve the board if it was found to have irresponsible, abusive, ineffective or inefficient.

"The Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners is a legal creation of the General Assembly," he said in a statement. "As such, like all similarly created executive agencies and boards, it is rightly subject to oversight by the General Assembly.  The General Assembly exercises this oversight through Government Operations Committees jointly and separately in each chamber."

Ragan went on to say that the board must create rules when enacting disciplinary requirements, instead of policies. These are vetted by the Tennessee Attorney General, while police are not. He said the misinformation policy should have also been filed with the Tennessee Secretary of State to allow for public comment before being approved by the Joint Government Operations Committee.

He also said that the board did not formally define the terms "misinformation and disinformation." So, he said it would not establish legal standards physicians could use to defend themselves if facing disciplinary actions.

"I was attempting to carry out my oversight duty to ensure that an executive board remained within legal constraints established for it by the General Assembly," Ragan said.

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