State Watch

Tennessee medical board removes virus misinformation policy from website amid GOP pressure

A Tennessee medical board voted to delete — but not rescind — a COVID-19 vaccine misinformation policy from its website after a state Health Department attorney said a Republican lawmaker could make moves toward dissolving their board, The Tennessean reported.

The news outlet, which obtained a letter sent from Tennessee Department of Health lawyer Jennifer Putnam to the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners, reported that in Putnam’s letter, she said that state Rep. John Ragan (R) had indicated he was not pleased with their COVID-19 vaccine misinformation policy.

“Chairman Ragan also made clear he has no qualms above moving forward with dissolving the BME and reconstituting it with new members,” Putnam said in her letter to the board, according to The Tennessean. “He has in fact done this with another state agency, so it is not a hollow threat.”

The misinformation policy, adopted in September, allows for physicians’ medical licenses to be either suspended or revoked if they spread information shown to be false about the COVID-19 vaccine. The board voted 7-3 to delete the policy from its website but not to have it rescinded.

A spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Health indicated in a statement to The Hill that the policy conflicted with a rule passed during a special session in the General Assembly. 
The rule, which was signed last month by the governor, states that lawmakers must first approve of similar policies before medical boards adopt them, according to Tennessee Lookout. 
“Due to the new statute the General Assembly passed during the special session, the TN Board of Medical Examiners voted to remove the policy from the website. The board did not move to rescind the policy,” Bill Christian, a spokesperson for the health department, said in a statement.

Ragan said that he remembered having a conversation with officials from the health department regarding the possibility of doing so but not specifically of a threat, according to The Tennessean.

He noted that most lawmakers would still need to approve a dissolution of the board and said that Joint Government Operations Committee, of which he is a co-chair, could only recommend such a move.

“I’m flattered that you and they think I have that much power. I can’t do that by myself,” Ragan said Tuesday ahead of the board’s vote, according to the newspaper  “However, it is within the authority of the General Assembly, acting through the government operations committee, to dissolve them if we so desire.”

This story was updated at 6:30 p.m.

Tags COVID-19 misinformation Tennessee Vaccine

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