By Dr. Anthony Policastro

There is a Latin phrase that goes “primum non nocere”. The English translation is “first do no harm”. This is meant to be guidance to physicians. They need to be sure that their words and actions are not producing harm to their patients.

It is an extension of the Hippocratic Oath that we all said out loud at medical school graduation. That oath is the standard for ethical behavior by physicians. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis has brought out some behaviors in physicians that are less than admirable.

Vaccines are effective. Science says that they are safe. Therefore, ethical behavior means physicians should support the vaccines. That has not always been the case.

The Federation of State Medical Boards oversees medical licensing boards in each state. On July 29,  they issued a statement. It said: “Physicians who generate and spread COVID-19 vaccine misinformation or disinformation are risking disciplinary action by state medical boards, including the suspension or revocation of their medical license. . . They also have an ethical and professional responsibility to practice medicine in the best interests of their patients and must share information that is factual, scientifically grounded and consensus-driven.”

The bottom line is that any physician who knowingly spreads false information about the benefits of the COVID vaccine is practicing unethical medicine. As such, he/she would be subject to licensure action by the state medical licensing board.

On Thursday, Sept. 9 another statement was published. It came from the American Board of Family Medicine, the American Board of Internal Medicine and the American Board of Pediatrics. These three groups represent the board certification authorities for primary care physicians in this country.

Their statement said: “We also want all physicians certified by our Boards to know that such unethical or unprofessional conduct may prompt their respective Board to take action that could put their certification at risk.”

Thus any physician who peddles false information about the effectiveness of the vaccines could potentially lose both license and board certification.

This is the same thing that happened to Dr. Wakefield when he lied about vaccines causing autism. He had created a test kit that would net him $43 million in profits if his story was true. The United Kingdom took away his medical license. He moved to the United States where he continues to tell the same lies. He also remains without any kind of medical license.

Putting the health of the public at risk goes against everything that physicians are trained to do. It is only logical that there should be consequences to lying. The words “primum non nocere” and those of the Hippocratic Oath are more than just words. They are a pledge that we will do and say whatever is scientifically proven in the best interest of our patients.

COVID update- Nationally, the number of new cases last week went from 1,140,000 to 1,048,000. In Sussex County the numbers went from 806 to 787. In both cases there was a small drop from the previous week.

It is not clear if this means that the current surge has peaked. However, the surge last winter lasted 101 days. We will reach 101 days on Sept. 30 for the current surge. Thus we will know by then if the pattern will be the same.

The one big difference is that last winter schools were virtual. We now have a large group of unvaccinated children (those under age 12) in classrooms together able to transmit the virus. This is likely to prolong the current wave.

Colorado, Massachusetts, Vermont and Maine have some of the highest vaccination rates in the country. They also have some of the lowest infection rates in the country. That is not a coincidence.

We all know how bad 2020 was in terms of COVID-19 infection. We had 19,979,169 new cases by Dec. 31. So far this year we have had more than 20,000,000 new cases. That means that in terms of total number of infections, this year is worse than last year.

I watched President Biden’s address about COVID-19 last week. The one statement I was looking for was indeed present in the speech. That was related to booster doses. The administration had made an announcement about booster doses already. The FDA had not approved them. President Biden acknowledged that booster dose recommendations would be based on the science involved. That is the correct approach.