Vt. doctor: Refusing to treat unvaccinated patients is inappropriate

Published: Sep. 13, 2021 at 8:01 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 13, 2021 at 8:34 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A doctor in Florida is making headlines after saying she won’t treat patients in person who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Dr. Tim Lahey, an infectious disease expert at the UVM Medical Center, says he doesn’t believe many doctors will follow suit.

Lahey says he understands the frustration and the temptation to refuse to see patients who won’t get vaccinated, but he calls that a mistake.

“I definitely think it’s an expectation of physicians to provide outstanding care to patients, whoever they are,” Lahey said. “If someone is unvaccinated, meeting with them and educating them and partnering with them is a way to persuade them to get vaccinated. And so rejecting them would be inappropriate.”

Lahey says doctors do have the right to part ways with a patient, but that’s usually done when someone is abusive or unprofessional. And while Lahey says most physicians in the United States take some version of a Hippocratic oath, which promises care, it’s not a legally binding thing.

“The Hippocratic oath is, I think, closer to the Pledge of Allegiance than an enforceable rule,” said Lahey. “It’s a promise that physicians make to be the physicians that we need them to be and whether physicians actually follow those rules is monitored in separated ways. So, state medical societies or a supervisor at a hospital or clinic are actually the ones that hold them accountable for their behavior.”

Lahey says patients do all kinds of things, like drive too fast, and they are still treated.

And he says doctors know more now about how to prevent the spread of COVID during appointments, so there’s no reason not to treat patients.

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