California bills target COVID-19 vaccine misinformation

California lawmakers are targeting doctors and websites that promote COVID-19 misinformation in the latest batch of bills introduced by a group of Democrats pushing for tougher vaccine laws in the state.

Assembly Bill 2098 by Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell) would allow the Medical Council of California to more easily discipline doctors who promote misinformation about COVID-19 by classifying it as conduct unprofessional. Low said the bill will make it clear lawmakers want the state’s ailing medical commission to prosecute doctors who peddle inaccurate information about the coronavirus.

Lawmakers have expressed frustration with the slow medical commission complaint process, which has allowed a handful of state doctors to promote conspiracy theories and unproven treatments throughout the pandemic.

“Spreading false information – inaccurate information about COVID-19 – contradicts accountability [of doctors] and threatens to further erode public trust in the medical profession and puts all patients at risk,” Low said Tuesday.

Nick Sawyer, an emergency doctor who started a group called No License for Disinformation, said the bill would affect a small group of doctors who spread blatantly inaccurate and extreme information that a doctor knows to be false or that they should knowing how to be false. given their medical training. Sawyer said he believes the state medical board now has the authority to prosecute these doctors, but the bill was needed because the agency was slow to respond.

“This is not a call for free speech surveillance,” Sawyer said. “This is a call for the public to be protected from dangerous misinformation, which patients tell us every day in our emergency departments.”

The California Medical Assn., a lobby group representing doctors, did not take a position on the bill, but has previously supported legislation cracking down on doctors who undermine vaccine laws.

“Healthcare professionals are working around the clock to end the deadly pandemic, and misinformation has only prolonged it, making the work of our frontline healthcare workers more difficult and dangerous while harming our lives. community health,” Dr. Robert E. Wailes, president of the association, said in a statement Tuesday.

Senate Bill 1018 by Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) would require online platforms such as Facebook to publicly disclose how their algorithms work and share data for research purposes to better understand the spread of the virus. disinformation. The bill is inspired by federal legislation that would require social media platforms to publicly disclose their corporate policies, key metrics and data to combat hate, misinformation, extremism, harassment and bullying. foreign interference online.

“Ideally, we would have a national solution to this problem. However, we cannot wait,” Pan said. “Transparency allows the public to make informed decisions, and lawmakers and researchers need the information necessary for us to hold online platforms accountable and also set standards.”

Nathaniel Persily, director of Stanford University’s Cyber ​​Policy Center, said Pan’s bill would help balance the “information ecosystem” currently controlled by a handful of companies.

“The bottom line here is that we can’t live in a world where Facebook and Google know everything about us and we don’t know anything about them,” Persily said. “These big information monopolies have really lost the right to secrecy.”

Both bills were introduced on Monday, but many details outlining how they would regulate online platforms and strengthen disciplinary action against doctors who spread misinformation are yet to be defined in the legislation.

The bills were introduced as part of a broader effort by a group of Democratic lawmakers who have worked this year to strengthen immunization laws. The legislation has sparked a contentious debate about how far the state should go to push unvaccinated residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The 1993 Assembly Bill by Assemblyman Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) would require employees and independent contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment, unless they do not have an exemption based on a medical condition, disability or religious beliefs.

Assemblyman Akilah Weber (D-San Diego)’s 1797 Assembly Bill would make it easier for California school officials to verify student immunization records by expanding access to a database of statewide vaccination. Senate Bill 866 by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) would allow children 12 and older to be vaccinated without parental consent. And Pan’s Senate Bill 871 would require the COVID-19 vaccine for all school children in the state.

Bernard P. Love