Meeting in person with unvaccinated individuals is a risk some providers are no longer willing to take. As the delta variant continues to thwart the country’s attempts to bring the pandemic to an end, some providers will no longer treat unvaccinated individuals in person. They say it can put their health at risk when the country needs all hands on deck.
Turning Away the Unvaccinated
Linda Marraccini, a family medicine doctor in South Miami, made headlines this month when she sent a letter to the community saying she will no longer see unvaccinated patients in person now that the Pfizer vaccine has received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
“This is a public health emergency — the health of the public takes priority over the rights of any given individual in this situation,” the letter reads. “It appears that there is a lack of selflessness and concern for the burden on the health and well-being of our society from our encounters.”
Florida remains one of the epicenters of the virus here in the U.S. It has the second-highest 7-day average infection rate of any state in the country. It also has the second-highest number of people hospitalized for COVID-19.
Marraccini’s policy will go into effect on Sept 15. However, she says she will still see unvaccinated patients via telehealth to help them with their prescriptions as well as those who haven’t received the vaccine due to personal hardships.
“We will no longer subject our patients and staff to unnecessary risk,” Marraccini said.
She adds that she will still work with those that have a legitimate medical reason for not getting vaccinated, but she notes that these cases are virtually nonexistent, according to medical experts.
Marraccini says she’s received some negative backlash since announcing the policy, including from those who accuse her of violating the Hippocratic oath, which states that healthcare providers should treat any ill patient to the best of one’s ability.
She rejects that narrative outright by arguing that immunocompromised individuals and those undergoing chemotherapy are more at risk of serious illness if they get COVID-19, which is why they need to be protected from the spread of the virus.
According to the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, the modern Hippocratic oath reads:
“I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure…I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body, as well as the infirm.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed a law that bans businesses from requiring proof of vaccination, but it’s not clear if that applies to Marraccini’s new policy.
The physician has expressed her frustration with the governor in the past. In August, she signed an open letter to DeSantis along with 144 other doctors and physicians imploring him to advocate for the use of masks and vaccines in schools.
“As the virus burns through Florida, health care providers feel we are fighting this fire without any leadership from Gov. Ron DeSantis,” the letter says. “What’s heartbreaking and infuriating for us as doctors is watching children needlessly suffer while Gov. DeSantis rejects simple protections such as masks and vaccinations.”
The Decision to Deny Care
Marraccini isn’t the first provider to announce such a policy. Dr. Jason Valentine of Diagnostic and Medical Clinic Infirmary Health in Mobile, AL started the trend when he posted on Facebook that his clinic will no longer see unvaccinated individuals starting October 1, but the post has since been deleted.
When several people commented asking him to explain his decision, Valentine wrote, “If they asked why, I told them COVID is a miserable way to die, and I can’t watch them die like that.”
“We do not yet have any great treatments for severe disease, but we do have great prevention with vaccines. Unfortunately, many have declined to take the vaccine, and some end up severely ill or dead. I cannot and will not force anyone to take the vaccine, but I also cannot continue to watch my patients suffer and die from an eminently preventable disease,” the post read.
“Therefore, as of October 1st, 2021, I will no longer see patients that have not been vaccinated against COVID-19. If you wish to keep me as your physician, documentation of your vaccination will suffice. If you wish to choose another physician, we will be happy to transfer your records.”
Experts say providers can’t deny care to unvaccinated individuals to encourage vaccination, as this erodes trust in the profession.
Not everyone agrees that providers should be able to dismiss unvaccinated patients.
In a recent op-ed for The Washington Post, Daniel Wikler, PhD, professor of ethics and population health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, wrote that culpability, blame, sin, cluelessness, ignorance, and other personal failings should not be factors in the evaluation of patients for healthcare.
“Doctors and hospitals are not in the blame and punishment business. Nor should they be,” he argued. “That doctors treat sinners and responsible citizens alike is a noble tradition, an ethical feature and not a bug. And we shouldn’t abandon it now.”
However, providers like Marraccini say they can no longer care for unvaccinated patients in a safe environment.
“I feel if I can’t have a good doctor-patient relationship, I’m not going to be comfortable taking care of those patients, and they should find someone who’s a better fit for them,” she said.