Ever wonder why many doctors are so adamant about their patients getting the COVID vaccine? They have likely been offered financial incentives, demonstrating the erosion of ethical principles in medical care.
A recent op-ed from John Leak and Peter McCullough, MD, raises a disturbing issue: doctors around the country were offered financial incentives for vaccinating their patients against COVID-19. We expect our medical providers to advise us on the best treatments to preserve and optimize our health—not the treatments that will make them the most money. Examples like this reveal the deep cracks in our medical ethics exposed during the pandemic but which stretch back many years. Fixing some of our most pressing healthcare crises means addressing these shortcomings with a new ethical framework—something our colleagues at ANH-International are working on right now.
There is tremendous social pressure to get the COVID vaccine, especially from doctors. The op-ed puts it this way:
In my extended social circle, I heard many reports of doctors being downright pushy about [getting vaccinated against COVID-19]—as though getting the COVID-19 vaccine was the single most pressing matter of medicine and health. Even patients who’d recently recovered from COVID-19 were urged by their doctors to get the shots, as were patients who had bad reactions to the first injection.
The op-ed offers a potential explanation for this zeal on the part of doctors to vaccinate their patients: financial incentives by insurance companies based on the percentage of their patients who were vaccinated. The authors point to a document circulated to doctors in Kentucky from Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Medicaid:
The more Anthem members who were vaccinated, the more money doctors could make. This incentivization is likely common practice across the country.
Maybe doctors were pushing COVID vaccines because they stood to benefit financially from vaccinating as many patients as possible; maybe they bought into the prevailing narrative from the CDC and other public health authorities that vaccination was in every patient’s best interest anyway. What is evident in either case is the erosion of ethical principles in medical practice.
We put an enormous amount of trust in our doctors to safeguard our health and to look out for our best interests. Yet during the pandemic, the principle of informed consent—a fundamental principle in both ethics and law—was effectively shoved aside in the drive to vaccinate the entire country. Informed consent is not simply a formality, carried out verbally or as a paper exercise. It requires that the patient understands fully the procedure and risks involved, communicated in a language that is understood. Given the climate of coercion and censorship that prevailed during the pandemic—not to mention the financial incentivization mentioned above—it’s hard to make the case that the standards of informed consent were credibly met.
The overarching message from the medical establishment was, “These shots are safe, so stop spreading misinformation about how dangerous they are and give us your arm!” But of course, we know that the shots are not without risk. Unfortunately, medical authorities often seem to shrug off this data as medical “misinformation,” a narrative that was faithfully repeated by the mainstream media. Try, for example, searching for articles on “COVID vaccine injuries” in the New York Times. Most results treat information on COVID vaccine dangers as conspiracies that must be debunked.
The point is this: it’s difficult, if not impossible, for patients to fully understand all the implications of a medical procedure when “trusted” authorities aren’t providing all the relevant information about risks and benefits. Doctors need to help guide us through these complicated decisions based on our individual situation and biology, not railroad us into a one-size-fits-all paradigm that happens to benefit them financially.
This isn’t just about vaccines. We’ve known for a long time that doctors prescribe more of a certain drug if they receive money from the pharmaceutical company that makes it. Every year, in fact, half of US doctors accept money or gifts from drug and device companies, totaling $2 billion. As reported by STAT News, this is an industry-wide problem:
Industry money affects how doctors prescribe cholesterol medications. It affects drugs for Alzheimer’s disease, for multiple sclerosis, and for blood thinners. It even affects which drugs are used to treat cancer. Perhaps most worrisome, it increases how many opioids doctors prescribe.
This creates obvious conflicts of interest. It also harms patient health. Industry influence leads doctors to prescribe expensive drugs with little efficacy and to privilege brand-name drugs over cheaper generics. Like the vaccine example referenced above, this points to a deterioration in the doctor-patient relationship where informed consent (about alternative prescription options, for example) is supplanted by other interests.
We need to completely rethink what is means to behave ethically in medical contexts. As a country, we have never been sicker from preventable chronic diseases. What we’re doing isn’t working. It’s time for an unearthing of ethics and a reigniting of the moral compass that resides within each one of us, one that can act as a guidance system towards a brighter, more enlightened, and more natural future. Stay tuned for more on this critical issue in the coming weeks.