But what if I told you that for less than $200 you might be able to buy what appears to be a signed COVID vaccine exemption note from a doctor?
Well, it’s true.
“Completely irresponsible. Completely unethical,” Bellevue-based nurse practitioner Tyler Cook tells me.
Cook has been on the front lines of the pandemic working in pulmonology. He’s also on TikTok debunking medical misinformation online. He tipped me off to a page he found, called CovidVaccineWaiver.com.
“All I could do was put my name and click a checkbox saying I have a fear of needles and then get grifted for $180 for a card and apparently a doctor’s note,” says Cook.
So that’s exactly what I did. I went to the website.
“Our waivers are reviewed and signed by a licensed M.D. and have the same validity as one given to you by your personal physician.”
And I checked out the questionnaire.
I clicked “I’m anxious about the vaccine,” paid $160, and a few days later I got an exemption card and a note on prescription pad paper signed with the name Doctor Robert Coble of Hendersonville, Tennessee.
“It’s very scary that physicians are willing to - essentially - exempt for no good medical reason, for no reason at all other than perhaps they made a buck,” says Dr. Patricia Kuszler.
Dr. Kuszler is a medical doctor, attorney, and professor for both law and medicine at the University of Washington.
“This is the sort of thing we have medical boards to look at physicians licenses for this kind of shoddy practice,” says Dr. Kuszler.
Dr. Michael Carome, director of the health research group at the non-profit watchdog group Public Citizen, agrees.
“I think the goal of the prescription paper is to make it look official,” says Dr. Carome. “And make it look like the person presenting that slip of paper actually saw that doctor. And had an informed discussion about whether there was a need to avoid the vaccination. And no such action took place.”
We have questions for the doctor.
We checked the address on the prescription note and it’s not to an office, but rather a mailbox store.
And we looked at the physician database with the Tennessee Department of Health. There is a Dr. Robert Coble who is licensed with no disciplinary record.
I called and emailed the doctor and the people behind the website, along with the parent company, MedChoice LLC. We did not get any response.
Since Dr. Coble isn’t returning our messages, we can’t say if he is actually signing these notes.
So we called our sister station in Nashville. They also bought a card, got the signed note, and made a house call to Dr. Coble.
NewsChannel 5 Nashville: “We wanted to talk to you about the COVID vaccine waivers you’re signing.”
Dr. Coble: “No comment.”
NewsChannel 5 Nashville: “No comment? This is your name and your Tennessee medical license that’s right here on these things.”
Dr. Coble: “I heard you last night. No comment.”
NewsChannel 5 Nashville: “Why won’t you talk to us about this? Why are you doing this? Is this your signature?”
We tried to call Dr. Coble again and the phone was disconnected.
The website now has a note saying, “this site is inoperative. It is unlikely that we will return.”
The parent company’s page is still up. They now have an “exemptions” section. I made an appointment for a consultation, but didn’t hear back.
Is it even legal?
In a statement, the Tennessee Department of Health tells us:
“A complaint must be filed before the Board of Medical Examiners can initiate an investigation to determine if there is a violation of standards of practice that would warrant disciplinary action. Furthermore, complaints and investigations are confidential until disciplinary action is taken.”
We also contacted the Federal Trade Commission. A regional director said their focus is on misrepresentation. Because the company delivered on its promise of a doctor’s note and a waiver, there may be nothing for them to enforce.
Will it work at your job?
That depends on your employer. If they’re checking hard, you could be out $160. But even if they do accept the exemption, they may not make an accommodation.
We’ve seen that play out with state workers. The latest numbers from Washington’s Office of Financial Management show that within state executive cabinet agencies like the Washington State Patrol, Department of Corrections, and DSHS, 1,287 workers requested medical exemptions. 982 exemptions were approved but only 435 accommodations have been granted.
That means you could be out of a job and your $160.
And that brings us to Dr. Kuszler’s biggest worry: the unknown. We don’t know how many exemptions were sold and accepted by employers.
“And one of the key issues here is, it’s not so much whether someone wants the vaccine or they don’t want the vaccine,” says Dr. Kuszler. “The question is do they have the right to inflict themselves as a carrier on everybody else they work with, everybody else they go to the store with, everybody else in general?”
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