I’ve been seeing the same family dentist for nearly 20 years. I genuinely respect and trust him, but I recently received an email from his practice that has me quite upset. The notice indicated that, going forward, he was requiring all staff and patients to have the COVID vaccine. The letter indicated that, if I chose not to comply, he would continue treating me on an emergency basis for the next month and then I needed to find a new provider. The letter made no allowances for age or medical reasons, let alone philosophical ones.
The problem is, my primary care physician has told me that I should not vaccinate due to a pre-existing health condition. And, the real kicker is, I’ve already had COVID. I am, for all intents and purposes, immune.
I phoned the office thinking they’d make an exception. Nope. They promised to send my records to my new dentist when I found one and wished me well. After 20 years. I’m heartbroken and, honestly, a little dumbfounded. Can they really do this?
No Vax in Alabama
Dear No Vax,
So sorry to hear this! These are definitely challenging times and everyone is trying to navigate a new normal. Unfortunately, the news here is not positive for you.
Vaccinations are a Great Ethical Debate
The American Dental Association (ADA) recently released a detailed report called “Ethics of Vaccination.” Throughout the 16-page document, experts weigh in on various aspects of the debate. On one hand, it notes that refusing to treat an unvaccinated patient could indeed violate ethical standards.
“The dentist has a legal and ethical obligation to treat patients who may have a disability, which may include those unable to be vaccinated,” the report reads. It goes so far as to say the dentist may need to communicate with a patient’s physician if the patient cannot vaccinate due to disability and suggests a variety of ways practices can help reduce risk.
With that said, if your vaccination status hinges on a disability or because you belong to a protected class, it could potentially be considered unethical to dismiss you. The ADA nudged doctors in the direction of lawyers if they’re making decisions such as this.
The California Dental Association published similar remarks, saying “Dental practitioners are obligated to protect their patients’ health, but that obligation extends to those who may be exposed to a communicable disease — and unvaccinated patients are the most at risk.”
But, Yes, Your Dentist Can Dismiss You for Not Being Vaccinated
In the end, though, the ADA gave tips for dentists on how to address this concern with patients if they decided not to see unvaccinated patients. There is no official ruling on this, and so dentists have to do what they feel is right.
Request to Speak Directly with Your Dentist
Your dentist may have reasons he didn’t list for his new policy. For example, if he’s unable to be vaccinated and is afraid of catching and spreading COVID, his response would be understandable.
Equally, he may not know your situation and he may be able to make an exception for you given the circumstances. Give the practice a call back and ask to speak directly to the doctor when he has time. You may still not get the answer you want, but perhaps you’ll get some closure. Best of luck to you.
This blog is sponsored by Auburn, AL dentist Dr. Raymond Bolt.