Fact check: Florida doctors did not walk out on patients in protest of low vaccination rates – USA TODAY

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The claim: 75 Florida doctors staged a walkout to protest unvaccinated patients

On Aug. 23, dozens of Florida doctors gathered in Palm Beach Gardens to hold a press conference urging Americans to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The week before 1,486 Floridians were reported to have died from COVID-19. 

Following the event, confusion about whether the physicians had walked out on patients in need of care sparked controversy.

MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” characterized the press conference as a “walkout” several times. 

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“Just moments ago more than 75 doctors staged a walkout to protest the number of COVID patients coming to the hospitals who have not been vaccinated,” host Joe Scarborough said.

He then spoke with NBC’s Kerry Sanders who was reporting from the event. Both Scarborough and Sanders called the gathering a walkout several more times.

Doctors present at the press conference took issue with the characterization of the event as a walkout – stressing that they did not walk out on patients in need. 

MSNBC later corrected its description of the event, but not before confusion spread on social media. 

“Group of Florida doctors stage walkout to protest unvaccinated patients,” claimed one Aug. 23 Instagram post.

One Aug. 23 tweet by Chuck Castello claimed, “BREAKING REPORT: More Than 75 Doctors WALK OUT OF SOUTH FLORIDA HOSPITAL Rather Than Treat the Unvaccinated…”

Castello told USA TODAY he saw the terminology in several news reports. 

Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro responded to one misleading reiteration. 

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“If this is the new standard – that failure to take measures to alleviate your own health problems are punishable by doctors refusing treatment – the extension of this logic to obesity will certainly be something,” he tweeted on Aug. 23 and received more than 18,000 likes. 

That tweet then inspired an online squabble between Shapiro and celebrity blogger Perez Hilton.

USA TODAY reached out to several posters, including Shapiro, for comment. 

MSNBC aired a correction – the  press conference was not a walkout

The next day “Morning Joe” host Mika Brzezinski corrected the use of the term “walkout” as claimed in the Aug. 23 show. 

“In the report yesterday we referred to the doctor’s event as a simulated walkout. And we learned afterward that many thought that meant the doctors left patients unattended,” she said. “Those doctors gathered either before going on shift or after working long shifts on the COVID wards.”

She interviewed Dr. Rupesh Dharia, an internal medicine specialist who attended the press conference. He called the gathering a “community outreach.”

MSNBC did not respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment. 

Doctors say the event was not a walkout

Several doctors that worked to organize the press conference said participants did not walk out on patients. 

Dr. Jennifer Buczyner, a neurologist, told USA TODAY the characterization of the event as a “walkout’ was incorrect.

“This was a community physician driven-press conference. That was made very clear,” she said. ”The narrative, unfortunately, was chosen and spun.”

Buczyner shared an internal email regarding planning for the event with USA TODAY. The email characterized it as a “Community ‘Get Vaccinated’ event” with the stated purpose “to encourage our community to get vaccinated and take this seriously. Voices and manpower are needed!”

The event was scheduled to start at 6:15 a.m. in the parking lot outside Dharia’s office and end just before 7 a.m.

The words “walkout” and “protest” were never used and doctors were not encouraged to neglect their medical duties. 

Buczyner said roughly 75 physicians attended the event. According to other attendees, these doctors came from various practices and none are known to have neglected patient care to attend.

Dr. Naveen Reddy, a gastroenterologist who attended the event, responded to claims that the press conference was a walkout in an Aug. 23 Twitter thread.

“This is trending today with Hippocratic Oath & since I was there I want to point out a couple of things. This isn’t a real ‘walkout’ in that we all went to work. One cardiologist came after doing an overnight cath and I left to do an EGD then office, ASC, & 3 hospitals,” he wrote

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“Nobody was saying that we will not treat patients or that people who haven’t been vaccinated are bad people. We are just encouraging people to follow the science and not to listen to people who just talk to make a name for themself,” he wrote in another tweet.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that 75 Florida doctors staged a walkout to protest unvaccinated patients. The Aug. 23 press conference was a gathering that doctors attended outside of their work hours. Multiple attendees confirmed doctors did not neglect patients. MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” corrected the mischaracterization in the next day’s broadcast. 

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