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Dentists can say no: Updated guidelines on treating unvaccinated patients

Nov. 2, 2021
ADA: The refusal of care altogether or dismissing patients is not “per se unethical."
The ADA has updated its Ethics of Vaccination to include ethical parameters for dentists declining care for patients who aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19.

In that regard it highlights a “principle of beneficence [as it] relates to both the patient’s welfare and that of the public-at-large,” further stating:

“Given the communicable nature of diseases such as measles and COVID-19, looking at office policies that accommodate those who choose not to be vaccinated, those who cannot be vaccinated and those who are actively ill is necessary.”

While the 16-page white paper discusses respecting patient autonomy and decision-making, “The refusal of care altogether or dismissing patients is not per se unethical," said Robert J. Wilson, DDS, immediate past chair of ADA Council on Ethics, Bylaws and Judicial Affairs (CEBJA), in a statement.

“For example, a practitioner who treats a population of highly vulnerable patients, perhaps including some for whom vaccination is contraindicated, may conclude that the ethical obligation to those patients outweighs the ethical obligation to those who willingly choose not to be vaccinated and therefore may present a higher risk to the other patients,” Dr. Wilson continued. “Perhaps a doctor or staff person has a condition that precludes inoculation and renders them highly vulnerable to significant morbidity or mortality. Because of these very specific and unique circumstances a blanket statement to the effect that dismissing or refusing to care for an unvaccinated patient is unethical would not be appropriate.”

It also states that dentists have a unique opportunity to make a significant, positive impact on the health of the public by joining the efforts of the health care community to provide vaccination.

Read the ADA/CEBJA news brief on the updated guidelines

Access the ADA white paper: Principles of Ethics & Code of Professional Conduct