NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Many companies are now requiring their employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Even President Biden has suggested a federal vaccine mandate.
But not everyone wants to get the shot and a Hendersonville-based business is offering folks a way out, selling what it calls COVID vaccine waivers. It's essentially a doctor's note, supposedly signed by a Tennessee doctor.
But wait until you see just how easy they are to get and why medical experts are concerned.
While most in the medical community, including nationally recognized experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci and, from Nashville, Drs. James Hildreth and William Schaffner, have urged people to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, NewsChannel 5 Investigates found what appears to be a Tennessee business helping those who don't want a COVID shot avoid vaccine mandates.
We found Dr. Robert Coble's name, Tennessee medical license number, and apparent signature on COVID vaccine waivers being sold online by a Hendersonville-based company calling itself MedChoice LLC, offering "handwritten medical waivers personally reviewed and signed by a licensed physician."
Dr. Michael Carome, the head of Public Citizen's health research group, reviewed the website and waiver and told NewsChannel 5 Investigates, "It looks official. It looks legitimate."
But Dr. Carome was concerned by both the waivers and what our investigation found.
We were able to order one of these waivers supposedly signed by a doctor, without any sort of contact or prior relationship with that doctor.
And the online checklist that supposedly determines if you are qualified for a waiver included an opt-out for an irrational fear of needles.
"When you look at the webpage with the various reasons why an exemption might be granted, many of them are not medically justified," Dr. Carome said.
The website said you could order one for yourself or a family member, so we paid almost $139 for a COVID waiver for Charlie Kraus, because, we clicked, he was afraid of needles.
And, days later, the company sent my family member, Charlie, who's a black labrador retriever, his COVID waiver.
The personalized waiver is on what looks like a medical prescription form with a handwritten note that says "Charlie should not receive any COVID vaccine." It's even has a watermark on it like real prescriptions to prevent duplication.
The company also sent a laminated waiver card, also supposedly signed by Dr. Coble, that said Charlie was "certified medically exempt from the COVID vaccination," with directions saying, "For best results, provide card and say 'I am medically unable to receive the COVID vaccine and my doctor has provided this documentation of that fact.'"
Our investigation also found the address on the handwritten waiver for Dr. Coble on West Main Street in Hendersonville belongs to a business office and Suite 289 is just a post office box there.
We also called the phone number on the waiver and got a recording saying it was the medical office of Dr. Coble. Yet we're told he's retired.
We tried repeatedly to reach Dr. Coble to ask about the waiver and, after he did not return our calls, we went to the tiny Giles County town of Minor Hill and found the 74-year-old working on his farm.
But as soon as we tried to talk with him, he headed for his house, not answering our questions.
But Dr. Michael Carome with Public Citizen said what the company is doing is not promoting health.
"To have a website here that provides a tool for people to avoid those mandates for illegitimate reasons is just not acceptable," he said.
The Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners, the state agency that licenses doctors, recently announced it would discipline anyone who made false claims about COVID-19. We asked if these waivers might violate any rules and the Board told us someone has to file a complaint before it can investigate.
We also reached out to Justin Lawrence, the man behind MedChoice LLC, the company selling the waivers, and he did not return our messages.
After our NewsChannel 5 Investigates team started asking questions, the company took down its website but MedChoice LLC appears to be still selling waivers, now through a new website.