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Jeff Cercone
By Jeff Cercone November 22, 2022

No, an Ontario medical regulatory group didn’t say vaccine-hesitant patients may be mentally ill

If Your Time is short

  • The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, which regulates medical practice in that Canadian province, includes a “frequently asked questions” page on its website. One answer provided guidance for handling requests from patients who sought a doctor’s note for medical exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine.

  • The answer initially noted that medication or psychotherapy are options for patients with vaccine anxiety. The answer was later clarified to cite trypanophobia, an extreme fear of needles, as an example of when such treatment might be warranted.

A viral TikTok video is spreading the misleading claim that an Ontario group that regulates physicians suggested that patients unwilling to get the COVID-19 vaccines may be mentally ill.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario "is suggesting to Ontario doctors that ‘unvaccinated’ people are mentally ill and in need of psychiatric medication," reads the text overlaid on a TikTok video shared Nov. 21. The video includes footage from an interview with Dr. William Makis; according to the Toronto Star, he is an Alberta doctor who is no longer practicing.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario regulates the practice of medicine in the Canadian province. Doctors must be a member of the group to practice in the province.

We found similar posts sharing the video on TikTok and Twitter, and conservative media sites also are writing about it.

TikTok identified this video as part of its efforts to counter inauthentic, misleading or false content. (Read more about PolitiFact's partnership with TikTok.) 

The footage of Makis appears to be taken from an interview with Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson this month on her "Let Freedom Reign" tour. 

In the full interview, which Tyler-Thompson posted Nov. 18 on Rumble, Makis repeats debunked claims about dozens of Canadian doctors dying suddenly from COVID-19 vaccines. He then said that The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario sent a "letter or a memo" to doctors in Ontario "suggesting" to them that "any of their unvaccinated patients, they should consider that they have a mental problem, and that they should be put on psychiatric medication."

Makis called the guidance "unethical" and a "slippery slope."

Shae Greenfield, a spokesperson for The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, said Makis isn’t an organization member and is misrepresenting language from a frequently asked questions page on the organization’s website that has since been updated. 

The question was about how doctors should handle patients who sought medical exemptions from COVID-19 vaccines. Greenfield said the answer was being "grossly misinterpreted," so the college clarified the language Oct. 6. 

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A previous version of the answer in the FAQ section, as shown in this archived version from Sept. 22, said:

"It is also important that physicians work with their patients to manage anxieties related to the vaccine and not enable avoidance behaviour. In cases of serious concern, responsible use of prescription medications and/or referral to psychotherapy are available options. Overall, physicians have a responsibility to allow their patients to be properly informed about vaccines and not have those anxieties empowered by an exemption."

Greenfield said the guidance was updated to reference trypanophobia, an intense fear of needles. The guidance now reads:

"It is also important that physicians work with their patients to manage anxieties related to the vaccine and not enable avoidance behaviour. For example, for extreme fear of needles (trypanophobia) or other cases of serious concern, responsible use of prescription medications and/or referral to psychotherapy may be available options. Overall, physicians have a responsibility to allow their patients to be properly informed about vaccines and not have those anxieties empowered by an exemption."

Both versions of the guidance included examples of what the group said are the few legitimate medical exemptions for which doctors can write a note, such as allergic reactions to vaccines or a diagnosed episode of myocarditis or pericarditis after an mRNA vaccine.

The goal is encouraging doctors to work with patients who might want to be vaccinated, but hesitated to do so because of a psychological condition, Greenfield said.

"The college does not set diagnostic criteria for mental health disorders," Greenfield said. 

Our ruling

A TikTok video says The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario suggested "that ‘unvaccinated’ people are mentally ill and in need of psychiatric medication."

The claim distorts the college’s guidance about treating patients who are seeking medical exemptions from the COVID-19 vaccine. The guidance included legitimate medical exemptions for which doctors could write a note. It did not say all patients who don’t want the vaccine may be mentally ill. 

The initial guidance was misinterpreted, and the college later updated the language — before the interview in the TikTok post was conducted — to include a specific example of when doctors could help vaccine-hesitant patients by prescribing medication or psychotherapy.

We rate this claim False.

Our Sources

A Tiktok video, Nov. 20, 2022

Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson, Rumble post, Dr. William Makis 93 Dead Doctors After Vaccine Rollout," Nov. 18, 2022

Shae Greenfield, spokesperson for The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, email exchange, Nov. 21, 2022

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, "COVID-19 FAQS for physicians," accessed Nov. 22, 2022

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, "COVID-19 FAQS for physicians," archived on Sept. 22, 2022

The Toronto Star, "Why won’t a debunked conspiracy theory about doctors harmed by the COVID vaccine go away?," Nov. 7, 2022

Cleveland Clinic, "Trypanophobia (Fear of Needles)

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No, an Ontario medical regulatory group didn’t say vaccine-hesitant patients may be mentally ill

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