A Florida physician known for being outspoken about COVID-related topics has regained his board certification that was stripped because he publicly criticized COVID vaccines.
Now, Dr. John Littell is moving forward from the experience with plans to help future physicians defend themselves when disciplined for voicing viewpoints that are not in the majority, he told The Epoch Times.
Dr. Littell, a longtime family physician in Ocala and a medical school professor, began posting videos sharing his thoughts about COVID-19 testing, treatments, and vaccines early in the pandemic. He was frustrated to find his content often was pulled down from his YouTube channel.
But he fought against what he saw as censorship by moving the content to other platforms, such as Rumble, he said.
Then, in January 2022 and again five months later, he received warning letters from the American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM), the organization that issued his certification for his medical specialty.
The letter stated that his videos on YouTube and Rumble spread “medical misinformation” and could put his board certification in jeopardy, he said.
The ABFM declined to comment on the matter because the board’s “policy indicates we are unable to comment about professionalism cases,” an unidentified spokesperson said in an email to The Epoch Times.
The ABFM is the third largest of the 24 boards of the American Board of Medical Specialties. More than 100,000 family medicine doctors are certified by the board, according to its website.
Protesters concerned about treatment of people who died while being treated for COVID-19 stand outside a board meeting at Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Sarasota, Fla., on Feb. 21, 2023. (Courtesy of Tanya Parus)
To keep their certification, physicians must uphold the board’s ethical standards and “guidelines for professionalism, licensure, and personal conduct,” the website states.
In letters from the board, Dr. Littell was told his public statements violated those guidelines. Dr. Littell responded to the letters and continued to speak publicly and post videos about the subjects, he said.
Months later, when he didn’t hear back, he said he thought the threat was gone.
“I was very happily under the radar,” he said.
Outrage Over Ivermectin
That changed after he was escorted out of a Sarasota Memorial Hospital board meeting in February for approaching a board member behind the dais. He wanted to thank the board member, he said, for letting him speak at the meeting. He didn’t realize that move would be seen as inappropriate, he said.
Though he’s cared for many patients in hospitals, he’d never attended a hospital board meeting, let alone a contentious one, he said.
That day, medical freedom activists filled the boardroom to speak against the public hospital’s policies during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many were angry their loved ones were denied the opportunity to try ivermectin, an antiparasitic for humans and animals widely used by some in treating COVID-19, and other treatments.
Dr. Littell spoke cordially to board members from the podium, an Epoch Times reporter confirmed. He told board members how treating patients with ivermectin had been his key to success in helping them recover. And he praised hospital personnel for their work during the pandemic.
Shortly after that, security guards escorted him outside.
Retired Army Gen. Michael Flynn, who served briefly as national security advisor for former President Donald Trump, attended a board meeting of Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Sarasota, Fla., on Feb. 21, 2023 (Chris Nelson for The Epoch Times)
A video of Dr. Littell’s removal from the meeting by security guards was posted to social media and received millions of views and media coverage. And that thrust him back in the spotlight as a doctor vocal about COVID-19 policies.
“I had a target on my back,” he said.
He questioned whether someone else would have been removed for the same reason.
Many doctors have faced consequences for questioning the efficacy and safety of COVID-19 vaccines and for advocating for the use of medicines such as ivermectin in the treatment of the disease.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wrote in one social media post about ivermectin: “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.” It linked to a page entitled “Why You Should Not Use Ivermectin to Treat or Prevent COVID-19.”
Three doctors sued the FDA over the statements, saying it had no power to tell doctors which drugs to prescribe.
On Sept. 1, a federal court ruled that the agency likely overstepped its authority when it told Americans to “stop” using ivermectin against COVID-19. The FDA can inform, but has “no authority” to recommend consumers “stop” taking medicine, U.S. Circuit Judge Don Willett wrote in the ruling.
Accused of ‘Spreading False’ Information
The month after Dr. Littell spoke in Sarasota, the board sent a letter saying he’d been de-certified for “spreading false, inaccurate, and misleading materials about COVID-19, COVID-19 vaccination, and treatment and mitigation of the virus,” The Epoch Times confirmed.
A letter reviewed by The Epoch Times stated that if Dr. Littell appealed the decision within 20 days, he would continue to be represented by the board, pending a review of his case by the professionalism committee of the ABFM board of directors.
The reason for the decision to review his record was because of his past suggestions the COVID-19 vaccine was a product of genetic engineering, causing deaths in children and causing the rise of the Delta variant, the letter indicated. It also referenced “false” statements made by Drs. Ryan Cole and Robert Malone, who spoke at a medical freedom conference Dr. Littell organized in October 2022.
In the letter, the board also criticized Dr. Littell for “offering to provide medical exemptions from vaccination” to patients across the country and “publicly comparing the U.S. public health system’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic to Nazi Germany.”
After receiving the troubling letter, Dr. Littell sought the help of attorney Jeff Childers, a business attorney in Gainesville, Florida. Since the COVID-19 lockdowns began, Mr. Childers has become active in lawsuits around the country related to medical freedom. He authors a daily blog called Coffee and Covid, which started by chronicling COVID-19 issues and now tracks other social and political issues, as well.
Mr. Childers crafted a 64-page appeal to the board, dissecting every accusation made against Dr. Littell, an Epoch Times reporter confirmed. And as word of the threat to Dr. Littell’s board certification spread—a move that would prevent him from practicing medicine—medical freedom activists rose up to take his side.
A GiveSendGo.com campaign was started to collect donations to fund his legal fees. More than 6,400 people donated almost $255,000. And more than 1,900 pledged to pray for Dr. Littell.
The Global Covid Summit, an international group of doctors focused on medical freedom in COVID-19 treatment, sent a letter signed by 169 doctors to the ABFM in support of Dr. Littell. In the letter, they argued that the board was false in every accusation made against Dr. Littell.
Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo also voiced support for Dr. Littell.
“What they’re doing is being a bully,” he said in an interview with The Floridian. “It’s not going to age well.
“I read the letter from the Board, and it’s dripping with political animosity.”
Both Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) and Dr. Littell’s congresswoman, Rep. Kat Cammack (R-Fla.) sent letters in his defense to the board, Dr. Littell said.
“I’ve got to believe it’s not in the dozens, but probably in the hundreds of people who called and sent letters to the American Board of Family Medicine,” Dr. Littell said.
“I never asked them to, but that is what was happening.”
In July, Dr. Littell received word that the board had reviewed his case and retroactively de-certified him for three months, from March 16 to June 16. He never stopped seeing patients.
“It’s like a slap on the wrist so they’d feel good about it, but wouldn’t, presumably, have to face any legal action,” he said.
His attorney agreed.
“They did it in a very face-saving way,” Mr. Childers said.
But ultimately, he’s pleased with the decision.
“We were really surprised and gratified that we were able to achieve that result,” Mr. Childers said.
Dr. Littell credits it to being “a God thing” that he was able to keep caring for patients and face a decertification period only retroactively.
“If they had said I was decertified, I would not have been able to do what I was doing. I mean, especially with the hospital care patients. I could have gotten into big trouble.”
He still may face consequences for having the blemish on his record, he said. He’ll have to report it to the hospitals at which he works and explain what happened, he said.
“Every time I go up for privileges with a hospital or any other institution, they’re going to say, ‘Well, has your license ever been suspended or revoked, and has your board certification ever been revoked?’ So, it’s still an issue. It’s not like you can just forget about it.”
He’s been advised by some other doctors, such as cardiologist Peter McCullough, to pursue legal action for the disciplinary measure they feel was wrong, he said.
Continuing to Speak Out
Dr. Littell continues to speak out about the same topics. So he suspects he’ll face retribution again, he said.
“The way I read the letter, it’s sort of like a warning,” Dr. Littell said.
The board, he said, seemed to be sending the warning, “If you act up again, we know it’s a privilege to have this board certification, and it can be removed at any time.”
And the next time, the punishment is likely to escalate.
“The implication is that if it happens again, it’s going to be more than just three months,” Mr. Childers said.
Around the country, a slew of doctors had board certifications removed and licensure threatened for sharing their COVID-related opinions.
“Most people would probably be surprised to find out there’s a lot of this going on, now that the pandemic is over,” Mr. Childers said.
“From what I’ve heard, there’s probably more challenges to doctor licensing right now than at any other time.”
But because most doctors aren’t vocal about receiving discipline, it’s hard to know exactly how often it’s occurring, he said.
Doctors who have been active on social media seem to be targeted more often by medical authorities, he said.
Dr. Peter McCullough speaks in the Mississippi capitol building on COVID-19 vaccine adverse events. (Courtesy of Charlotte Stringer Photography)
Doctors who were not actively posting their thoughts about COVID-19 on social media “should feel very confident that if they follow a similar approach to what Dr. Littell did, they could hope for a good result at this point,” he said.
Obtaining good legal advice is key, he said. It also helps to spread the word.
“All too often doctors either ignore these kinds of letters until it’s too late because they’re embarrassed, or they try to handle it on their own,” he said.
“It’s important that people know when this happens. And if they’ll let folks know, they’ll find that they get a lot of support.”
Dr. Littell has no plans to keep quiet about what he feels went wrong during the COVID-19 pandemic
“I’m not letting up,” he said.
Helping Future Doctors
He intends to use the remaining money donated to his legal fund to help others respond to similar licensure problems, especially threats faced by medical students, he said.
He’s trying “to come up with a legal, legislative, and public relations strategy that helps future physicians,” he said. When they see practicing doctors disciplined and “raked over the coals” for speaking out about medical freedom issues, it deters good people from pursuing a degree in medicine, he said.
“I would like the medical freedom fighters, as I’m calling them, to create a sanctuary for pre-med, especially, and medical school students.”
“Early on, even in the colleges, they weed out the physicians who dare to question the narrative or challenge it,” he said, of those who insist that doctors decrees made by federal health agencies.
But asking questions and challenging prevailing thought is important to the goal of continually improving medical treatments, he said.
“And that intellectual curiosity is what we’re so desperately lacking now in medicine, and in most professions.”
He also envisions the network expanding to help connect like-minded educators in colleges, universities, and medical schools to share their ideas without fear of being in opposition to “woke” ideology, he said.
He hopes to see that network push back against “lockstep mentality” and help students who are suffering because of it.
Medical students taught by Dr. Littell often tell him how difficult it is to be entering the field of medicine at this time, he said.
One student told him that his second-year class was forced to be vaccinated for COVID-19, he said. Classmates were told by their university they’d be “thrown out” of medical school in two weeks if they didn’t comply, Dr. Littell said.
Medical freedom activists upset about COVID-19 vaccines and other issues gather to voice concerns to lawmakers on the first day of the Florida Legislature’s annual regular session at the Capitol in Tallahassee on March 7, 2023. (Courtesy of Justin Harvey)
The student told him that, although more than half the class didn’t want the vaccine, they felt they had no other option, Dr. Littell said. Weeks later, the mandate was lifted. But it was too late—many students already had submitted to getting the shot they didn’t want.
“It’s like they [university officials] were playing games,” he said. “And the students didn’t know any better.
“They just don’t have enough support,” Dr. Littell lamented. “They want to say things, but they’re afraid they’re going to get disciplined if they speak out.”
He sees bringing people together to unite in their pushback against prevailing opinions as a revolutionary concept.
“It’s really no different than what our Founding Fathers did,” Dr. Littell said.
“They realized that they were victims of repression. But there also were people comfortable with the status quo. That’s what is in our medical schools right now and is what we all need to fight against.
“People should be allowed to question and use their God-given intellect, and not be censored or disciplined for doing so.”