A doctor in Tennessee has lost his medical license after a local news investigation revealed he was selling bogus COVID-19 vaccination waivers to essentially anyone—including patients he had never met, patients in far-flung states, and one black Labrador retriever named Charlie.
In a consent order signed May 16, the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners determined Robert Coble had violated state statutes on the grounds of “unprofessional, dishonorable, or unethical conduct,” and “making false statements or representations, being guilty of fraud or deceit … in the practice of medicine.”
Coble voluntarily surrendered his medical license, effective that day, which is equivalent to a revocation. Coble also agreed to refrain from reapplying for a medical license for at least a year and to pay a $1,000 fine and the costs of the board’s investigation of his case, up to $2,000.
KFF Health News was the first to report the outcome, which was made public on June 15.
In November 2021, Nashville’s outlet NewsChannel 5 reported that Coble sold COVID-19 vaccine waivers through a Hendersonville-based company called MedChoice LLC. A website for the now-dissolved company previously offered “hand written medical waivers personally reviewed and signed by a licensed physician.”
All an applicant needed to do to get a waiver was pay Coble approximately $139 and check off a reason for needing the waiver from a list. The list included reasons such as: “I have an irrational fear of needles,” “I am very anxious about getting the vaccine (ex. poor sleep, feelings of being overwhelmed, increase heart rate, monopolizing fear),” “I am immunosuppressed,” and “I have an autoimmune disease.”
A reporter for NewsChannel 5, Jennifer Kraus, bought one for a family member, Charlie Kraus, a black Labrador retriever. In the purchase, she indicated that Charlie had an irrational fear of needles. Days later, the pup got his waiver, with his journalist owner reporting:
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.'”
But if those official-looking documents weren’t actually convincing, Coble reportedly tried to intervene. According to the medical board’s investigation, when a customer’s human resources department or school’s student health department rejected Coble’s waiver, Coble would get in touch with the customer, interview them over the phone, and then call the rejecting department and try to convince them to reverse the rejection. It’s unclear how often this was successful.
The board did not indicate how many waivers Coble may have sold but reported that he sold them through MedChoice at least between August 2021 and September 2021. In that time, waivers were sold to people in Tennessee and other states where Coble was not licensed, including Maine and Washington.