A pharmacy technician loads a syringe with Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine, Tuesday, March 2, 2021, at a mass vaccination site at the Portland Expo. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

AUGUSTA, Maine — A state regulatory board overseeing doctors temporarily suspended the license of a Waterville-based physician, alleging he inappropriately signed COVID-19 exemption letters and spread misinformation about the virus.

The Maine Board of Osteopathic Licensure’s decision to suspend the license of Dr. Paul Gosselin for 30 days, pending possible further action at an adjudicatory hearing, is the first instance here — and among the the first in the U.S. — of a licensing board taking disciplining a doctor for COVID-19 misinformation amid national concerns about the spread of false statements about the deadly virus.

In a notice of suspension dated Nov. 19, the board said it reviewed COVID-19 “exemption letters” signed by Gosselin as well as reports from providers concerned about his “spread of misinformation regarding COVID-19.” The board stated that his conduct constituted fraud or deceit, incompetence and unprofessional conduct, all grounds for suspension under Maine law.

The order requires Gosselin to immediately stop practicing medicine and make other arrangements for the care of his current patients. Gosselin runs a Waterville-based practice called Patriots Health that offers primary care services, according to its website.

Calls to his practice and his attorney, Ron Jenkins of Portland, were not immediately returned Monday morning. Jenkins previously filed a lawsuit on behalf of Maine health care workers arguing the state did not have the authority to require the COVID-19 vaccine. That lawsuit is still pending, although a different challenge to Gov. Janet Mills’ mandate was turned back by federal courts last month.

A GoFundMe page created to support Gosselin last week acknowledges he is being investigated for “writing exemption letters and treating Covid” but says his fight is about “revealing the truth about the current restrictions being imposed on our children and the American people.”

Despite concerns about COVID-19 misinformation, discipline for doctors accused of spreading it has been exceedingly rare. Tennessee’s medical licensing board announced a stated policy that doctors can be disciplined over COVID-19 misinformation, WMOT reported, but it is not clear any have faced action against licenses so far. In Alaska, a licensing board opened nine investigations into medical providers accused of spreading misinformation, according to the Anchorage Daily News, but has not taken action against any of them so far.

The Federation of State Medical Boards, a national nonprofit representing medical licensing organizations, suggested earlier this year that medical boards could take disciplinary action in such cases.

“Due to their specialized knowledge and training, licensed physicians possess a high degree of public trust and therefore have a powerful platform in society, whether they recognize it or not,” the group said. “They also have an ethical and professional responsibility to practice medicine in the best interests of their patients and must share information that is factual, scientifically grounded and consensus-driven for the betterment of public health.”

The Maine Board of Osteopathic Licensure’s decision against Gosselin did not detail what misinformation he was accused of spreading. His social media pages are relatively private. The website for his medical practice links to a blog post from the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a conservative group that questions the Food and Drug Administration’s opposition to the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a possible treatment for COVID-19.

Gosselin, a graduate of the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine, has had run-ins with the licensing board before. His license was suspended in 2014, according to board records, for allegedly prescribing himself medication and practicing medicine after ingesting drugs.

He was also disciplined for “unprofessional conduct” in 2002 after calling pharmacies and pretending to be his own physician’s assistant to fill prescriptions, according to the Morning Sentinel, and in 1999, for responding to an emergency call when he had consumed alcohol.