As much as fighting a virus, this pandemic has been about countering misinformation, particularly since the safe and effective vaccines have been available to almost everyone who wants one.

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Two of the doctors on a panel organized last month by a Republican state senator from Dixfield are affiliated with national groups accused of spreading COVID misinformation, including lies about the supposed dangers of vaccines, and one is a consultant to a group led by an anti-vaccination charlatan. Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

So it’s encouraging to see the Maine Medical Association, which represents more than 4,000 physicians in our state, issue a statement condemning the “small minority” of doctors here giving patients dangerous advice on COVID-19.

And it’s beyond disheartening, though not at all surprising, that Republican lawmakers view some of those same doctors as worthwhile advisers.

State Sen. Lisa Keim, a Republican from Dixfield, last month organized a panel of doctors for a legislative information session designed to discourage lawmakers from supporting Gov. Mills’ vaccine mandate for health care workers. Two of the physicians on this panel are affiliated with national groups accused of spreading COVID misinformation, including lies about the supposed dangers of vaccines and the effectiveness of bogus treatments.

One is under investigation by the Maine Board of Licensure for admitting she lied to a pharmacist in order to get one of her patients a prescription to hydroxychloroquine, a malaria treatment that is ineffective at treating COVID but has been pushed as an alternative to vaccines. The same doctor says she is a consultant for Children’s Health Defense, led by anti-vaccination charlatan Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Another doctor on the panel is part of America’s Frontline Doctors, a pro-Trump group whose leader has been charged with federal crimes for entering the Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection.

The group has made a mint pushing people away from treatments that work and toward those that don’t. For a fee, they’ll connect with a doctor in your area who will prescribe hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin, an antiparasitic also not effective against COVID. From July through September of last year, the group reported more than $6.7 million in referral fees.

These doctors, and others like them, have blood on their hands. For profit, they have been pushing medications known to be ineffective at treating the coronavirus while badmouthing vaccines and masks, both of which have been proven to stop the flow of disease and death that has plagued this country for two years.

From April, when most Americans had access to vaccines, through the end of the year, nearly 250,000 Americans died from COVID, and nearly every one of them was preventable.

That statement would likely draw guffaws from the quack doctors and Republican lawmakers who think they are reliable sources.

But it is the absolute, unassailable truth. In Maine and across the country, the data is clear, consistent, and absolutely horrifying: The worst outcomes from COVID are now almost solely experienced by those who do not have protection from vaccination.

Let’s say that again. If every American had been vaccinated against COVID when they became eligible, tens if not hundreds of thousands of Americans who are dead now would still be alive.

The main reason so many people didn’t follow that route is misinformation, largely from conservative and Republican circles, where downplaying the virus and casting doubt on vaccines have become conditions of membership.

We can see that play out in vaccination rates, which are far lower in counties that supported former President Donald Trump than they are in counties that backed President Biden.

And it is those who are unvaccinated who are getting so sick they need critical care, putting relentless pressure on hospitals and health care workers, who have already gone through two hard years.

Instead, Sen. Keim wants to blame Gov. Mills’ mandate, and to prove her point, the legislator gave a high-level audience to fact-challenged physicians who hardly deserve the title.

With the new session starting this week, Republicans argue they should have more of a say in the state’s COVID response. First, they should show they have something to offer besides misinformation and quackery.