A fringe, pro-Trump medical group perhaps best known for featuring a notorious coronavirus truther fixated on the alleged medical dangers of demon sperm filed a motion demanding the pause of COVID-19 vaccinations in the United States on Monday.
Among other wild assertions in the predictably absurd document, the motion seeking an injunction filed by “America’s Frontline Doctors” falsely claims the three vaccines authorized for emergency use in the U.S. do not actually curb the spread of the deadly virus. Also: that the coronavirus is not a public health emergency. This being the same pandemic that has killed over 600,000 Americans while showing signs of a nationwide resurgence in recent days with the extra-contagious Delta variant, which is almost exclusively harming unvaccinated people.
But the crazy doesn’t stop there. The fear is that a motion like this one, which may be legally hopeless but is targeted at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, could have a real and pernicious impact as the Biden administration battles vaccine disinformation nationwide.
Dr. Peter Hotez, a pediatrician and virologist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, believes the distorted claims made in the Monday motion are far more dangerous than a mere “anti-vaccine publicity stunt.” Over the last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that daily new cases have increased almost 70 percent nationwide and deaths related to the deadly virus have increased by 26 percent. The overwhelming majority of the cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are in those who have not been vaccinated.
“This will scare people into not getting the vaccine,” Hotez told The Daily Beast. “This motion is directly contributing to anti-vaccine misinformation. It’s dangerous.”
The rhetoric is unsurprising for the group that once earned an audience with former Vice President Mike Pence and went viral last July for promoting hydroxychloroquine as a suitable treatment against COVID-19. The group was founded by Dr. Simone Gold, who is now facing charges for participating in the Capital riot, and at one time highlighted Dr. Stella Immanuel, a woman who believes medical ailments are caused by dream-sex with demons and that alien DNA can be used in actual treatment.
As previously reported by The Daily Beast, the group has been targeting COVID-19 vaccines since at least December, when it organized a meeting with several conservative influencers and even protested in front of the CDC in Atlanta. The group and their lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
To combat the misinformation, Hotez—a Daily Beast columnist—helped break down some of the most bizarre (and false) claims in the “America’s Frontline Doctors” motion that he says seeks to “create a show trial to promote anti-vaccination.”
BOGUS CLAIM 1: The Three COVID Vaccines Don’t Prevent The Spread of COVID-19
In the motion, the group boldly claims that CDC data shows the two-dose vaccines by Moderna and Pfizer and the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine “are not effective in treating or preventing” COVID-19. Hotez, however, notes that the three immunizations “not only reduce symptomatic illness up to 95 percent and asymptomatic illness in the lower 90 percentile, but they halt virus shedding.” Simply put, even if the vaccines are not 100 percent effective at stopping the spread of the deadly virus, the more people that get vaccinated, the lower the spread will be.
“If enough people get vaccinated, you stop transmissions,” he said. “It’s simple.”
Hotez, who has worked on a separate vaccine with colleagues at Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development in Houston, also demolished the group’s false claim that the vaccines were developed in the span of 48 hours and therefore cannot be safe. Highlighting that the current pandemic is the “third major coronavirus pandemic in the last century,” Hotez noted that development into the current vaccines is “in no way a new concept.”
“The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are built on research and development that has been in the works for the last decade at least,” Hotez said. “Those two vaccines are also mRNA vaccines, which were first identified in the 1960s. So the concept that these two vaccines were developed in two days is just wrong.”
BOGUS CLAIM 2: Vaccines Are More Harmful To Minors Than The Virus Itself
In the motion, the group falsely claims that minors under the age of 18 face “statistically zero chance of death from” COVID-19, while the vaccine could make them susceptible to heart inflammation, or myocarditis. The CDC did in fact report about 300 cases of the heart issue in younger people last month, but the number is out of 20 million who have been vaccinated, indicating that the number is statistically “extremely rare,” Hotez noted.
“The frequency of myocarditis in young people is about 1 in 70,000. That’s statistically nothing to be worried about,” he said, adding that there are more cases of young people who have gotten myocarditis from COVID-19 itself than the vaccine. “The risk of you getting myocarditis from COVID-19 is far higher than from you getting it from the vaccine.”
BOGUS CLAIM 3: Americans Were Brainwashed by Pandemic Fear—And Unfairly Consented to the Vaccine
In one of the most bonkers claims in the 67-page memo, the group suggests that the nationwide lockdowns that occurred last year to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus manipulated Americans into getting the lifesaving jab. It’s a move that they claim is similar to “authoritarian and totalitarian conditions.”
Trying to prove the point with a chart seemingly taken directly from the Canadian internet, the group also claims that guidelines put in place last year are similar to the brainwashing methods used by Communists in the 1950s. Among the claims in the chart is the idea that the government tried to develop “total surveillance with nanochips and 5G”—false conspiracies about the coronavirus that are popular on far-right fringes and have been repeatedly debunked by scientists.
“Americans have been brainwashed into not accepting COVID vaccines because they have been brainwashed by anti-vaccine aggression,” Hotez said on Tuesday. “They are doing the brainwashing with anti-science, anti-vaccine aggression. The disinformation is causing more harm.”
BOGUS CLAIM 4: Forcing Previously Infected People To Get The Vaccine Will Make Them Sick
In the motion, the group expresses grave concern for individuals who have gotten the vaccine after previously testing positive for COVID-19, stating that “this population has reported seriously medical harm, including death.” Hotez, however, pointed out there is no data supporting that claim. He explained that the group was trying to use vaccine-driven disease enhancement—or the phenomenon that components of the immune system that should protect against COVID-19 will end up making individuals more ill—to justify their claim with proper data.
The doctor pointed to a November 2020 “Science Translational Medicine” review, which concluded that data did not support any concern about this enhancement theory anymore “than is appropriate for the development of any viral vaccine.”
“There is not a higher death rate of those receiving the vaccine. There has been no evidence linking that to that vaccine,” he said, stating that while the concept was a concern at the start of vaccine development, there has been no substantial problem since the vaccine rollout in December.
“There is no evidence that people who had COVID-19 are in any medical danger after getting the vaccine. Their antibody response can handle it.”
The debunked medical claims aside, Lawrence Gostin, a Georgetown University global-health expert, said that while the motion filed could start a “legal flood against our vaccination system,” it will not stop the vaccination process that has been widely successful in the United States. But like Hotez, he worried about the real-world impact of legal quests like this one.
“This kind of [injunction] is a stain on the United States of America. Even launching the [motion], no matter what happens—they will lose it—just underlines to Trump supporters that this vaccine is not to be trusted,” he said. “That is what will cause thousands and thousands of preventable deaths and that’s utterly irresponsible.”