A March report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) found that most COVID-19 disinformation online is being spread by just 12 people. A Facebook analysis found that 73% of 689,000 anti-coronavirus vaccinations posts shared between February and mid-March came from this group.
Among the 12 are Robert F Kennedy Jr, the nephew of former President John F Kennedy, who has been an anti-vaxxer long before the pandemic. In the 1990s, Kennedy Jr began to spread disinformation that some vaccines given in childhood were connected to autism diagnoses and the development of allergies.
More recently, in a letter addressed to President Biden, Kennedy Jr. claimed that the CDC is administering propaganda and that “the sad reality is vaccines cause injuries and death.” Later in the same letter, however, he also wrote that it’d be impossible for autopsies determine if death was caused by a “vaccine adverse event.”
But beating Robert F Kennedy Jr to the No. 1 spot in the ‘disinformation dozen’ is Joseph Mercola, a natural health doctor based in Cape Coral, Florida.
Mercola is no newcomer to the anti-vaxx movement
According to the New York Times, Mercola has built his career on far-fetched health notions, including claims that spring mattresses amplify radiation and that tanning beds can reduce the chance of getting cancer. Cashing in on his followers, he sold them at-home tanning beds that cost between $1,200 and $4,000. He was then sued by the Federal Trading Commission and agreed to pay his customers refunds totaling $5.3 million, according to a 2016 report from the Chicago Tribune.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Mercola has focused his zeal against COVID vaccines.
Articles published on his website include “Thyme Extract Helps Treat COVID-19” and another titled “Could Hydrogen Peroxide Treat Coronavirus?” which was published in April and shared on Facebook 4,600 times, according to screenshots in the CCDH’s report.
Mercola later removed the hydrogen peroxide article, and others, from his site, due to what he called the “fearmongering media and corrupt politicians” censoring his content, which he alleges have led to personal threats.
With an audience of 3.6 million over Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, the CCDH report found that Mercola has been the most far-reaching spreader of COVID disinformation.
In an emailed response to the Times, Mercola said it was “quite peculiar to me that I am named as the #1 superspreader of misinformation.”
While some social media platforms have taken steps to identify and remove disinformation, many of the 12 people’s accounts are still active, including Mercola’s, where he often shared multiple posts a day.
Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Wednesday that he feels an urge to reply to each of the thousands of emails that fall into his inbox every day.
The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease said in the Wall Street Journal’s online Tech Health event that he feels a “responsibility” to respond to the mountain of emails, per CNBC. He sometimes stays up “late into the night” responding, he said.
“I am the type of person, I get asked a lot of questions that are medical questions [from] people who need help,” Fauci said. “I’ve never been able to lose that feeling of responsibility of when people reach out to you and ask for help that you respond to them. So, I do that, [and] that takes a lot of time.”
Fauci, the US’s top infectious-disease expert, wrote in an email to a friend in March 2020 that he was receiving more than 2,000 emails a day, according to emails obtained by Buzzfeed and The Washington Post.
She woke up during the night at the 12-hour mark with a fever and chills, and in the morning had a dull headache that persisted throughout the day. By 48 hours after the shot, however, Henningsen says she “felt essentially back to normal.”
Henningsen says although these temporary side effects are uncomfortable, they won’t happen to everyone and shouldn’t be a deterrent to receiving the vaccine.
I was extremely fortunate to receive the initial dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on December 17, the first week it was offered in the United States outside of a clinical trial. My hospital received doses in the first national shipment and every healthcare worker at my hospital who expressed interest via survey received the vaccine, including me.
I barely felt the first shot, aside from very subtle arm soreness a day or so later.
I also signed up to log my symptoms on the CDC’s V-Safe online symptom tracker tool. My reporting was wholly uneventful; thankfully, as expected, I had no symptoms that impacted my life or activities in any way.
Before I knew how my body would react to the second dose, I prepared myself for the possibility of feeling lousy for a day or two afterward.
If it were an option, I would have scheduled the day off work after the second vaccination to be safe. For me that wasn’t possible, so I scheduled a grocery delivery before my shot and purchased the same items I’d buy if I had a cold or the flu (water, soup, crackers, etc.) I also made sure my pets were stocked up with plenty of food and water.
In addition to comfort food and hydrating liquids, I cobbled together a “vaccine valise” of other supplies to have on hand.
This included an under-tongue thermometer to monitor my temperature and over-the-counter fever reducers. For the whiplash back and forth between fever and chills that some people have reported, I set out washcloths to be used as cold compresses. I also put a weighted blanket and a down comforter near my bed.
I received my vaccine in the afternoon on January 7. Here’s my hour by hour reaction.
3 p.m. (Hour zero): Received the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, no immediate reaction.
9 p.m. (6-hour mark): I felt fine until the six-hour mark, when I began to feel a sense of malaise (the medical word for that vague feeling when you know something isn’t quite right at the beginning of feeling sick). Mild muscle aches soon followed, as well as injection site soreness that felt similar to how a tetanus shot feels – that is, a little worse than a flu shot.
January 8 – day one after the shot
3 a.m. (12-hour mark): I woke up with a 102-degree fever and chills, general insomnia.
5 a.m. (14-hour mark): There was some improvement to the fever and chills, but when I woke up the muscle aches persisted, and I had a dull headache similar to what I’d feel if I skipped my daily coffee.
11 a.m. (20-hour mark): I still had a dull headache, and my fever and chills returned and persisted throughout the day, along with exhaustion and an overall “blah” feeling.
11 p.m. (32-hour mark): I was still experiencing a headache, fever, and chills when I went to bed at 11 p.m.
January 9 – day two after the shot
I woke up sweaty, likely from chills and minor night sweats. I got on the scale and saw I’d lost four pounds since I weighed myself the morning of the shot on January 7. Some of that was from being dehydrated; the rest may have been secondary to my body battling what it thought was COVID-19.
3 p.m. (48-hour mark): I felt essentially back to normal.
January 10 – day three after the shot
I felt so much better (almost normal) all day yesterday. I worked out in the morning, and most of the weight came right back when I upped my water intake.
Overall, of my symptoms were mild and a very small price to pay for protection against COVID-19. I believe temporary discomfort should not be a deterrent to receiving the vaccine, and I know these symptoms are a sign of a robust immune system and that my body is priming itself to fight COVID-19 – exactly what it is supposed to do.
It’s important we’re prepared for the possibility of these side effects.
The Pfizer vaccine was vetted by the US Food and Drug Administration which determined that it was safe to be given to people over 16. Millions of Americans need to be prepared for the authorized COVID-19 vaccines’ potential side effects such as fatigue, headache, muscle pains, fever, and chills that are more common with the second dose. For the majority of recipients, these potential effects may be an uncomfortable, but not threatening, part of this vaccine.
According to Dr. Anthony Fauci’s latest projections, we need approximately 90% of Americans to be immunized to achieve herd immunity in order to resume normal life. I believe it’s our civic responsibility to be vaccinated according to the recommended dose regimen to end the pandemic. We all benefit.
It’s smart to prepare yourself for the possibility that dose two of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines may be slightly more challenging. Still, having seen the destruction SARS-CoV-2 can wreak upon the body, I can tell you I’d rather have a night of feeling lousy on the couch watching Netflix any day over serious COVID-19.
An earlier version of this article was published on Business Insider January 8, 2020.
Dr. Joy Henningsen is a diagnostic radiologist at the Birmingham Veterans Affairs Medical Center and a clinical assistant professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
On December 17, she received the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine along with other hospital workers at the Birmingham VA Medical Center.
Henningsen says she eagerly signed up to receive the vaccine as soon as it became available. After a temperature check, she says the injection process went quickly and that she “barely felt” the shot.
For now, she says her day-to-day behavior will remain the same: avoiding bars or restaurants, wearing masks outside of her home, and practicing good sanitization, until a majority of Americans have also received the vaccine.
We’re in the middle of winter, with surge upon surge in COVID-19 cases, and the pandemic is far from over. And yet I’m euphoric – a novel feeling in this year dominated by a novel virus – because news of a safe and robust vaccine, while far from being a magic bullet, gives me great hope that the beginning of the end of the pandemic is here.
I felt a rush of optimism when Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna released their impressive vaccine efficacy data and tweeted about my enthusiasm to receive the vaccine.
I believe in vaccines, I believe in this vaccine, and I was beyond eager to roll up my sleeve to get it. I also applaud the FDA’s emergency use authorization for the vaccine given the fact that COVID-19 cases are still on the rise across the US.
I learned that my facility, UAB Medicine in Birmingham, Alabama and the Birmingham Veterans Affairs Medical Center would be receiving doses in the first national shipment.
My employer kept us apprised every step of the way. Just before the FDA authorized use of the first COVID-19 vaccine, staff received a survey of interest asking if we would opt to receive the vaccine as soon as it’s available; maybe; or not at all.
Since “yesterday” via time travel wasn’t an option, I went with “as soon as it’s available.” I probably refreshed my work email a thousand times waiting for any update as to my appointment time after submitting the form. Personally, I would’ve taken the first approved vaccine offered to me, no matter the manufacturer.
The brave staff in our ICU and emergency departments are at highest risk and were immunized first, followed by other healthcare workers and long-term care residents.
As a diagnostic radiologist, I’m not on the front lines, but I am a constant witness to COVID-19’s serious effects via the dark tales told by my patients’ medical images. I interpret images of the chest and lungs, which feature prominently in COVID’s respiratory wrath, and work closely with my frontline colleagues to inform them of critical imaging results.
Beyond work, I’m also an outspoken pro-mask, pro-vaccine healthcare communicator who keeps COVID-19 front and center in my mind. I am but one of many critical cogs in the healthcare wheel, but I must stay well so I’m able to provide lifesaving diagnostic information that guides my patients’ care. All members of the healthcare team should be protected.
I had zero reservations about getting the vaccine.
Thousands rolled up their sleeves during the various clinical trials, so even those of us fairly high on the priority list are not guinea pigs. The data from those early, willing trial volunteers gives me confidence that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is safe, which is why it was approved.
There have been reports of people feeling lousy for a day after the vaccine (pain at the site of injection, headaches, fever, muscle aches and chills – more common after the second dose), but I’ll take a temporary side effect any day over contracting COVID-19. There have also been reports of allergic reactions, particularly in those with a history of severe allergies.
I do not have such a history, but if I did, I would follow CDC guidelines to get the vaccine in a supervised setting and be monitored for 30 minutes afterward after first discussing risks with my personal physician.
The notice of my own vaccine appointment was an additional tangible reminder we’re slowly awakening from this global nightmare.
The vaccine process itself could not have been simpler.
I got the vaccine at the Birmingham VA Medical Center, and when I arrived for my appointment on December 17, it seemed they’d already been doing this for months rather than mere days. Everything was organized and streamlined with designated waiting areas and guided pathways to facilitate social distancing.
It felt very safe, and the holiday music and decorations made the process, dare I say, pleasant. I didn’t expect that. People were laughing and chatting, and it was lovely to have a holiday vibe of good cheer.
After a temperature check, I filled out a questionnaire that asked us our past medical history and questions about allergies. I chose to have the injection in my non-dominant arm since there were reports of soreness.
Still, I found the COVID-19 vaccine to be much less painful than my flu shot earlier this fall – I barely felt it. I waited the required 15 minutes to make sure there were no adverse reactions, and then I was done.
The sooner a majority of Americans can join me, the sooner we can return to the things we love.
I’m ecstatic to have been vaccinated, and am eager for my second dose in three weeks. I can’t wait to one day return to traveling and socializing, but for now, my life will look exactly the same for some time.
I’ll remain vigilant for my family and community, as should every vaccine recipient. My mother is also immunocompromised, which prompted my temporary move this year to be closer to her, so for this reason, my day-to-day behavior won’t change in any way.
I will continue to have groceries delivered; I will not go to bars or restaurants; and I will wear masks anytime I’m indoors outside of my home. Wearing a mask, washing hands, and social distancing are all here to stay until at least 75% of the American public is immunized by some public health experts’ estimations, so none of my personal practices the last 11 months will change.
It’s still unknown whether or not vaccine recipients can transmit the virus to others – even if it prevents us from becoming ill ourselves. I won’t risk the lives of the ones I love most.
The end of the pandemic can’t come fast enough -and I’m one of the lucky ones with good health, a job, and a roof over my head. Still, there’s also a weight to being a physician and healthcare communicator during a pandemic, especially one some Americans still do not even acknowledge as real.
But hope is on the horizon, and I’m overjoyed to have been a part of this moment in history.
An emergency-medicine doctor in Arizona said he was fired from his position at Yuma Regional Medical Center over posts he made on social media about the COVID-19 pandemic.
In viral tweets from November 22, Dr. Cleavon Gilman wrote that, when he arrived at work that day, he learned there were no available ICU beds left in Arizona. He also tagged Gov. Doug Ducey in the thread and asked, “what are you going to do?”
Gilman told Business Insider that the next day he was asked not to return to the hospital and that the staffing agency he works for told him it was due to his tweets.
“It’s just like a slap in the face,” he said. “America needs ER doctors, and here you have a champion for the people who is being side-lined when his services are needed on the front lines.”
Gilman, an Iraq War veteran, has been a very vocal figure throughout the pandemic. He has been featured in major news publications, including Business Insider, speaking about the experience of healthcare workers during this time.
After working in New York City during the initial COVID-19 surge last spring, he moved to Yuma, Arizona in the summer to work at the only hospital in the area. He said after he was dismissed, he never heard directly from anyone at the hospital about the decision.
“It’s an insult when you move your whole family to a place,” he said, “and you get a call one day that you can’t return back to work.”
Yuma Regional Medical Center did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.
Gilman said his tweets were not about the hospital, but about the surge in Arizona and what he describes as the war-like experiences frontline workers are currently facing amid the pandemic. He said his goal was to prompt change.
“My whole point is to target policy. We need to mandate masks, close indoor dining,” he said. “We need to take a hardline approach because cases are going up everyday in Arizona and the hospitals are at capacity.”
He also said the general public deserves to hear the truth directly from healthcare workers.
But doctors across the country are afraid to speak out about their experiences with COVID-19, Gilman said. He said many are being suppressed by their hospitals and are being silenced out of fear of retribution.
“We need to be protected as healthcare providers,” he said. “This cannot be the standard for which ER doctors are terminated.”
The American Academy of Emergency Medicine has been a proponent of increasing protections as well. The nonprofit association worked closely with lawmakers to introduce a bipartisan bill that would protect the due process rights of emergency physicians.
The bill is meant to provide protection to doctors who are not directly employed by the hospitals they are working at but by physician staffing companies, an increasingly common situation.
“Unfortunately, federal law has not been updated to reflect these changes in the industry and due process rights are not guaranteed to physicians who are not directly employed by the hospital,” Reps. Roger Marshall and Raul Ruiz, cosponsors of the bill, said in a statement earlier this year.
They said the legislation would protect ER physicians who are employed by a third-party contractor or company.
Gilman said, after what has happened to him, it is clear the bill is sorely needed for medical professionals across disciplines.
“I would advise all specialties to also try to pass similar legislation as well,” he said. “I can’t be an Iraq War veteran, ER doctor, on the frontlines of the pandemic where 3,000 people are dying a day, and getting fired over a tweet about ICU beds.”