A letter recently sent to Governor Kay Ivey inaccurately claims that COVID-19 vaccines aren’t safe or effective, and encourages Ivey to make alternative and disproven COVID drugs, including ivermectin, available to all Alabamians.
That Sept. 19 letter, which also asked Ivey to include a prohibition of vaccine mandates in her special session on prison construction, is signed by 17 Alabama medical doctors, four Alabama doctors of osteopathic medicine, conservative groups and five Republican state lawmakers.
Misinformation on COVID-19 is resulting in a public health crisis and filling Alabama’s hospital beds with the unvaccinated, who are dying in great numbers, according to a UAB doctor and infectious disease expert.
The letter was drafted by Concerned Doctors, a group with a website that supports the use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19, and provides resources for those seeking doctors to prescribe the drug, including links to the group America’s Frontline Doctors, which is at the center of a network of right-wing health providers that has made at least $15 million selling consultations and ineffective COVID treatments to the public.
The National Institutes of Health says the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine is ineffective against COVID and can cause cardiac events. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn against using ivermectin as a treatment for COVID and said clinical trials have shown the drug to be ineffective.
The letter to Ivey itself cites an article posted to the America’s Frontline Doctors website, but the link to the article doesn’t work, and the article itself, which made a wildly inaccurate claim about deaths linked to the Pfizer vaccine, has been debunked.
The Concerned Doctors website also has a “Vaccine Resources” page that claims COVID vaccines “kill more people than they save for all age groups.” The website also has a donate tab that links back to a donation page for the Eagle Forum of Alabama, which hosted a “COVID Truths” forum in Birmingham on Sept. 19 where Dr. Jordan Vaughn and two other doctors who signed on to the letter also spoke.
The Concerned Doctors website has several photos of Vaughn, CEO of MedHelp Clinics, and a link back to Medhelp. APR’s attempt Thursday to reach someone with Concerned Doctors were unsuccessful.
APR isn’t sharing the letter because it contains much misinformation on COVID-19, and doing so would add to the inaccurate information’s spread.
At least one of the doctors who signed the letter has said he’s a member of America’s Frontline Doctors. Dr. David Calderwood of the Huntsville Clinic, one of the doctors who signed the letter, spoke in July 2020 in Washington, D.C. of his support for the drug hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID as a member of the group America’s Frontline Doctors, according to WHNT News 19.
America’s Frontline Doctors, formed in 2020, refers people to SpeakWithAnMD.com, which charges $90 consultations where people are sold COVID treatments deemed ineffective, including hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, by America’s Frontline Doctors-trained physicians, according to a lengthy investigation by The Intercept, which published Sept. 28.
Cadence Health, the telehealth company that provided SpeakWithAnMD.com a platform to sell those drugs, terminated service to the company after being contacted by The Intercept.
People seeking alternative treatments for COVID through the America’s Frontline Doctors network have spent at least $15 million on those consultations and ineffective prescriptions, according to The Intercept, which was given a trove of records hacked from two companies connected to America’s Frontline Doctors – Cadence Health Ravkoo.
A map published in The Intercept’s reporting, which uses the hacked data from those health care companies doing business with America’s Frontline Doctors, shows how many people in cities across the U.S. bought those ineffective COVID treatment drugs from the network of companies.
In Birmingham, 75 customers bought those drugs, according to the map, in Huntsville (65), Hoover (32), Cullman (10), Tuscaloosa (12), Trussville (21), Northport (12)Auburn (13), Florence (13), Harvest (13), Owens Crossroads (10), Meridianville (10), Gadsden (14), Montgomery (21) Dothan (27), Fairhope (36), Spanish Fort (16), Daphne (27) and Bay Minette (13).
The largest number of Alabamians, or 86, in a single city who bought these ineffective drugs were in Mobile, where hospitals were overrun with COVID patients during the last surge, where refrigerated “mobile morgue” trucks were sent to hold the many COVID dead and federal medical teams worked alongside civilian medical staff in Mobile hospitals filled with patients.
“This is actually a situation that has happened in Alabama hospitals now. We have enough people in such numbers in these locations that there’s no room to put these bodies,” said Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris on Aug. 27.
America’s Frontline Doctors continue to promulgate dangerous misinformation about COVID vaccines, saying they’re experimental and dangerous. The group still sells $90 consultations online to those seeking alternative treatments, proven to be ineffective at treating or preventing COVID.
“In 2021, poison control centers across the U.S. received a three-fold increase in the number of calls for human exposures to ivermectin in January 2021 compared to the pre-pandemic baseline,” the CDC noted in an Aug. 26 health advisory.
California physician Simone Gold, founder of America’s Frontline Doctors, was arrested in January for entering the U.S. Capitol during the deadly Jan. 6 riot following former President Donald Trump’s rally.
Despite Alabama’s large numbers of newly confirmed daily COVID deaths, physicians continue to treat patients who are unvaccinated and even delay seeking medical care for COVID infection after getting bad advice, said Dr. Ellen Eaton, an assistant professor of infectious diseases, in a message to APR.
“Because false information around disease prevention, like vaccination, and treatment threatens public safety, the ‘Infodemic’ is truly a public health crisis,” Eaton said. “Over 6 billion doses of COVID vaccines have been administered worldwide, which means we have the data and experience to know that vaccines are safe, including for immunocompromised patients and those who are pregnant.”
The medical community has seen just how effective vaccines are at preventing severe infections, Eaton said, making hospitalizations and death 25 times less likely for those who are fully vaccinated. Misinformation can be devastating for patients and provider, she said.
“Just yesterday, my friend was newly diagnosed with COVID and asked his physician about monoclonal antibody therapy, which is very effective at preventing severe infection,” Eaton said.
But instead of recommending monoclonal antibody treatment, the physician instead prescribed ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, neither of which is effective against COVID, Eaton said.
“Fortunately, he has been following the CDC and UAB Medicine updates and knew this was not the standard of care. Because he is vaccinated, his infection has been mild,” Eaton said. “But, we have seen similar cases in unvaccinated young adults who were advised against vaccination, against evidence based COVID treatments, and unfortunately didn’t survive. They succumbed to misinformation and, ultimately, to COVID.”
“And at a health system level, misinformation is truly catastrophic,” Eaton said, noting that between 80 percent and 90 percent of patients hospitalized with COVID are unvaccinated.
“Just this month, that has led to hundreds of unvaccinated patients in our local hospitals with severe COVID,” Eaton said.
At UAB Hospital in Birmingham on Tuesday, 87 percent of the hospital’s 64 COVID patients were unvaccinated, and 87 percent of those COVID patients in the ICU were unvaccinated. Of the 23 patients hooked to ventilators, 91 percent were unvaccinated.
Those percentages track closely at other state hospitals. Of the 39 COVID patients hospitalized at East Alabama Health hospitals on Wednesday, 92 percent were unvaccinated, and all of the COVID patients in ICU’s and on ventilators were unvaccinated.
“In other words, because members of our community failed to receive COVID prevention through vaccination, hundreds of hospital beds were unavailable for those in need of acute care for cancer, stroke, or motor vehicle accidents,” Eaton said. “As a result, we are hearing heartbreaking stories of people who died not from COVID itself but COVID-related disruptions- delayed chemotherapy, heart surgeries, or due to crisis standards of care as we have seen in Idaho.”
The letter to Ivey is also signed by Dr. Vaughn of MedHelp Clinics, who has also been a vocal critic of masks on children to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The Alabama Department of Public Health, the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics and numerous other medical organizations all recommend universal masking in schools to slow the spread of COVID. A CDC study of Arizona schools with varying mask requirements found that the odds of COVID outbreaks in schools without mask mandates were 3.5 times higher than in schools with mask mandates.
Vaughn also spoke at the Eagle Forum of Alabama’s “COVID Truths” forum in Birmingham, as did the American’s Frontine Doctors-connected, Dr. Calderwood, in Huntsville. Calderwood is listed as an Alabama physician who is prescribing ivermectin on a list found by clicking through a tab on the Concerned Doctors website.
Texas cardiologist Dr. Peter McCullough also spoke at the Eagle Forum event, by video. McCullough is being sued by his former employer for continuing to use that connection when giving interviews where he spreads misinformation about COVID, including that there’s no reason for healthy people under 50 to get vaccinated, according to Medpage Today. The former employer, Baylor Scott & White Health, received a restraining order to prevent McCullough from using his previous connection in interviews.
McCullough claimed inaccurately in his speech in Birmingham, when discussing the level of immunity in those who were unvaccinated, had COVID and recovered, that “as far as we know, the immunity is forever.” McCullough also falsely claimed that asymptomatic people with COVID cannot spread the virus.
A study by the Kentucky Department of Public Health and the CDC published in August found that Kentucky residents who were not vaccinated were 2.34 times as likely to get reinfected with COVID compared with those who were fully vaccinated.
There are breakthrough cases in which a vaccinated person contracts COVID, but the symptoms are much less severe, if any at all, and the person is much less likely to be hospitalized or to die from COVID, state health experts have said, and hospital data shows.
McCullough claimed inaccurately, during a previously-taped video played at the Birmingham forum, that hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin are safe and effective treatments for COVID.
Vaughn, speaking at the Eagle Forum of Alabama’s COVID event, said COVID “is probably one of the most studied things in the history of medicine, but you’d be surprised. We really don’t have a good handle, or at least a national protocol, on how to treat it.”
Vaughn spoke highly of McCullough’s approach to COVID-19, and discussed the need for “early intervention.” Vaughn said McCoullugh’s research has shown such early interventions can cut the need for someone with COVID to be hospitalized by as much as 90 percent.
“And the question would be, why are we not doing this? That’s incredible. It’s probably better than any vaccine, in many ways,” Vaughn said of those early interventions.
APR was unable to discuss the letter to Ivey with State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris, but the Alabama Department of Public Health in a statement to APR said the department continues to support the “overwhelming scientific data that confirms the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.”
“ADPH continues to educate the general public regarding the importance of vaccination and urges all Alabamians ages 12 and above to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” the statement reads.
Among the anti-vaccine and conservative groups to sign on to the letter is the Alabama Policy Institute, a nonprofit right-wing think tank, and the Eagle Forum of Alabama.
Other signees on the letter are Alabama Rep. Mike Holmes, R-Wetumpka, who attended the Eagle Forum COVID forum, according to a video of the event, Rep. Tommy Hanes, R-Bryant, Rep. Ritchie Whorton, R-Owens Crossroads, Rep. Andrew Sorrell, R-Muscle Shoals, and Rep. Jim Carnes, R-Vestavia.
Both Hanes and Whorton tested positive for COVID in March. Sorrell plans to propose a bill that would prohibit school systems from mandating students wear masks in schools.
APR’s attempts to reach several of these lawmakers to discuss the letter were unsuccessful.
As of Thursday, 14,299 Alabamians have died of COVID, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. New COVID cases and hospitalizations have been declining in recent weeks, but the states ICU’s remain critically full, at 95 percent capacity on Thursday, according to the Alabama Hospital Association.