The anti-vaccine Facebook groups have a new message for members of their community: don’t go to the emergency room, and get your loved ones out of intensive care units.
Consumed by conspiracy theories that doctors are preventing unvaccinated patients from receiving miracle cures or even killing them on purpose, some people in anti-vaccine and pro-ivermectin Facebook groups are telling people with Covid-19 to stay away. away from hospitals and try instead. increasingly dangerous home treatments, according to articles seen by NBC News in recent weeks.
The posts represent an escalation in mistrust of medical professionals in groups that have sprung up in recent months on social media platforms, which have attempted to crack down on Covid misinformation. And this is something some doctors say they are seeing manifesting in their hospitals as they filled up because of the latest wave of the delta variant.
“We were only four Covid patients two months ago. In this wave, we had 40 to 50 Covid patients in four different intensive care wards, 97% of which were unvaccinated, ”said Wes Ely, intensive care physician and professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “We were advancing, and now we’re losing really, really badly. Something’s going on on the internet, and it’s raising the steam dramatically. “
These concerns echo various local reports on the growing threats and violence directed against healthcare professionals. In Branson, Missouri, a medical center recently introduced panic buttons on employee badges due to a spike in assaults. Violence and threats against medical professionals have recently been reported in Massachusetts, Texas, Georgia and Idaho.
While disinformation about Covid has been a lingering problem since the start of the pandemic, the introduction of vaccines has reinvigorated the anti-vaccine community and sparked a new push to find and promote alternative treatments – some of which are potentially dangerous.
Others are turning away from hospitals altogether. In recent weeks, some anti-vaccine Facebook groups and conspiracy theory influencers on the Telegram encrypted messaging app have offered instructions on how to get family members out of the hospital, usually insisting for them to be transferred to hospice, and recorded those they’ve successfully removed from hospitals for viral videos.
Some people in groups that have recently formed to promote the fake ivermectin cure, a pest control, have claimed that getting Covid patients out of hospitals is essential so they can self-medicate at home with ivermectin. But as patients begin to realize that ivermectin on its own isn’t effective, groups have started recommending a series of increasingly dangerous home treatments, such as gargling with garlic. iodine, and nebulize and inhale hydrogen peroxide, calling it part of a “protocol.” “
Tuesday, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America issue a warning against the nebulization of hydrogen peroxide.
As Covid cases increase among people who refuse to get vaccinated and misinformation continues to spread on social media, anti-vaccine groups have given rise to what Harvard Medical School doctor Aditi Nerurkar calls “vigilant medicine,” in which patients report potentially life-saving care from doctors to try unproven cures pushed on Facebook.
“It is self-defense medicine: medicine practiced by lay people who read groups created by other lay people in echo chambers and silos that, presumably, someone in the anti-vax movement is taking advantage of.” , she said.
Facebook groups dedicated to purported miracle cures and home therapies, like ivermectin, have become de facto hubs for anti-vaccine content over the past month.
As Facebook cracked down on groups and content with explicit anti-vaccine names and messages, groups with names like “Ivermectin MD Team” have emerged in their stead, amassing tens of thousands of followers. In these pro-ivermectin spaces, vaccine endorsements are outright mocked or seen as a government conspiracy, while unproven drugs are presented almost exclusively as alternatives.
A Facebook spokesperson said in an emailed statement, “We are removing content that attempts to buy, sell or donate ivermectin. cure or prevention guaranteed, and we do not allow advertisements promoting ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19. “
Anti-vaccination campaigners mistakenly believe ivermectin is a secret miracle cure for Covid. Prescriptions for the drug have exploded, despite the refusal of some pharmacists to fill them. Horse owners face a shortage of dewormers, which contain ivermectin, as anti-vaccine influencers and Facebook groups have falsely claimed that the drugs are indeed the same.
Many users of the Ivermectin groups are pushing conspiracy theories about how Food and Drug Administration-recommended treatments frequently used by doctors and nurses in hospitals are secretly killing patients, and some have suggested that doctors and doctors nurses were killing patients on purpose so they could receive government payments.
Conspiracy theorists have pushed the idea that remdesivir, an antiviral drug, and the use of ventilators “drown” unvaccinated Covid patients. In reality, unvaccinated patients die from the debilitating effects Covid has on the lungs.
“There is no evidence that it works and it could potentially have toxicity,” said Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to the president last month, about ivermectin.
Yet viral rumors have led some Covid patients and their families to insist on receiving ivermectin from doctors who refuse to prescribe it as a treatment in their hospitals.
Earlier this month, QAnon supporters bombarded a Chicago-area hospital with threats after another QAnon supporter, Veronica Wolski, requested and was not given ivermectin.
Wolski, who was not vaccinated, later died in hospital after three weeks of fighting Covid.
Nerurkar said patients often seek immediate answers and relief once they contract Covid, but unlike snake oil and fake wonder drugs, proven treatments for the virus can take days to be effective. “which has been a source of great frustration for clinicians, and also for patients and families.
“When we feel stressed, we need a target for that stress. For a long time, initially, the target could have been Covid, ”she said. “But now it’s not that anymore. With the delta variant, and the stress has been so great that we don’t even look at the virus anymore and say, “This is our common enemy,” which is really what it should be. Instead, they start targeting people, messengers – nurses and doctors. “
Ely said one particular patient who had been misinformed stayed with him. The woman who had Covid arrived in her intensive care unit about five months pregnant. Ely said the woman was not vaccinated and refused any treatment that would help fight the virus.
“Why? Because, to her, it’s not real,” he said. “So now we are dealing with a woman in intensive care, the baby too young to live. We have to wait several more. weeks for the baby to be viable.
Ely said he takes the same approach with every patient who is skeptical of doctors or Covid.
He said he knelt at the bedside of his patients to make sure he was not standing above them, so that he could speak to them “from a place of reverence.”
“When I kneel with them, holding their hands, I look them in the eye and say, ‘Tell me. Tell me what you’re afraid of. I am your doctor. I want to help you. I am here to serve you. And I tell them ‘it’s always a privilege to serve you,’ ”said Ely.
“So I kneel down. I look her in the eye. I hold his hand. I said, ‘I hear you. I’m not going to leave. I will not give up on you. But there are some people you can’t put on the other side, ”he said. “When people get sick, they are very likely to die, and almost all pregnant mothers in this situation lose their babies. So we have two people who die without treatment for Covid. “
Ely said this patient was not alone and that some of those who refuse the vaccine “keep denying it until they die.”
“And let me tell you, it’s not uncommon. You asked me what I hear, and this is what is happening. Real time. Right now. “