Not a day goes by without a video being forwarded to me accompanied by the question, “Is this true?” Invariably the answer is “um..no..there is no evidence,” and that usually ends the discussion. Sometimes, though, I can discern that a video has legs because I get the “Is this true?” query several times a day. An example of this is a recent epic, dripping with pseudoscience, produced by Dr. Lee Merritt an American orthopedic surgeon. Dr. Merritt may be a fine orthopedic surgeon, but when it comes to the science of COVID-19, she is a bumbling neophyte.
Suspicion is immediately aroused when Merritt is identified as a member of “America’s Frontline Doctors,” a handful of conspiracy-minded physicians that include luminaries such as Dr. Stella Immanuel who alleges that alien DNA is being used in medical treatments and that researchers are working on a vaccine to prevent people from becoming religious. She also believes in a conspiracy by the “Illuminati” to destroy the world with abortion, gay marriage, and of all things, children’s toys. As far as gynecological diseases go, they can be caused by having sex with witches and demons that appear in dreams.
Then we have the founder of “America’s Frontline Doctors,” Dr. Simone Gold, who was arrested for taking part in the January 6 attack on the Capitol. She has a sordid history of attacking Dr. Fauci’s sound scientific advice and claiming that COVID-19 vaccines are “experimental biological agents.” She warns people not to be “coerced” into taking them. Lockdowns, this guru maintains, have mental health effects that are more harmful than those caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which according to her, are minimal. Dr. Gold trots out the usual nonsensical trope about 99% of infections by the virus being harmless. While it is true that most infected people experience mild or moderate symptoms, roughly 10-15% progress to serious disease and about 5% become critically ill. In some cases, symptoms can linger for months, maybe even years.
In any case, these fine specimens of the medical profession maintain that there is no need to worry even if someone contracts COVID-19 because “simple effective treatments are available.” It is at this point that the snake in the grass, namely hydroxychloroquine, rears its head. Not only is this medication presented as a treatment, but hydroxychloroquine is also claimed to prevent infection if taken prophylactically. Initially, there were some seductive results with hydroxychloroquine, but subsequent trials that were better designed failed to produce any positive results and some even suggested complications in terms of heart function. Ivermectin, an anti-parasitic medication used in animals is also championed by America’s Frontline Doctors. While there are theoretical possibilities for some benefit, so far clinical trials have been inconclusive, with some showing no effect, and others demonstrating a decrease in inflammatory markers as well as a shorter time for viral clearance. Certainly, ivermectin is not a “magic bullet” that targets COVID-19 as claimed.
Then there are the conspiracy theories. “Big Pharma” is said to be hiding hydroxychloroquine benefits because this cheap drug would undermine the potential profits from vaccines. And of course, as the convoluted story goes, those vaccines have not been properly tested and mess with our DNA. This handful of physicians, who have no specific training in epidemiology, virology or infectious disease, claim to have better knowledge of COVID-19 than the thousands of academic and pharmaceutical researchers who have forged specialized careers in these areas. The only expertise they have actually demonstrated is in spreading misinformation and undermining evidence-based advice.
The conspiracy theories continue with some more unabashed nonsense about two factories manufacturing ingredients for hydroxychloroquine pills mysteriously blowing up simultaneously. Of course, the insinuation is that this was done by the nefarious vaccine promoters to protect their profits. The story is that these factories were producing magnesium stearate, “the key component in hydroxychloroquine.” To start with, magnesium stearate is not a “key component.” It is an inactive ingredient used in many pills as an internal lubricant that prevents the active ingredient from clumping during manufacture. The Mexican factory cited doesn’t even produce magnesium stearate, neither does the other company in Madison, Illinois. And the plants didn’t blow up! They did experience unrelated fires.
Dr. Merritt buys into all these conspiracy theories and the various pseudoscientific treatments. Masks are useless, she says, and meetings with friends should be encouraged. Along with her Frontline Doctor colleagues, she demonstrates an ignorance of science and the scientific method, and her rebuke of COVID vaccines puts people who follow her advice at risk. She does, however, get one thing right. In the video, she mentions that a low blood level of vitamin D is a risk factor for COVID-19 and correctly suggests that supplements may be useful, especially in northern climates where sun exposure in the winter may be minimal. As for the rest of the garbled word salad in this painful thirty-minute long video, let’s be kind and just say “ummm, there is no evidence.”