“We are pledging to assist those Americans who are impacted by this disaster by offering free medical care.” On its own, a statement of solidarity and benevolence. But given who released the statement and the context in which it was made, I can’t help but see this as a public relations stunt.
On February 3rd, 2023, a freight train carrying hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. The event encouraged important discussions about the regulation of train maintenance and the toxicity of the chemicals that were spilt and burnt, but in the midst of all this, a virtual care business called the Wellness Company pledged “to put patients before profits” by offering free medical care until August to the people of East Palestine.
The twist? Its Chief Scientific Officer is none other than Dr. Peter McCullough, one of the best-known faces of COVID-19 misinformation, and the Wellness Company he helps lead is a striking example of the very lucrative libertarian medical movement that claims to stand against the profit-motivated pharmaceutical industry while replacing drugs with expensive dietary supplements.
The libertarian medical movement
Have you lost trust in the healthcare system? Are you seeking the best doctor to take care of your health? Do you think the government and the pharmaceutical industry have no business in medicine whatsoever? If you answered yes to the above, the Wellness Company’s telehealth service was made for you.
Started by a Canadian man, Foster Coulson (who according to his LinkedIn profile has a high-school degree), the Wellness Company is one of the many children of the medical freedom movement, which gained a foothold during the COVID-19 pandemic. Using an emergency like the Ohio train derailment to cast a favourable light on one of Coulson’s projects is not new. Coulson and his family, which owns Coulson Aviation, have previously sent helicopters to fight fires in Bolivia in 2019 after he had spent three years developing opportunities there for the family business, and the company also sent more aircraft to Chile and Australia to deal with wildfires that same year, which resulted in a lot of media attention.
According to Mother Jones, Foster Coulson met Dr. Vladimir Zelenko on one of his trips to Bolivia. Zelenko would infamously end up promoting hydroxychloroquine against COVID-19. Coulson’s meeting with the doctor would prove impactful and he would launch the Wellness Company in 2022, the same year Zelenko died of cancer. The Wellness Company’s book, The Next Wave Is Brave: Standing Up for Medical Freedom, is dedicated to the late doctor and promises to continue his fight for medical freedom.
Freedom from what, you may ask? Any outside attempt at regulation and systematization. The modern practice of medicine is driven by the application of algorithms. When a patient presents with symptoms, a doctor will order specific tests to rule out certain possibilities, and once a diagnosis is arrived at, there are lines of treatments that have been decided about by medical organizations based on the best available evidence. This modern medical practice is regulated by medical colleges and, as we saw during the pandemic, governments have a hand in shaping public health policy. At the periphery of this system lies the pharmaceutical industry. On the one hand, it provides drugs and vaccines. On the other hand, it sneaks into the medical system and tries to push it in a direction that will enhance its profits. The resulting healthcare system is imperfect, to put it mildly, and improvements are sorely needed, but we must recognize an important way in which it has progressed over the decades. It has moved away from eminence toward embracing evidence. It’s no longer about who makes the claim but about how well supported the claim is.
The libertarian medical movement, of which the Wellness Company is a card-carrying member, seeks to turn back the clock on this development and throw flowers at the feet of the brave mavericks who replace clinical trial results with anecdotes. It demonizes governments and industries, indiscriminately and conspiratorially, and hitches its wagon to the ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine train. If Big Pharma is evil and corrupt, its thinking goes, Pharma will overlook off-patent drugs and so-called natural supplements, which must be effective.
And this is what you will get from the telehealth, “we don’t accept insurance,” cash-only Wellness Company: a lot of unproven and disproven supplements, trading one set of pills for another, via virtual appointments with medical professionals with, shall we say, interesting backgrounds.
Freedom isn’t free
I looked into many of the Wellness Company healthcare providers. While some seemed perfectly legit and might have decided to expand their opportunities to provide telehealth services regardless of the Wellness Company’s medical freedom philosophy, many offer yet more evidence that the typically left-wing alternative medicine community has joined hands with the right-wing libertarian movement. Healing yourself with plants is now often entangled with strongly supporting an armed militia, like the twin snakes of the caduceus.
Among the Company’s providers is Dr. Cynthia Reed (also known as Cyndi Reed), who sarcastically decries diseases by putting the word in quotation marks and claims to have healed from many of them by having gone “against the opposite [sic] of the U.S. dietary guidelines.” She professes skills in functional medicine, an approach focused on unnecessary testing and liberal prescribing of dietary supplements.
There’s Dr. Peter Nwoke, whose Detroit clinic offers a number of deeply questionable interventions, such as stem cell therapy for back pain and chiropractic care for upper respiratory tract infections. He was reprimanded in 2014 and has had his medical license suspended twice in the course of seven years.
The loudest of them all, however, seems to be Dr. Jason Lakatos, a member of Florida’s Libertarian Party who supports Ron DeSantis and who wrote on his LinkedIn profile last year the following mad tirade: “If you are a doctor using remdesivir [an antiviral drug approved to treat COVID-19], you need to stop immediately, you will eventually be prosecuted for manslaughter, crimes against humanity if you continue to knowingly use a medication that leads to death in 20 to 30% of the cases. Come clean now and confess your sins.” The religiously-themed posting was accompanied by keywords, including #BanmRNAVaccines and #BenitoFaucilini.
Above these providers sits the leadership team, which includes Dr. Peter McCullough who has claimed that the pandemic was planned and that those who got COVID now have permanent immunity. The American Board of Internal Medicine recommended last October that his board certification be revoked in light of the barrage of false claims he has made publicly. The leadership team also consists of Dr. Richard Amerling. His article, provocatively titled “The Nazification of American Medicine,” exemplifies the deranged vision of libertarian medicine: the COVID-19 measures were “medical tyranny,” the vaccines were “experimental” gene therapy, and the WHO, CDC, and FDA are melting in the corrupting bath of industry money.
Amerling’s solution is “science, logic, deductive reasoning, judgment, and clinical experience,” but I saw none of this when combing through the solutions actually proposed by the Wellness Company. Instead, we get 22 dietary supplements, including a “Spike Support Formula” which is claimed to counteract harmful spike proteins, like the coronavirus’. If curing COVID-19 was as easy as popping a blend of herbs and minerals, we wouldn’t have a global death toll of 6.9 million people. The five scientific papers listed as proof that this supplement works are thin gruel: they all showcase experiments done with cells in the laboratory, occasionally in animals. The only trial in humans is of an enzyme, part of the Spike Support Formula, that comes from boiled soybeans which seemed to lower blood pressure in one study. Meanwhile, this Spike Support Formula also contains 50 milligrams of dandelion extract, while the authors of the paper they cite as support conclude that more studies are needed to determine what the right therapeutic dose of dandelion might be. Given the Company’s aversion for evidence-based medicine, I would say that stuffing pills with arbitrary amounts of herbs is as far from evidence-based practice as possible.
Their store is full of products of the sort we find on the shelves of any peddler of unproven dietary supplements. Pills for sleeping, pills for a healthy heart, pills for strong bones, peppered with allusions to “boosting your immune system,” which is an unscientific claim that, taken literally, would result in an autoimmune disease. They also sell hair, skin and nail supplements filled with 9,533% of your recommended daily intake of biotin, a molecule which you probably don’t need to supplement with and which can interfere with common blood tests, and daily multivitamin gummies, which often go against the science and sound judgment that Dr. Amerling seems to love so much and simply help fund a 152-billion-dollar supplement industry.
The Wellness Company’s promise to put patients before profits certainly gives it an aura of humanitarianism, but a simple look at their website should disabuse us of the notion that the libertarian medical movement can’t profit from its contrarianism. Their supplements range from USD 16.99 to 84.99 for a monthly supply. Crunching the numbers, the average cost of a bottle is $49.15, and you’ll save close to eight dollars by becoming a member. Regular memberships are $9.99 monthly or $99.99 annually, although if you seek a personalized plan to “deprescribe” (meaning replace your pharmaceutical drugs with their dodgy supplements and lifestyle changes), that will cost you $79.99 a month. To also save on dental care, you can pay them $249.99 yearly. Members can see a doctor for $59.99 unless they’re interested in a specific package. To get rid of allergies, it’s $200, while the Core Wellness package is priced at $579.99 for members and the Optimal Wellness package is $999.99.
Their services also include an adverse reaction recovery thousand-dollar package, claimed to help treat a vaccine injury; an equally expensive long COVID relief package; and a $200 vaccine exemption letter. One of the reasons you could be eligible for a medical exemption, they state, is suffering from current chronic conditions. Given the increased risk of complications from COVID in the presence of chronic conditions like asthma and diabetes, and given the actual effectiveness of the vaccine, handing out vaccine exemptions for chronic conditions seems to go against best practice. People with chronic conditions should not avoid COVID vaccines but actively seek them out.
The Wellness Company’s declaration of free medical care for the residents of East Palestine got positive coverage by Fox News, surprise, surprise. Given the Company’s rejection of evidence-based medicine and its embrace of implausible and expensive dietary supplement solutions, it’s safe to say that the people of East Palestine deserve better.
- Dr. Peter McCullough, who has made a significant number of false statements about the COVID-19 pandemic, is the Chief Scientific Officer of the Wellness Company
- The Wellness Company is part of the libertarian medical movement which seeks to divorce the practice of medicine from any government or industry influence
- The solution proposed by the Wellness Company is to get rid of your medical prescriptions and replace them with unproven and disproven dietary supplements