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Health Care 502: Buyer Beware (COVID-19 Edition)

Remember when I warned you not to take health care advice from people who don’t know much of any medical science but do stand to profit plenty from product sales? Now that COVID-19 and the novel coronavirus have become a global pandemic, all sorts of scammers and con artists are coming out the woodwork to sell us “miracle cures”. Today, we’re cutting through the crap and calling out the pseudoscience at the heart of these coronavirus scams.

Please don’t f–k with my dad’s meds.
health care
Photo by Andrew Davey

My father relies on certain prescriptions in order to maintain and progress in his recovery. Now that we’re just over ten weeks removed from his heart surgery, these medications appear to be working. 

I’ve already complained whenever my dad’s insurance company has sought to restrict or outright deny the care he needs. Imagine how I’ll complain if I find out that he can’t get his prescriptions because the pharmacies are running low on these drugs. Imagine my anger if I find out that he can’t get his medicine because a bunch of idiots began hoarding them because some scummy scammer convinced them this medicine will magically cure them.

Fortunately, my dad’s heart medicine is not in danger (yet?). However, medicine that other Americans rely on is now being threatened because President Donald Trump and a growing chorus of right-wing pundits are hawking them as “miracle cures” for COVID-19. 

While you’re at it, please don’t f–k with these people’s meds either.
Photo by Andrew Davey

Hydroxychloroquine is already used as an effective treatment for lupus, malaria, and rheumatoid arthritis, and azithromycin is already used as an antibiotic. Ever since Donald Trump began hyping these drugs as coronavirus “game changers”, pharmacies began running short on them. This might not seem like a problem for people who’ve already begun hoarding them in hopes that Trump is correct about their “game changing” potential. 

But for people who are already battling auto-immune disorders, they can’t afford to run short of hydroxychloroquine. Meanwhile in its first small controlled trial, hydroxychloroquine treatment didn’t result in different outcomes from conventional COVID-19 treatment. And when an Arizona couple administered their own hydroxychloroquine treatment to prevent contraction of COVID-19, both were rushed to the hospital and one of them died from poisoning.

Considering these three factors of people actually needing these drugs for legitimate medical treatment, bad actors hoarding these drugs in hopes of securing their own “game changing miracle cure”, and people who may have been motivated by good intentions hurting themselves and others by putting too much faith in Trump’s reckless rhetoric, it made sense for Governor Steve Sisolak (D) to issue an emergency regulation to ensure that hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin are available for those who need it. And despite the growing chorus of far-right attacks on Sisolak for this regulation, it makes sense not to promote a “miracle cure” that still hasn’t been proven to be an effective COVID-19 treatment. 

No, “immunity boosting” snake oil doesn’t cure COVID-19. 

I’ve been warning you not to fall for Alex Jones’ “pure and virile” snake oil, and I’ve been warning you not to fall for Gwyneth Paltrow’s “heirloom, organic” snake oil. Neither is based in actual science, and both simply want to make a fast buck by selling you empty promises. And yes, they and many others continue to shill for snake oil as they try to convince us the snake oil will cure us of the coronavirus.

Over in Goop-land, “trusted expert” contributor and “Friend of GP” Kelly Brogan posted a video on her own Facebook, Instagram, and Vimeo channels where she claimed, “There is potentially no such thing as the coronavirus,” that the 22,000+ confirmed COVID-19 deaths worldwide are “likely being accelerated by the fear [of the virus] itself,” and that the U.S. government allegedly plans to use vaccination records to take “totalitarian governmental control”. As of this morning, Brogan is still listed as a “Goop contributor”. And while Goop itself isn’t claiming COVID-19 is fake, Goop is still hawking pseudoscientific “immunity boosting” products and other “wellness solutions”.

Meanwhile at InfoWars, New York (State) Attorney General Letitia James (D) sent a cease-and-desist letter to Alex Jones earlier this month for claiming that his vitamins, creams, toothpastes, and other InfoWars merchandise cure and/or prevent contraction of the novel coronavirus. But not only is Alex Jones still selling his fraudulent “coronavirus cures”, but he’s even spreading unfounded “martial law” rumors to sell even more products at his InfoWars store. 

Even while Donald Trump denied the severe reality of COVID-19 earlier this year, some of his favorite far-right pundits saw the opportunity to exploit coronavirus fears to promote their ideological agenda and sell more of their products and services. And as we can see from the Goop-i-verse’s similar shilling of “wellness”, the coronavirus scams are not limited to the fascists. 

The scams are everywhere, even on your feed.

You’d think that a sexual assault allegation and the criminal conviction on 23 counts of fraud and one count of conspiracy would deter people from listening to a disgraced televangelist hawking “miracle cures”. But no, Jim Bakker (yes, that one) came back to sell his “Silver Solution”. Even as the FDA and multiple states have sent letters ordering Bakker to stop fraudulently claiming that silver treats and/or cures COVID-19, Bakker continues to praise his “Silver Solution” and claim that the suspension of “Silver Solution” sales is due to “demonic warfare”.

But wait, there’s more: “Bachelor Nation” alum Krystal Nielson has taken to Instagram to claim that her “‘Reset and Rebalance’ ten-day detox program” prevents inflammation that she (falsely) linked to the novel coronavirus. Other social media “influencers” are exploiting the pandemic to shill for everything from fitness coaching programs to dietary supplements, and the FDA has recently sent warning letters to six other companies claiming their products (such as essential oils and “herbal teas”) prevent, treat, and/or cure COVID-19.

In a time when people most need accurate health news and effective medical treatment, we’re instead seeing a flood of misinformation and outright propaganda. So instead of just pointing and laughing at this nonsense, we need to call it out for the nonsense it truly is, lest we risk people falling for these potentially deadly scams.

Don’t fall for fake “cures”. Stick with what works.

I was hoping I wouldn’t have to write this. But since I have a father who’s at heightened risk of suffering severe illness from COVID-19, and since I have other friends and family who also face heightened risk, I feel an obligation to speak up for them in urging everyone to stick to actual medical science and stick to what works in preventing further spread of this virus.

Just because President Donald Trump says it doesn’t mean it’s true. Just because your favorite Instagram “influencer” offers a “cure” doesn’t mean it works. And just because someone who’s claiming to be a “doctor” promises “natural healing” doesn’t mean it might actually make you sicker. Please stick to actual medical professionals when seeking treatment, because we’re all depending on you to stop the spread of COVID-19.

3:30 PM UPDATE: Governor Steve Sisolak just held a Facebook Live session with Dr. Shadaba Asad to answer many of these very questions on the medical science of COVID-19.

Governor Sisolak & Dr. Shadaba Asad sit down to discuss COVID-19 precautions and provide information.

Posted by Governor Steve Sisolak on Thursday, March 26, 2020

Dr. Shadaba Asad serves as the Director of Infectious Disease at University Medical Center (UMC) in Las Vegas, and she’s part of the Governor’s Medical Advisory Team. In the above video, Dr. Asad speaks with Sisolak (and all the viewers) about the science behind COVID-19, what we now know about effective COVID-19 medical treatment, and the equipment hospitals need to take care of patients.

If you’re in need of medical treatment, contact your primary health care provider first. If you fear you can’t afford treatment from a hospital or doctor’s office, check with the Southern Nevada Health DistrictWashoe County Health DistrictCarson City Health and Human Services, or the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services for resources in your area. For additional aid, check the Nevada Current’s and Battle Born Progress’ respective resource guides. If you can afford proper treatment and you are fortunate enough to help others in need, please donate to national operations like Mutual Aid Disaster Relief and local groups like Three Square.

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