On 18 January 2020, The Washington Post reported that several prominent anti-vaccine groups received over $850,000 from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a government plan that provides loans to small businesses to assist in paying wages and certain other expenses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Generally, I don’t spend a lot of time discussing recent news events because real newspapers, like the Washington Post, do a much better job than I would. I wouldn’t even have thought in my wildest imagination that this bailout money would have gone to these groups that have only one purpose – reducing vaccine uptake so that more children and adults will suffer from diseases.
I find it particularly ironic that these groups, which are not only anti-vaccine but populated with right-wing COVID-19 deniers, would take bailout money that was expressly set up to help businesses deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
When I read the article, I was livid. And I’m going to express my anger in this post, but I don’t think I’m the only person who wants to write the same things. So, this is like the old feathered raptor’s op-ed piece on this story.
What did the anti-vaccine groups receive?
A group called the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a UK-based group that fights online disinformation, especially about vaccines and COVID-19, searched public documents provided by the US Small Business Administration after a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
According to CCDH and the Washington Post, the following anti-vaccine groups received PPP funds:
- The Tenpenny Integrative Medical Center, an anti-vaccine group run by anti-vaccine quack Sherri Tenpenny, received $72,000. Tenpenny used to run a popular Facebook page that promoted anti-vaccine misinformation and alternative medicine pseudoscience. But she got banned by Facebook, so sad.
- Mercola Com Health Resources LLC, a business run by anti-vaccine propagandist, pro-pseudoscience Joe Mercola, received $335,000, the largest amount for any of these anti-vaccine groups. Mercola is a physician, but that’s about the only positive thing that can be said about him. He pushes COVID-19 quackery to his followers then points them to products that they can buy on his website. According to Orac:
He runs one of the largest repositories of misinformation about health on the entire Internet, including social media. He promotes anti-vaccine pseudoscience, the rankest of cancer quackery (e.g., the idea that cancer is a fungus and that baking soda can cure it), and pseudoscience and quackery of every imaginable variety, all while presenting himself as “moderate” and “reasonable” compared to those “real crazies,” like Mike Adams.
- The National Vaccine Information Center, probably the leading source of misinformation and fear-mongering about vaccines, has been pushing lies about vaccines since 1982, received an unknown amount from PPP. They still push that discredited nonsense that vaccines cause autism.
- The Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN), another leading anti-vaccine organization founded by the producer of the awful Vaxxed, Del Bigtree, received an unknown amount from PPP. Bigtree has taken all kinds of offensive actions in his ignorant fight against vaccines including comparing vaccinations to the Holocaust.
- The Children’s Health Defense Co, a group run by the anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr, also received an unknown amount from PPP. Professor Dorit Rubinstein Reiss and I have written dozens of articles about RFK Jr’s false claims about vaccines – even his own family has called him out on his anti-vaccine misinformation.
These anti-vaccine groups are big businesses – they have generated nearly $1 billion in revenue for Facebook and Instagram alone. That’s why it’s very difficult to convince Facebook to remove these quacks from these platforms. They are much savvier about social media than many of us on the pro-vaccine side, which is why many of us spend so much effort in trying to make the science about vaccines as clear as possible.
Despite being highly profitable businesses that probably prospered during the COVID-19 pandemic because they all pushed false information about COVID-19 vaccines and public health measures. And there is a huge intersection between right-wing insurrectionists that stormed the Capitol and anti-vaccine crackpots. Anti-vaccine quacks like Andrew Wakefield and RFK Jr actually showed support for Donald Trump because of vaccines.
Imran Ahmed, Chief Executive of CCDH, said:
Lending money to these organizations so they can prosper is a sickening use of taxpayer money. These groups are actively working to undermine the national COVID vaccination drive, which will create long-term health problems that are felt most acutely in minority communities and low-income neighborhoods.
In other words, the US government has sponsored organizations that are in direct opposition to the goals of said government – increasing COVID-19 vaccine uptake to help end this pandemic.
RFK Jr, who thinks he’s a good lawyer, but there’s a lot of evidence to the contrary, claims that there is nothing wrong with receiving this money to question the government. Actually, there is something wrong with receiving this money to lie about vaccines and put people’s health at risk.
But what should we expect from anti-vaccine grifters? If there’s money to be made, they’ll figure out how to make money from the US Government, but let’s be honest, they were just a small part of the huge scandal surrounding PPP.
I hope that the Biden administration would demand the money back, but they have a million other things to do to correct the travesties from the Trump administration.
- Burki T. The online anti-vaccine movement in the age of COVID-19. Lancet Digit Health. 2020 Oct;2(10):e504-e505. doi: 10.1016/S2589-7500(20)30227-2. Epub 2020 Sep 22. PMID: 32984795; PMCID: PMC7508526.
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