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COVID misinformation campaigns are very profitable


I have written previously about how anti-vaccine and COVID-19 misinformation groups received a lot of money from the Federal government from Payment Protection Plan (PPP) funds. But a new report in the Washington Post shows how these people have profited from their misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccines, and so much more. WaPo used tax filings to find how profitable these groups were during the pandemic.

These groups have made all kinds of claims about COVID-19, the vaccines, and various treatments during the pandemic. Some of these groups and individuals have run afoul of the US Food and Drug Administration for pushing misinformation or pushing fake treatments for the disease.

I am going to outline some of the egregious examples of the disinformation groups profiting heavily during the pandemic. And most of them will be familiar to those of us who have been following the anti-vaccine, ivermectin, and COVID-19 misinformation world.

COVID-19 misinformation actors

Children’s Health Defense, an anti-vaccine group run by Robert F Kennedy Jr, who is using his family name and anti-vaccine fame to run for President of the United States as an independent, received US$23.5 million in contributions, grants, and other revenue in 2022 alone. This amount is over eight times what it earned in 2019, the year before the pandemic hit.

Another anti-vaccine group, the Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN), which is run by the anti-vaccine movie “producer” Del Bigtree, had revenue of US$13.4 million in 2022, about 4X what they earned in 2019, again, before the pandemic. They have been using these funds to roll back vaccine mandates in states and pushing legal action against the CDC and other governmental agencies.

Two other groups, Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance (FLCCC) and America’s Frontline Doctors, both focus on pushing nonsense treatments for COVID-19, such as ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, along with anti-vaccine misinformation, received more than US$21 million combined. That is a huge increase from the US$1 million combined they received in 2020 when they were formed.

These four “nonprofits,” by capitalizing on pushing misinformation about the pandemic and vaccines, raised more than $118 million between 2020 and 2022 according to the Washington Post.

As a result, Children’s Health Defense and ICAN used their funds to push against the scientific consensus on all vaccines, but they have focused on the COVID-19 vaccines lately. Their claims about vaccines are not based on any science (and many of us spend hours looking at their claims). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that “vaccines have never been safer than they are today.

The other groups, FLCCC and America’s Frontline Doctors not only push the anti-vaccine agenda, but they are proponents of treatments, like the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin, to “cure” COVID-19. Of course, there is no science supporting these claims, and ivermectin could be dangerous.

But there is more. As these groups earned more money, some of it went to higher salaries for their top executives. Children’s Health Defense paid RFK Jr more than US$510,000 in 2022, which was double his 2019, pre-pandemic income.

The Informed Consent Action Network paid Del Bigtree US$284,000 in 2022, a 22% increase from the pre-pandemic years. In case you didn’t know, Bigtree is now the communications director for RFK Jr’s presidential campaign.

Summary

These four groups have pushed a narrative about COVID-19 and COVID vaccines that is false and is based on pseudoscience. The problem is these groups (and their leaders) are becoming a public health problem by pushing ideas that allow COVID-19 to continue while convincing people that there are “better” treatments for their disease.

Also, the two anti-vaccine groups have an endgame for their vaccine misinformation — they want mandates to end all vaccines for children. COVID-19 vaccines were just a wedge to sow doubt on all vaccines. Of course, the money they’ve raised during the pandemic will allow them to lobby and push against all vaccines.

Without vaccines, measles, polio, chickenpox, HPV, and so much else will return causing harm to children across the country. Sure, most parents will still vaccinate their children despite the false claims of these groups, but a substantial portion of parents might not because they no longer have to vaccinate their kids to get them into school.

I remained hopeful that the misinformation campaign would not convince many people. But I see what’s happening, and my hope evaporates. They’ve got the money now.

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Michael Simpson

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