Anti-Vaxxers Fast Becoming Anti-ICU-ers

Anti-Vaxxers Fast Becoming Anti-ICU-ers

On Wednesday, the FDA approved Pfizer's COVID vaccine booster shots for adults over 65, all health care workers, and at-risk adults with underlying conditions, and that's pretty good news. Well, unless you live in a country where vaccines are scarce, in which case you might feel a tad miffed.

Given the fact that we're on our way to booster shots while there are many countries, particularly in the global south, where less than one percent of the population is immunized you would think that Americans would be more grateful for their own. And, to be sure, many are. Many are very excited to get booster shots as well. There are, however, an awful lot of people out there who are more than happy to look a gift horse in the mouth and then steal its deworming medicine.

But you already knew that.

Unfortunately, the more apparent it becomes that these people are wrong, the more videos we see of dying people saying they wish they'd been vaccinated, the more reports we hear about the death and hospitalization rates for unvaccinated COVID patients compared to vaccinated patients with breakthrough cases, the more they dig their heels in and the more crap they make up.

Now, according to a report from Ben Collins at NBC, anti-vaxx influencers and Facebook groups are encouraging people to not go to the hospital and not go into the ICU. This idea isn't entirely new — conspiracists have been claiming for some time now that it's the ventilators that cause people to die and not, you know, COVID — but the "escape from the ICU" instructions are new, likely inspired by recent cases where patients have been refused ivermectin and other unproven treatments that could be harmful.

While Covid misinformation has been a persistent problem since the start of the pandemic, the introduction of vaccines has invigorated the anti-vaccine community and sparked a renewed push to find and promote alternative treatments — some of which are potentially hazardous.

Others are turning away from hospitals altogether. In recent weeks, some anti-vaccine Facebook groups and conspiracy theory influencers on the encrypted messaging app Telegram have offered instructions on how to get family members released from the hospital, usually by insisting they be transferred into hospice care, and have recorded those they've successfully removed from hospitals for viral videos.

This would be far more impressive if leaving a hospital when you want to leave a hospital didn't involve little more than you or someone who has your power of attorney signing a paper saying you are leaving "against medical advice." That's it. Unless the person is under a 72-hour psychiatric hold, they are free to leave at any time and it is illegal to hold them against their will. In 1975, the Supreme court decided in O'Connell v. Donaldson that "a State cannot constitutionally confine a non-dangerous individual who is capable of surviving safely in freedom by themselves or with the help of willing and responsible family members or friends." And while that is traditionally a ruling that applies to those under psychiatric care, it would also hold for people who go to ICUs of their own free will and then decide to go home in order to squeeze some horse paste up their butt. Anything else would be a violation of one's "right to liberty." Thus, it seems entirely possible that the people they are extracting from the hospital don't actually want to leave.

Essentially, these people are really just pretending that there is some One Weird Trick to getting their loved ones out of the hospital when the trick is not a trick, it's just literally the law.

The reason these people want their relatives to leave the hospital is so that they can cure them at home with their magic potions, one of which is using a nebulizing inhaler to inhale bleach. Good lord, they just really, really love ingesting bleach.

Some people in groups that formed recently to promote the false cure ivermectin, an anti-parasite treatment, have claimed extracting Covid patients from hospitals is pivotal so that they can self-medicate at home with ivermectin. But as the patients begin to realize that ivermectin by itself is not effective, the groups have begun recommending a series of increasingly hazardous at-home treatments, such as gargling with iodine, and nebulizing and inhaling hydrogen peroxide, calling it part of a "protocol."

On Tuesday, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America put out a warning against nebulizing hydrogen peroxide.

And that's just one of their "protocols." Sometimes they nebulize a cocktail of saline, hydrogen peroxide, and iodine. Many of them are desperately fond of the "Zelenko Protocol" invented by wacky rightwing "simple country doctor" Vladimir Zelenko, once touted by Trump himself. In a post asking for a COVID protocol for a pregnant mother, all of these were brought up, including recommendations of drinking a liter of tonic water a day, taking various antibiotics, hydroxychloroquine, querectin, and N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), which has recently come under scrutiny by the FDA because people were selling it in supplements making unfounded therapeutic claims.

They're basically opposed to anything the larger medical establishment says is a cure for COVID, as well as anything that might be done in a hospital to help people with COVID. And they're sticking to it. Sometimes violently.

"We were down to four Covid patients two months ago. In this surge, we've had 40 to 50 patients with Covid on four different ICU services, 97 percent of them unvaccinated," said Wes Ely, an ICU doctor and professor of medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. "We were making headway, and now we're just losing really, really badly. There's something that's happening on the internet, and it's dramatically increasing steam."

Those concerns echo various local reports about growing threats and violence directed toward medical professionals. In Branson, Missouri, a medical center recently introduced panic buttons on employee badges because of a spike in assaults. Violence and threats against medical professionals have recently been reported in Massachusetts, Texas, Georgia and Idaho. [...]

Ely said one particular patient who had been misinformed stuck with him. The woman who had Covid arrived in his ICU about five months pregnant. Ely said the woman was not vaccinated and refused any treatments that would help fight the virus.

"Why? Because, to her, it's not real," he said. "So now we're dealing with a woman in the ICU, the baby too young to live. We've got to make it several more weeks for the baby to be viable."

It's hard to imagine that this is a cause people are willing to die for, but it's also not entirely impossible to understand, either. Many of these people have been so fiercely dedicated to this entire belief system that to walk it back would be an unbearable humiliation.

The reason these sorts of beliefs have taken hold the way they have, I believe, is because they make people who don't usually feel special or smart feel special and smart. And we live in a world now, with the internet, with social media, where the pressure to feel special is a lot bigger than it once was. Where the payoff for being right when everyone else was wrong is bigger than it ever was. Where believing in these things allows access to a whole club full of people who will treat them as if they are special and smarter than everyone else around them instead of dismissing them.

These beliefs make them feel smarter than people who went to school for years to study these things, wiser than the people who mock them on social media, many of whom are probably their own family members or people they went to school with or old co-workers who, purposely or not, made them feel like they weren't exactly fabulous intellectuals. Now they have something to feel smug about, now they get to feel like the soon-to-be-triumphant underdogs. Calling things "protocols" makes them feel like real doctors, sneering at vaccines and masks makes them feel superior. And you really can't underestimate how important this is to people and how desperately they will cling to it once they have it. If you already feel good about yourself and confident in your intelligence, you can deal with being wrong about things. But for some people, they really would rather die than be wrong.

Or they at least feel that way right up until the end.


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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse


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