Anti-vax ‘vigilantes’ urge Covid patients to avoid hospitals and try home cures

·2 min read
Anti-vaxxers are instructing people how to get family members out of hospital  (AFP via Getty Images)
Anti-vaxxers are instructing people how to get family members out of hospital (AFP via Getty Images)

Anti-vax groups are telling Covid patients to avoid hospitals and extract sick family members from intensive care units, as part of an intensifying disinformation campaign being spread via Facebook and encrypted messaging apps.

The groups are fuelling conspiracy theories that doctors are stopping unvaccinated patients from receiving supposed miracle cures such as ivermectin or even deliberately trying to harm them, according to posts viewed by NBC News.

Doctors treating Covid patients say they are increasingly having to deal with assaults and threats of violence from anti-vaxxers, with incidents reported in Texas, Georgia, Idaho and Massachusetts in recent weeks.

According to posts viewed by NBC News, members of anti-vax Facebook groups are offering instructions on how to get family members removed from hospital by insisting they be transferred to hospice care, and have recorded videos of apparently successful extractions that have later gone viral.

They convince members the only way to treat patients suffering from severe Covi symptoms is to self-medicate with ivermectin, a horse dewormer which has become popular in anti-vax circles.

When that doesn’t work they recommend potentially even more dangerous treatments such as gargling iodine or taking hydrogen peroxide, forcing the the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America to warn against nebulising or inhaling the chemical earlier this week.

The more dangerous at-home treatments are part of what anti-vaxxers call the “protocol”, which is being shared through Facebook and on the encrypted messaging app Telegram.

The practice of pushing unproven treatments at home rather than get the Covid vaccine or seek medical misinformation is being described as “vigilante medicine” by Harvard Medical School physician Aditi Nerurkar.

Dr Nerurkar described “vigilante medicine” as “medicine being practised by laypeople who are reading groups created by other laypeople in echo chambers and silos that, likely, someone in the anti-vax movement is profiting from.

Doctors are increasingly fearful for their safety after a wave of violent incidents reported in intensive care units across the US.

A nurse in Newton, Massachusetts, told WHDH an out-of-control patient tried to gouge her eye out with his key. She said she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from dealing with violent Covid patients.

In a separate incident at the same hospital, five nurses were attacked by one patient.

In San Antonio, Texas, staff have been “cursed at, screamed at, threatened with bodily harm and even had knives pulled on them”, Jane McCurley, chief nursing executive for Methodist Healthcare System, told a press conference last week.

Doctors in Boise, Idaho, called police after the family member of a Covid patient threatened staff after they refused to treat the man with ivermectin.

Social media companies have attempted to crack down on Covid misinformation being spread on their platforms, but anti-vax groups are getting around the restrictions by using innocuous-sounding codewords such as “dance parties”.

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