If the size of the standing-room only crowd at the Bartlesville Community Center Tuesday night is any indication, perhaps it is not surprising that the vaccination rate in Washington County for those ages 12 and older is just short of 43%.
Those gathered, including GOP and public officials, nurses, pharmacists and other concerned citizens, gave standing ovations during the presentation of Dr. Peter McCullough, a Dallas cardiologist who is largely discredited by the scientific community for his assertions that the COVID-19 vaccines are unsafe and that early treatment options have been suppressed.
While McCullough said that doctors were probably afraid to show up to the event, one of Oklahoma's top infectious disease physicians, Dr. Anuj Malik, director of infection prevention and control at Ascension St. John, said that the doctors he spoke to were not afraid to attend. They were just not interested in sitting through what would be seen as a “politically-motivated, ideological speech by a modern-day quack.”
Nor did they want to be part of an event that could lead to people not getting the vaccines and becoming ill and dying as a result, Malik said. "With all due respect, none of McCullough’s ideas have been supported by any randomized, double-blind, controlled clinical trials," he said.
During his presentation, McCullough did not shy away from politics and bemoaned what he said has been a loss of freedoms since the pandemic began.
"This is more than a medical topic, now our freedom, our jobs, our school, somehow everything got linked to COVID-19," he said. "COVID-19 went from being a medical problem to now being an issue of somehow everything you do is related to taking a vaccine."
Rep. Wendi Stearman, R-Collinsville, saw the event as an opportunity for a call to action. She urged those attending to share McCullough's information with others because it will take all of them to "fight the tyranny and lies" spread across the state. She urged everyone to pressure their local representatives and the governor to prevent vaccine mandates.
McCullough has been making a name for himself in his broad campaign against vaccine mandates and the vaccine itself. A group of Houston nurses have hired him as a so-called "expert witness" in their appeal against a vaccine mandate at Houston Methodist.
Throughout the evening, McCullough made multiple claims that are largely uncorroborated by the scientific community. Among them is that a person who has already had COVID-19 does not need the vaccine and that it can be harmful to those who already have natural immunity.
That, too, has been disproven. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains that the vaccine does provide protection and that research has not proven that having had the virus protects you from having it again.
Malik said that all of the large studies point in the same direction - that vaccines work, are safe and help prevent severe infection and death.
Washington County COVID-19 vaccine tracker: 36% of people fully vaccinated
One of McCullough's biggest claims of the night was that 15,937 Americans have died after taking the vaccine, which Malik said is taken completely out of context.
This number is taken from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that these reports are not proof that the vaccine caused the deaths. The FDA requires healthcare providers to report any deaths among people who received the vaccine to VAERS, even if it’s unclear that the vaccine was the cause.
McCullough also blatantly told the audience that there is not a vaccine safety board. Yet Malik points to the Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) that oversaw the vaccine trials. The board included 11 experts from four countries who are not employed by government or pharma companies.
While McCullough asserts that the vaccines provide no protection from the Delta strain and claims more vaccinated people are getting the Delta strain than unvaccinated people, both Malik and the CDC say the vaccines have been proven highly effective against COVID-19, including the Delta variant.
US COVID-19 map: Tracking cases and deaths
In fact, Malik said of the 3,500 patients he and colleagues have treated since the pandemic began, 550 have died and more than 95% of them were unvaccinated.
McCullough shared what he said was a threatening letter from the American Board of Internal Medicine warning that he could lose his certification for spreading misinformation.
There is likely a good reason for his concern about losing certification. A Dallas County court granted a temporary restraining order against him in July on behalf of Baylor Scott & White Health for continuing to claim titles, including vice chief of internal medicine at Baylor University Medical Center, even after he was fired from Baylor in February.
In addition, an article in Medscape, an online global news source for physicians and healthcare professionals, reported that Texas A&M College of Medicine, Texas Christian University and University of North Texas Health Science Center School of Medicine have also cut ties with McCullough for spreading misinformation.
McCullough said he is simply sharing data and questions who gets to decide what is misinformation.
The cardiologist co-authored a report in The American Journal of Medicine in August 2020 on the rationale for early outpatient treatment using off-label medications including antibodies, hydroxychloroquine, ivermectin, steroids, anticoagulants and anti-inflammatory drugs.
He has also spoken about his multi-drug regimen on Fox News, and on his McCullough Report podcast, the faith-based Daystar Television Network and other conservative news networks.
After he wrote the papers, McCullough said that was contacted by Peter Navarro, President Donald Trump's trade advisor, because they wanted help with the validity of hydroxychloroquine as an early treatment for COVID-19. McCullough spoke before both the U.S. and Texas senates.
But Malik said that there have been no randomized, double-blind clinical trials conducted to back up any of McCullough’s suggested multi-drug regimens.
He said McCullough likely wouldn't be risking losing certification if he had taken the logical path of seeking a grant to launch clinical trials on his drug recommendations for early treatment of COVID-19.
“This is considered the standard in establishing the truth all over the world by every professional organization, every government and all science-minded healthcare practitioners,” Malik said.
In contrast, Malik said there are multiple clinical trials on antibody treatments including Regeneron and the Eli Lilly BLAZE-4 study.
“(McCullough's) claims fail to meet the standard of what is true. None of his suggestions have been submitted to a clinical trial despite the fact that we are 20 months into this pandemic,” Malik said.
This article originally appeared on Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise: Doctor fired for spreading COVID misinformation finds support in Bartlesville