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When President Joe Biden referred to 12 individuals who are said to originate the majority of falsehoods about vaccine efficacy on social media, my thoughts turned to my fellow West Virginians and whether some have died as a result of the corrosive words of the dirty dozen.

Anti-Vax Watch, along with the Center for Countering Digital Hate, monitored Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for six weeks as anti-vaccination content was exploding in February and March. Across all three platforms, 65% of such postings was traced back to the 12 Biden had referenced. On Facebook alone, 73% of anti-vaccine posts were attributable to the toxic stew of pseudoscience that has appeared in their postings, as representative samples demonstrate.

Joseph Mercola peddles controversial dietary supplements and other “remedies” as alternatives to vaccines. He claims, “Hydrogen peroxide treatment can successfully treat most viral respiratory illnesses, including coronavirus.” His partner, Erin Elizabeth, tells readers that vaccines are part of a medical industry plan to create “a chronically-ill population.”

Ty and Charlene Bollinger market suspect books and DVDs about vaccines. They promote the hoax that Bill Gates is behind a plan to inject us with microchips when we get the vaccine.

Osteopath Sherri Tenpenny says — against all medical data — that the more you wear a mask, the sicker you become. Tenpenny teams with disgraced former doctor Andrew Wakefield, whose medical license was lifted in the U.K. for his fudging of research results to bolster his claim, since disproved, that vaccines cause autism. The deadly duo posted a video calling COVID-19 an “alleged plague.”

Like Tenpenny, Rashid Buttar is an osteopath. He’s also a conspiracy theorist. He tells his viewers, without any evidence, that COVID vaccines cause infertility. So does Rizza Islam (whose main qualification seems to be his title of “social media influencer.”) He evokes images of comedian Dana Carvey’s “Church Lady” when he says that “Satan” is behind COVID-19. Like the Bollingers, Rizza Islam is obsessed with Bill Gates, whom he claims had a role in planning the pandemic.

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On his website, self-proclaimed health “guru” Sayer Ji says, “The Pfizer vaccine for the elderly has killed 40 times more people than [COVID],” which itself is “a medical conspiracy.” Ji has nothing to back this statement and, even before Biden, was labeled last year as one of the most notorious sources for misinformation on the pandemic. His partner, who sells alternative medicine books and courses, is Kelly Brogan. She has announced, “It’s not possible to prove that any given pathogen has induced death.” I humbly suggest that she trouble herself to research the reason that smallpox came to be known as the Black Death.

Chiropractor Ben Tapper made a run at first prize in the crazy sweepstakes, saying, “There is a total lack of evidence that viruses can live outside the body.” This is completely false. Tapper was quickly lapped by OB-GYN Christine Northrup who “explains” to her followers — without any evidence — that vaccines cause an 800% increase in chronic illness.

Kevin Jenkins believes that vaccines are racists’ way of convincing Blacks it is “ok to kill yourselves.” He has appeared with long-time anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr., whose organization posts anti-vaccine articles, including one with no basis in reality claiming that the death former Major League Baseball slugger Hank Aaron was “part of a wave of suspicious deaths.”

Long ago, a patent medicine salesman would roll his horse-drawn wagon into a town, where he would sell a “guaranteed” cure for everything from lumbago to the green-apple quick step. After sales to a couple-dozen rubes, he rolled on to the next town.

Today, that old fraud’s descendants reach millions without leaving their living rooms. Have their connivances contributed to the deaths of West Virginians? It would be astonishing if they have not.

Joseph Wyatt is a Gazette-Mail contributing columnist and emeritus professor at Marshall University. Reach him at

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