Former President Donald Trump was once the nation's superspreader-in-chief — both for the coronavirus and COVID-19 misinformation. Now, nine months out from the 2022 midterm elections, Republican members of Congress and House candidates are spreading dangerous misinformation about the pandemic.
At least two dozen current House Republicans or Republican candidates for House have pushed false conspiracy theories or medically inaccurate information about COVID-19 vaccines, treatment, prevention, and transmission.
Some have advocated the use of ivermectin (an anti-parasite medication) or hydroxychloroquine (an anti-malarial drug) as treatments of or prophylactics against COVID-19. Neither has been approved for use or proven to be effective against the coronavirus or its variants.
The Food and Drug Administration's website has a page entitled "Why You Should Not Use Ivermectin to Treat or Prevent COVID-19," noting the lack of evidence and the potential risks. Another page on the agency's site cautions that hydroxychloroquine can cause heart rhythm problems and has "not been shown to be safe and effective for treating or preventing COVID-19."
Others have falsely claimed that COVID-19 vaccines, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deemed "safe and effective," are dangerous, untested, and ineffective.
Additional false claims included that children cannot spread the virus and those door-to-door efforts to offer the vaccine to people who want it was illegal or constituted fascism.
The spreaders of misinformation include:
1. April Becker (Nevada)
Becker shared a right-wing group's article in March 2020 decrying Gov. Steve Sisolak's order limiting hydroxychloroquine use as a COVID-19 treatment. Last January, Becker spread a conspiracy theory video arguing that the pandemic was an orchestrated plot to control the global economy.
2. Jarome Bell (Virginia)
Before his Twitter account was suspended, Bell tweeted last June: "There's a lethal vaccine outbreak tearing its way across America. If it leaves even one woman barren, enlarges the heart of one teenager, strikes just one limb with excrutiating [sic] neuropathy, or ends
even one life, it should be shut down. It's time to Lockdown the Vaccine." Two months later, he claimed, "The vaccine is causing more cases of Covid than the original."
3. Rep. Andy Biggs (Arizona)
Biggs, who endorsed a conspiracy theory on Thursday that President Joe Bien is deliberately dispatching undocumented immigrants to spread the coronavirus as a way to maintain control, has repeatedly touted hydroxychloroquine as a treatment — even recommending that Trump use it to treat his own case of COVID-19 (he did not).
4. Eli Crane (Arizona)
Last September, Crane shared a no-longer-visible Instagram post, promoting a pro-ivermectin video called "Horse dewormer info."
5. Monica De La Cruz (Texas)
De La Cruz objected to efforts to go door-to-door to help underserved communities get the vaccine last July, incorrectly writing "How about the government stay the heck out of our business!? What ever happened to PRIVATE health decisions? Seems like giving these door knockers our vaccination status would a HIPPA violation."
6. Rep. Mike Garcia (California)
Last July, Garcia blasted efforts to go door-to-door to offer the vaccine to underserved communities, tweeting, "This is dangerous. At this point, infection & transmission rates are extremely low & virtually all Americans have access to the vaccine. Everyone who wants to be vaccinated can be. We can't continue to infringe upon people's Constitutional rights under the guise of public health."
7. Rep. Andy Harris (Maryland)
Harris has frequently advocated ivermectin, claiming last September that it is "not a dangerous drug [because] billions of people have taken it" and that countries that use it have fewer coronavirus cases.
8. Rep. Yvette Herrell (New Mexico)
Herrell has frequently pushed both ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine as COVID-19 treatments. A spokesperson defended this last August, telling a local news outlet: "Drugs that show promise should not be withheld or sabotaged by the federal government. Doctors and patients should be in charge of health decisions, not Washington politicians."
9. Jesse Jensen (Washington)
Jensen has spread numerous false conspiracy theories about vaccines, including that the government "can detain you or your family for anything regarding the Covid vaccine. They can go in and they can say your schoolchild didn't get a shot — you and your entire family is a threat and we're going to detain you."
10. Kevin Kiley (California)
Kiley falsely claimed in January that the CDC "now reports that prior infection offers better protection than vaccination." The study he referenced only found that to be true during the delta variant wave — not others.
11. Karoline Leavitt (New Hampshire)
In a July 2021 campaign appearance, former Trump assistant press secretary Leavitt reportedly told supporters that she agreed with her former boss that hydroxychloroquine was an effective coronavirus treatment. "I was so blessed to spend many amazing moments during the COVID-19 pandemic when he was briefing every day and fighting fake news media to get you real information, like the fact that hydroxychloroquine works," she claimed.
12. Anna Paulina Luna (Florida)
On her "Luna Talks" podcast last July, she said COVID-19 vaccines were unnecessary because of hydroxychloroquine. "But hydroxychloroquine was something that was actually a cheap alternative to a vaccine. It was therapeutic. If you have therapeutics, you don't have to mandate a vaccine, it's been shown to be effective against COVID-19," she claimed.
13. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (Iowa)
Miller-Meeks, a doctor, tweeted last July that schools could safely reopen, because "Elementary age students rarely die or are seriously ill and don't transmit virus to adults or other children." A local paper's fact check labeled her claim about transmission "inaccurate."
14. Rep. Barry Moore (Alabama)
Moore has touted the "benefits of hydroxychloroquine," claiming in June 2021 that the media lied about it to hurt Trump.
15. Rep. Troy Nehls (Texas)
"Why is the left trying to make it harder to get Ivermectin?" Nehls tweeted on Tuesday. "Follow the money. Ivermectin is cheap to make and affordable to buy."
16. Rep. Scott Perry (Pennsylvania)
Perry signed onto multiple congressional letters touting ivermectin as a safer way to address COVID-19 than vaccinations. In May 2020, he accused Biden of fearmongering for urging people to get immunized.
17. Sam Peters (Nevada)
Last November, Peters tweeted that "it's criminal" that some pharmacies would not provide ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19. He has frequently touted them as effective treatments while claiming vaccines could be fatal to those with heart problems. In June 2020, he baselessly suggested that health providers were inflating COVID-19 death rates to get more federal money.
18. Phil Rizzo (New Jersey)
Rizzo tweeted last September suggesting that the COVID-19 vaccine was untested and unsafe. "QUESTION: Why is Congress, their staff, and the United States Postal Service all exempt from the vaccine mandate?" he wrote. "ANSWER: Because using human beings as lab rats, is only for the peasants, not the elites." He claimed in November 2020 that vaccines were "90% effective" but "God designed the human immune system to be 99.97% effective against Covid."
19. Rep. Chip Roy (Texas)
In a July 2021 tweet, Roy boasted "We're winning against the virus with vaccines AND natural immunity (because, virus)… lockdowns, mandates, & refusal to acknowledge ivermectin/hcq [hydroxychloroquine]/other harms not helps."
20. Carolina Serrano (Nevada)
The conspiracy theorist posted in a no-longer-visible Instagram post in January that she would never get the vaccine because it is "a scam" and that Pfizer is profiting from "endlessly 'boosting' you with something that doesn't work, while suppressing treatment that DOES WORK & has existed for decades." Last October, she touted vitamin D and agreed with an interviewer that zinc, hydroxychloroquine, and ivermectin were safe treatments.
21. Alek Skarlatos (Oregon)
Last October, Skarlatos dismissed COVID-19 vaccines, telling voters "I don't want to beat a dead horse but things like ivermectin and all these things that science is telling us actually able to save people's lives and they are being ignored just so that we can get more of this vaccine mantra like the vaccines are everything."
22. Ian Smith (New Jersey)
Smith, who refused to close his gym during the pandemic shutdown, offered free memberships to incentivize people not to get immunized and suggested that exercise would prevent COVID-19. "We are giving out free memberships to all who don't get vaccinated. We believe in health—the real way—exercise, good diet, plenty of Vitamin D, Zinc, and an environment to destress," Smith said last March.
23. Rep. Claudia Tenney (New York)
Tenney falsely told a right-wing outlet last May that COVID-19 vaccines were "not even FDA-approved yet" and that "if you had the COVID virus you don't need to get a vaccine because you're likely carrying the antibodies." Last August, Tenney again falsely claimed the vaccine was "still not FDA-approved."
24. Ron Watkins (Arizona)
Last December, Watkins — a QAnon conspiracy theorist and former administrator of the right-wing message board 8kun — claimed vaccines were an "insidious global campaign to use poisonous injections to 'save' every living man, woman, child and creature under God's dominion [that] has failed." Watkins has also pushed conspiracy theories about the omicron variant, questioning why "a conveniently timed, and heavily mutated, variant has been 'discovered'."
Reprinted with permission from American Independent