The Real Dangers in the False COVID Remedy Promoters Like Bret Weinstein

The people who are denouncing vaccination often have financial reasons for doing so.
The people who are denouncing vaccination often have financial reasons for doing so. Photo by Daniel Paquet via Flickr
Two months ago, I implored people to get vaccinated against COVID instead of taking horse dewormer, and my email has been a circus train of screwballs ever since. By far, the largest number of messages I get implore me to seek out the work of Bret Weinstein, a “professor in exile” and podcaster. I did just that, and I now believe the world is now in the beginning stages of Andrew Wakefield 2.0. Get a snack because it’s going to take us a while to get there.

Wakefield was a British doctor. I mean was as in “no longer allowed to be a doctor” for reasons that will soon be abundantly clear. In 1998, he launched the modern anti-vaccination movement by claiming that there was a link between autism in children and the MMR vaccine when he published a study in the prestigious journal Lancet. His work spread like wildfire, leading to multiple measles outbreaks all over the world including Texas. The disease was declared extinct in the United States in 2000, but he managed to bring it back to horrific results like the world’s worst version of Jurassic Park.

Eventually, it was revealed that Wakefield’s results could not be replicated, and Lancet retracted the paper. Further digging into Wakefield, mostly by absolute hero journalist Brian Deer, revealed that Wakefield had outright falsified many of his results and basically made up an illness called autistic enterocolitis. He also performed colonoscopies on patients without disclosing the dangers of the procedure on children.

Why? The answer is money according to the British Medical Journal. Wakefield was in the employ of a lawyer, Richard Barr, who wanted to bring a lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers. Wakefield’s study was supposed to be the backbone of the case. Wakefield said in a press conference that he thought a single shot for measles would be safer. Conveniently, he filed a patent for just such a shot in 1998.

It gets worse. In 1995, Wakefield also patented a test for autistic entercolitis, which you will remember does not actually exist. Wakefield told investors he could earn up to $39 million from this test. These plans fell through once the full extent of Wakefield’s bullshit was revealed, but the damage was done. The entire vaccine scare that he unleashed on the world was part of a get-rich scheme, and now we are all living with the consequences.

Which brings us back to COVID. Bret Weinstein is, simply, a right-wing media grifter in the vein of conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro and Canadian professor of psychology Dr. Jordan Peterson. Part of the “intellectual dark web,” (a term his brother Eric coined), Weinstein has risen in prominence over the last year as other members of the IDW have lost relevance.

Weinstein made his reactionary right wing guru bones after he left his evolutionary biologist teaching gig at Evergreen State College in Washington State. He spoke out against the college’s traditional “day of absence,” where minority students and faculty would absent themselves to show their contribution to the college. A proposed change to the program would have asked white students to stay away instead to attend a program on race issues. Weinstein called this oppression. After a confrontation with protestors, Weinstein and Heather Heying, a fellow biology professor and Weinstein’s wife, sued the college.

The couple resigned, and Weinstein began his career playing a skeptical maverick who was cast out by political correctness. His DarkHorse podcast is wildly popular, reaching Number 51 on the Podcast Insights chart. Weinstein, like a lot of IDW personalities, positions himself as a centrist intellectual just searching for answers, but it’s a thin veneer that is destroyed by even a cursory listen or look at his Twitter feed.

His job is gussy up white nationalism and other alt-right talking points to make them palatable for the mainstream. You can see that in his thoughts on #BlackLivesMatter or the use of non-gendered pronouns. Weinstein has long since stopped being a scientist and instead become another funnel for far-right culture nonsense toward people who think he’s still an academic. If you're a bigot and a conspiracy theorist who wants to sound refined, then Weinstein is the perfect dealer.

Weinstein is also a fervent believer in ivermectin (that horse dewormer I mentioned above) as a cure for COVID, which is one of the reason he keeps having social media posts taken down for spreading misinformation. While it’s hard to find specific instances of him being overtly anti-vaccination, his latest output is implicitly such. In addition to insinuating there is a wide conspiracy to suppress ivermectin, he has had Dr. Geert Vanden Bossche on as a guest. This is where the big Wakefield energy comes in.

Vanden Bossche is a veterinarian and virologist with an impressive set of credentials, including being head of vaccine development at the German Center for Infection Research. On paper, he appears to be a trusted voice that should be listened to.

However, Vanden Bossche has been in the process of starting a large-scale demonization of the current attempts to vaccinate the world against COVID using the shots developed by Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. In March, Vanden Bossche sent an open letter to the World Health Organization that made wild claims about the dangers of mass vaccination. These include the idea that vaccination turns people into asymptomatic carriers due to “shedding,” that vaccinating people in high-infectious areas will lead to more mutation, that these variants will confer vaccine immunity on the virus, and that the vaccine will lead to permanent susceptibility to COVID.

Literally none of these are true, and have been thoroughly debunked. Other statements from Vanden Bossche seem to imply he thinks the vaccines will create super viruses the way over exposure to antibiotics does to bacteria, which is not how any of this works.

At this point, it’s worth taking a closer look at Vanden Bossche, which Dr. Vincent Iannelli did in an exhaustive article. The results range from disappointing to disturbing. Despite his credentials, Vanden Bossche is hardly the world-renowned expert that he is made out to be from fans of Weinstein’s show. He is only board certified in veterinary virology, microbiology, and animal hygiene, and hasn’t published a research paper since 1995. He has never published any research on vaccines, and people who actually have, such as Dr. Angela Rasmussen, have called his scaremongering “baseless.”

I’ve professionally published more work on vaccination than Vanden Bossche has, and I dropped out of college to run the local Rocky Horror Picture Show. Despite that, Vanden Bossche has a plan, and not surprisingly it is the exact same plan as Wakefield.

Vanden Bossche thinks some types of vaccination for COVID would be great. Specifically, he touts the power of “Natural Killer (NK) cells capable of recognizing these unconventional antigens.” It just so happens, that Vanden Bossche is working on an NK vaccine as an independent researcher, according to his letter.

It’s not hard to connect the dots. A seemingly prestigious scientist who is a lot less impressive when looked at with a critical eye begins crying doom about the current state of vaccination. Rather doing publishing research, he takes to Twitter and YouTube to get his message out, the hallmark of all great science. As an alternative, he offers a new path forward using technology that he is personally working on and stands to profit from. I suppose we should be grateful that Vanden Boscche isn’t teaming up with a disgraced quack who thinks his bone marrow cures autism like Wakefield did. At least, not that we know of.

Weinstein has embraced Vanden Bossche as part of his growing media presence that seeks to profit off misinformation and misery. By escalating the fear of vaccination, the crisis is prolonged, and the fear is maintained. That makes for ripe marks willing to hearken to their brand of conservatism. It’s an incredibly dangerous game where human lives are being wagered for financial gain. The effects of Wakefield’s scam are still being felt today, and a resurgence during COVID could be catastrophic.

The people who claim that current vaccination efforts are harming us, such as Weinstein and Vanden Bossche, do not appear to be arguing in good faith. It looks like a con, an old one at that, and we fall for it at our peril.
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Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner