On an April Zoom call crowded with more than 300 people, the energy was high, and the mood a little desperate.
“I had Covid for 48 days!” a participant wrote in the chat box. “I was taking Ivermectin, systemic enzymes, Coq10 , NAC, vitamin D3, zinc, Quercetin, vitamin A, grape seed extract, vitamin C, garlic, Echinacea, Mothers milk tea, Lomatium, lobelia, MULLEIN.”
“Completely lost all smell & taste for about 7 or 8 months,” another woman, who said she was 64, wrote. “Since then I have had a very nasty smell & taste which makes it hard to eat at all. I have to force myself to eat to keep my weight up.”
“I believe I’m suffering because I’m around jabbed people,” another person chimed in, using the anti-vaccine shorthand for a vaccinated person.
“Yep, it’s a bioweapon,” another agreed.
The occasion was a webinar entitled “Conquering Long Covid,” put on by the organizers of an event called the Health Freedom Summit, one of a glut of anti-vaccine conferences that have launched in recent years. HFS is run by a group of women who market themselves as mothers and health-oriented community activists, and since launching in April 2020, they’ve hosted some of the anti-vaccine world’s most omnipresent names. From the start, HFS’ founders and speakers have sought to cast doubt on the realities of the pandemic, and the conference bills itself as “the first American event to offer a ‘second opinion’ on the COVID narrative.” The 2022 event will, the organizers promise, feature “whistleblowers on mandated vaccines, masks, and lockdowns exposing medical fraud, government overstep, and disinformation.”
In other words, COVID as a disease isn’t depicted as fake, exactly, but certainly overblown, a threat distorted into monstrous proportions to justify what HFS persistently calls “medical tyranny.” On the Zoom call, though, they were doing something quite different: marketing a promised treatment for long COVID symptoms.
“The culprit seems to be getting sick with COVID or taking the shot, so a vaccine injury thing,” said Alana Newman, one of the hosts and founders of HFS, as attendees joined the call, conflating long COVID symptoms with specious claims about COVID vaccines being broadly unsafe. “Our job is to point you in the right direction. We are all about natural health and are in a position to grab the science, distill it down so it’s helpful and palatable and deliver it to you.”
As the call wore on, though, two things became clear: that the presentation was another attempt to peddle vaccine skepticism to their audience, and that “grabbing the science” meant shilling a series of products from a multi-level marketing company called Life Vantage. Among them were a nootropic drink, which Newman claimed crosses the blood-brain barrier and “goes into the brain and heals it,” which is not a thing that a drink can do, and other products that the hosts promised would “turn on mitochondria” in the body and “energize” them, as well as healing the “oxidative stress” they claimed was causing long COVID.
The commenters in the chat quickly turned sour.
“This is starting to feel like a timeshare presentation,” one complained. “A 72- hour fast will do all that and more for free.”
“This is a multi-level marketing presentation disguised as a Long Covid presentation!” another exclaimed.
“I didn’t realize you were going to be selling us products instead of giving more information,” another person echoed. “Very disappointing.”
The Health Freedom Summit founders are not alone in seeing a new market. Several people and organizations who have promoted vaccine hesitancy and COVID denialism are now pivoting to purported “treatments” for long COVID symptoms. And many of them rely on the same specious claims and unproven medicines that they’ve been selling all along, as well as conflated notions of vaccine injury and post-COVID symptoms.
Take, for instance, the Frontline COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance (FLCCC), best known for its insistent promotion of ivermectin as a cure or preventative for COVID. Last summer, the FLCCC released what one of its founders, Pierre Kory, called a “long haul Covid protocol.” On the FLCCC website, though, the I-RECOVER protocol, as it’s called, is described as being a “post-vaccine treatment,” and involves ivermectin (naturally), as well as intermittent fasting and daily amounts of vitamin C that greatly exceed the recommended dose and could cause diarrhea, nausea, and other unpleasant gut-based effects. In February, Kory announced that he was creating his own “Covid specialty tele-health practice,” separate from the FLCCC. “My new practice will treat acute Covid or prescribe meds to have on hand if you fall ill with COVID,” he wrote on Substack, “but our main focus will be on treating Long-Haul and Post-Vaccine syndromes. We are here to help.” For a price: consultations with Kory’s staff cost $1250, and consultations with Kory himself cost $1650, per his website. (The practice does not seem to take insurance, but says it provides “Discounted fees or pro-bono consults” in “cases of financial hardship.”)
The World Council for Health, a faux-medical body dedicated to promoting vaccine hesitancy and ivermectin as a COVID treatment, is also getting in on the game. In a weekly roundtable discussion online, it hosts a variety of people making dubious medical claims; a recent one featured a talk from a “holistic podiatrist” titled “Long Covid & Vaccine Injury: How to Move Forward, Understand the Root, and Heal the Damage.” While the presentation was somewhat garbled, it made the same general attempt to link COVID vaccines and the idea of long COVID in the minds of an already vaccine-skeptical audience.
Meanwhile, Joseph Mercola, a well-established purveyor of misinformation in the natural health world, appears to be recommending probiotics for the treatment of long COVID, as seen in a January blog post on Substack available only to paying subscribers. Mercola has previously been one of many, many pseudoscientific experts peddling “spike protein detox,” a purported, extremely not-real “detoxification” system for people who believe they are suffering ill effects from being vaccinated, or from being around a vaccinated person.
These incursions into the poorly-understood world of long COVID represent the latest attempt in the anti-vaccine world to figure out ways to commercialize and monetize the pandemic, an attempt that will, in all likelihood, only continue with new products, new promises, and new claims. But the anti-vaccine personalities peddling long COVID treatments ultimately merely offer more of the same: hollow promises, and a belated acknowledgment that the threat they dismissed was, in the end, all too real.