Meet the Irish Anti-Vax Superstar Who Made Millions From Big Pharma

Dolores Cahill is a scientist-turned-anti-vaxxer who has falsely claimed that wearing a mask lowers a child’s IQ.
November 19, 2021, 1:58pm
Professor Dolores Cahill, the chairperson of the Irish Freedom Party addresses the crowd during an anti-vaccination and anti-lockdown rally, on Saturday, November 28, 2020, in Dublin, Ireland. (Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Professor Dolores Cahill, the chairperson of the Irish Freedom Party addresses the crowd during an anti-vaccination and anti-lockdown rally, on Saturday, November 28, 2020, in Dublin, Ireland. (Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

CORK, Ireland — A week after her husband Joe was admitted to the hospital suffering complications from COVID-19, Una McCarron was getting worried. Joe had been her sole caretaker for years, and now doctors were saying they wanted to put him on a ventilator.

So when friends of Joe’s told Una they’d organized a call with someone she believed to be a professor of medicine or a medical doctor, she was ready to listen to whatever she was told, according to a family friend who recounted events of that day to VICE News.

Advertisement

When the phone rang, the person on the other end was Dolores Cahill, then a professor of immunology at University College Dublin, and a rising star in the global anti-vaccine movement.

During the call, reported here for the first time, Cahill convinced Una McCarron that what her husband needed was to be taken out of the hospital because the hospital wasn’t giving him the right drugs. 

Then she said that if Joe was put on a ventilator, he would die. 

“Basically, she said to Una, if you take him home, he'll survive,” the friend, who spoke exclusively to VICE News about the call, said. The person, who has known the McCarrons almost all of their life, requested anonymity to speak openly about these events, fearing repercussions from Cahill and members of the local community.

When Una told Cahill she wouldn’t be able to take care of her husband if he came home from the hospital, Cahill promised support, including providing oxygen to help Joe breathe, the family friend said.

The call ended, according to the source, with Cahill promising to meet Una in person at the hospital to talk to her husband’s doctors about his treatment. 

“It was only when she got there that she discovered that these guys were in there to take Joe out of the hospital,” the family friend said.

Advertisement

“These guys” were four members of the Common Law Information Centre, a sovereign citizen–style group based in Donegal with whom Cahill is closely associated. Joe McCarron was also a member of the group.

Cahill has denied any involvement in planning the hospital “rescue” and denied knowledge of the Common Law group. However, VICE News has reviewed photographic evidence showing her addressing members of the center last July in their offices in Ballybofey, Donegal.

Also present was an Italian, Antonio Mureddu, who led the so-called rescue at Letterkenny University Hospital. Mureddu presented documents to the hospital staff, claiming he had the right to take McCarron out of the hospital.

Mureddu proceeded to McCarron’s room, took off his oxygen mask, and ripped out his intravenous line, spraying blood everywhere. Then he took out his phone and started recording. 

In the video, he encourages McCarron to “put on your pants,” and then turns to the camera and says: “Thank you so much for Dolores Cahill as well, professor, that she was on the phone all day long trying to sort out this one, thank you so much.”

Advertisement

Joe McCarron was brought home, but the help Cahill had promised never arrived, according to the family friend. What did arrive was some ivermectin, the drug more typically used as a horse dewormer that has become a popular alternative “COVID cure” in anti-vaxxer circles.

Joe’s condition quickly deteriorated, and two days later, on Sept. 16, he was rushed back to the hospital and put into an induced coma. But he never recovered, and a week later, Joe McCarron was dead.

The family friend noted that the oxygen Cahill had promised did eventually turn up—the day after Joe was rushed back to the hospital.

Cahill’s apparently central role in the McCarron case has not been reported before, but it’s an example of her growing role in both anti-vaxxer and sovereign citizen movements in Ireland, the U.K., and across Europe. 

Cahill first emerged as a leading figure in this world as COVID lockdowns came into force in March 2020. Her credentials as an experienced scientist and professor of immunology gave a veneer of credibility to her increasingly outrageous claims about the coronavirus, the vaccines, and government efforts to protect citizens by restricting their movements.

Advertisement

“If you’re under, like, 70 or 65 and you’ve no underlying conditions, this is all a hoax,” Cahill declared in a video interview last year, despite the fact the pandemic has now claimed the lives of over 4.3 million people.

Cahill has falsely claimed that there was no pandemic, that COVID is no worse than the flu, that mRNA vaccines are highly dangerous, and that mask-wearing exposes you to higher levels of carbon dioxide than it would take to cause a nuclear submarine to surface. At a rally in Dublin in March of this year, she claimed that “asymptomatic people do not exist. They are healthy people.” And she added, “The reason that globalists support masks is that oxygen-deprived people are easy to manipulate.”

She has even claimed that wearing masks threatens to lower children’s IQs because it starves them of oxygen—even though doctors and scientists have been wearing the same masks for decades.

Advertisement

A scientist with decades of experience, Cahill cashed in her expertise to become an anti-vax superstar, coordinating with fringe and far-right groups across the continent. She even set up her own organizations to take advantage of her newfound fame, including launching a vaccination-free travel company and a coalition of anti-vaxxers called the World Freedom Alliance. 

She has also launched a project called Custodean to defend Irish heritage. Central to this is White Castle, a 16th-century tower house in central Ireland that she purchased in 2019 for over $500,000. Earlier this year she launched the Custodean project with an event at the castle called “Festival of the Butterfly,” in defiance of local COVID-19 restrictions.

Locals have said the castle is virtually unliveable, and Cahill has been accused by some of her former allies in the anti-vaxxer movement of using donations meant for the World Freedom Alliance to renovate the 500-year-old building.

While Cahill touts her extensive education and experience as a scientist, she doesn’t publicize the fact that the castle purchase was funded not by donations from fellow anti-vaxxers but by money Cahill has made from Big Pharma.

In June 2020, she spoke to the London editor of Breitbart, James Delingpole, and claimed major pharmaceutical companies were hiding the truth in order to make more money from COVID vaccines.

Advertisement

“Evidence is being cherry-picked in order to reach a predetermined goal: a moneymaking vaccine. The existing prevention and treatment methods don’t make money for Big Pharma,” Cahill claimed.

What Cahill didn’t tell Delingpole is that she co-founded a company in Germany in 1996 called Protagen, created to commercialize the breakthroughs she’d made while working as a research scientist for the highly-renowned Max Planck Institute of Molecular Genetics. 

Over the years, parts of the business were sold off, and in 2016, Protagen signed an agreement to work with Novartis, a Swiss multinational pharmaceutical giant that is involved in the production of COVID-19 vaccines—though there’s no indication that Protagen’s work with the company was related to vaccines.

Then in 2019, Protagen was sold to Oncimmune, a pharmaceutical company focused on cancer detection, for around $5.5 million, paid by way of shares in Oncimmune. Cahill and her co-founders received a 71 percent premium based on her shareholding in Protagen at the time.

Advertisement

While Cahill remained a shareholder in Protagen until it was sold in 2019, she had long since left Germany, moving back to Ireland in 2003 where she began working as a professor at University College Dublin (UCD).

At UCD, where she was a tenured professor, she taught a class for first-year medical students called Science, Medicine and Society. She also worked as an adviser and international expert on many boards and committees, including the Irish government’s Advisory Science Council.

So when she began to spread COVID-19 misinformation in early 2020, it appeared to have come out of nowhere.

But there were some small signs of what was to come. Cahill was the chairperson of the Irish Freedom Party, a far-right political group that advocated for an Irish version of Brexit that would see the country leave the EU. She ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the European Parliament in 2019 and the Irish Parliament in 2020.

Cahill resigned as chair of the Freedom Party in March 2021, days after she told a rally in Dublin that children who wore face masks were being “starved” of oxygen and would have lower IQs.

But her resignation didn’t stop her from running for public office again in July 2021. Again she failed to make any impression with voters. When she attempted to access the count center in Dublin, she was denied entry as she refused to wear a mask. Her angry encounter with police was captured on video, and with Cahill that day was the Italian, Antonio Mureddu.

Having gained notoriety in the anti-vaxxer world as the pandemic began, Cahill has this year sought to also embed herself in the sovereign citizen movements in the U.K. and Ireland.

According to the family friend, Cahill was involved with the Common Law Information Centre from the very beginning in 2020, and she acts as the group’s judge, issuing rulings in cases related to banks attempting to repossess people’s houses. Cahill addressed the group in July at a meeting that Joe McCarron attended.

Advertisement

Cahill has failed to respond to efforts by VICE News to contact her about her role in taking Joe McCarron out of the hospital and her links to the Common Law Information Centre, including multiple phone calls, texts, messages sent to her social media accounts, and emails sent to her personal and business addresses. 

Cahill has not commented publicly about McCarron’s death, but she told the Irish Independent newspaper in September that she had nothing to do with the “rescue,” adding, “I don’t know anything about” the Common Law Information Centre.

Police in Ireland who are investigating McCarron’s death wouldn’t say if Cahill is a focus of their investigation, but sources close to the family told VICE News that Una McCarron had been interviewed in late October by those conducting the investigation. 

Multiple senior figures who run the Centre, including Michael McGee, Tom Dignam, and Niall Murray—all of whom were present at Joe McCarron’s “rescue”—refused to comment.

McGee, when reached by phone, told VICE News he would only respond to written questions. When asked for an email address, he said he would only respond to questions sent in a physical letter.

Despite McCarron’s tragic death, the Centre continues to operate, and it has also failed to slow down Cahill’s interest in the sovereign citizen movement and her efforts to boost her profile.

Advertisement

She recently posted a picture of herself on her Facebook page claiming that she had just completed a course in becoming a “peace constable,” the sovereign citizen’s version of a police officer.

While in the U.K., she also recently met with prominent British lawmaker Sir Graham Brady, as part of a group of anti-vaxxers who criticized the British government’s rollout of the vaccine.

Cahill has also built links to major U.S. conspiracy networks, including those of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Del Bigtree, two of the biggest names in the U.S. anti-vaxxer community. She has also co-founded the World Freedom Alliance, and an offshoot called the World Doctors Alliance. Both groups consist of current and former medical professionals and academics from multiple countries who’ve been spreading huge amount of disinformation about the vaccines on social media

Cahill herself has seen her Facebook following grow from a few hundred at the beginning of the pandemic to almost 130,000 today. Facebook did not immediately respond to VICE News’ request for comment about why her channel has not been taken down despite hosting multiple videos containing COVID-19 disinformation. 

Cahill has also created strong links to the Querdenken movement, a German anti-lockdown group whose name means “lateral thinking.” Founded in February, the group regularly holds protests in Germany, and critics claim it is leading followers to more-extreme far-right groups. This was evident in August 2020 when a rally organized by a local Querdenken group in Berlin attracted far-right and neo-Nazi groups who ultimately tried to storm Germany’s Parliament building, the Reichstag. 

In fact, Cahill is so widely cited in German publications that public service broadcaster ARD has subjected her claims to a dedicated fact-check. The broadcaster found that her allegations about the threats posed by COVID-19 vaccines were based on unsubstantiated claims.

But Cahill’s efforts to prove her theories and beliefs have tragic results. According to the family friend, in Joe McCarron, Cahill saw an opportunity to showcase the efficacy of the conspiracies she was spreading.

“Joe was going to be their poster boy,” the family friend said. “But it backfired on them and Joe ended up dead. This was pure propaganda.”

Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.