Since the earliest days of the pandemic, a contingent of anti-science doctors and activists have promoted supposed “cures” for the novel coronavirus. The first, of course, was hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug that the former president began recommending as early as March 20, 2020. Almost immediately, the dangers of COVID-19 misinformation were on full display: Within four days of Trump calling it a “game changer,” an Arizona husband and wife followed his lead and ingested chloroquine phosphate — an additive typically used to clean fish tanks that’s in the same chemical family as hydroxychloroquine. The woman was hospitalized. The man died.
That should’ve been the ultimate warning sign for Americans to ignore extremist medicinal propaganda. Instead, it was just a harbinger of things to come. In the 20 months since, an anti-vax, anti-science ideology that once existed on the periphery of U.S. society has become increasingly normalized. The Republican Party, which has fully embraced Trump’s conspiracy theory–laden stance towards the pandemic, deserves much of the blame here. But a vocal minority of radical medical professionals has also provided cover for the GOP’s baseless claims about the coronavirus and how to treat it.
As of last Friday, one of the latter’s leading voices was, at long last, sidelined. For months, Mary Bowden, a Houston physician, has drawn attention for her outspoken support of using ivermectin — a dewormer predominantly used in livestock. Unlike hydroxychloroquine, the drug has perpetually stuck around in anti-vax circles since Trump first touted it in 2020. Bowden, an ear, nose, and throat doctor, has been especially explicit on Twitter, where her handle is, ironically, @MdBreathe.
“The only way we beat these guys is with your wallet,” Bowden tweeted on Nov. 6, arguing that opposition to the unproven drug stems from corporate greed, not hard science. “Support the pharmacies that dispense ivermectin.”
“Imagine that your 48 year old husband, the father of your 6 children, is dying in the ICU and the doctors would rather have him die than try ivermectin,” she tweeted on Nov. 10, just one of several messages she’s shared about a Tarrant County sheriff that she’s fighting to provide the horse dewormer to.
Finally, Houston Methodist Hospital, where Bowden was recently hired, stepped in. Citing the doctor’s penchant for “spreading dangerous misinformation,” the medical center suspended her last week. The move also stemmed from the doctor’s full-throated opposition to vaccine mandates — including at the hospital, which has begun requiring its staff to be inoculated against COVID-19. Despite being vaccinated herself, Bowden had positioned herself as an ardent defender of personal choice on the topic of vaccines.
While Houston Methodist’s decision comes as welcome news, Bowden and others like her have already caused significant damage to America’s public health system. By stoking vaccine hesitancy and embracing dubious drugs — something she has in common with the likes of chief podcast bro Joe Rogan, NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and Sen. Rand Paul — she has provided legitimacy to dangerous viewpoints that show no sign of relenting. To that point, a September article by 538 highlighted a growing number of COVID-19 patients that, despite advisories from the CDC and FDA, are successfully suing hospitals to receive ivermectin.
Given Bowden’s growing stature as an anti-science freedom fighter, it’s unlikely that she’ll immediately disappear from public view. There’ll probably be an appearance on “The Joe Rogan Podcast” or “The Ben Shapiro Show.” She might even get a little facetime on Fox News as “the doctor who got canceled by woke hospital administrators.” Regardless of where her impending trip through the right-wing media circuit takes her, the suspended doctor will almost assuredly have the opportunity to spread her misinformation on a far greater scale than ever before. Whether she’ll have the chance to do so in a medical setting anytime soon, though, remains to be seen.
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