Cape Coral doctor listed as one of the 12 most pervasive spreaders of anti-vaccine information in U.S.
The nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate recently released a report detailing the 12 most pervasive spreaders of online anti-vaccine information. At the top of the list is osteopathic physician Joseph Mercola, a resident of Cape Coral and namesake of Mercola Market.
Mercola was recently profiled in the New York Times for calling COVID-19 vaccines “a medical fraud." He has been issued several warning letters by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for selling unapproved health products in 2005, 2006 and 2011. The most recent FDA warning letter for Mercola was issued in February 2021. In 2016, the Federal Trade Commission provided $2.5 million in refunds to customers who bought Mercola-branded tanning beds after Mercola claimed the tanning beds would not cause skin cancer.
Cape Coral city officials have discussed removing the company name from the government website that promotes local corporate headquarters, but no decision has been made yet.
“In my efforts as a councilperson and a former journalist, I want to try and stop misinformation and at least have the conversation that if you're concerned about something, reach out to the people that are directly involved,” said Cape Coral City Councilman Tom Hayden. “Don’t listen to everything you might see on social media because there’s a decent chance that some of the information could be wrong.”
YouTube took down Dr. Mercola’s channel earlier this year after it announced it would be cracking down on vaccine misinformation.
“The Center for Countering Digital Hate report is ridiculous,” Dr. Mercola said in an email. “The purpose behind these reports is to control information and censor dissenting individuals. The CCDH is a dark money-funded political operative.”
Mercola says he employs 150 people at his marketplace in Cape Coral and has formed partnerships with the Cape Coral Animal Shelter, Mariner High School, and the FGCU Alumni Association.
In August, Mercola announced on his website that he would be deleting all content posted to his website after 48 hours. He wrote: “By now I am sure you know that there was a recent NY Times article attacking me. The article was loaded with false statements made about me and my organization. The groups that created it are funded by dark money and operated by an illegal foreign agent.”
As of Dec 7, the most prominent story on Mercola.com was headlined “Who is the Real Anthony Fauci?” One of the bullet points in the story is “Fauci’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases conducted barbaric and illegal drug experiments on foster children; at least 85 children died as a result,” and accuses Fauci of “committing atrocities.”
The Associated Press recently fact-checked this and could find no evidence that the 25 HIV-positive foster children who were enrolled in clinical trials related to their illness died as a result of the trials.
The story also promotes Robert F. Kennedy’s new book, another public figure featured on the "Disinformation Dozen."
However, Cape Coral District Four City Councilwoman Jennifer Nelson remains optimistic about Cape Coral’s handling of misinformation.
“One thing that Cape Coral does well is that if we catch misinformation, our public information office does a really good job of trying to correct the bad information with the current information,” Nelson said. “For example, if an individual is quoting the wrong numbers, our public information office does a pretty good job of responding right away.”
She also offered a solution.
“The best way to work on misinformation is that you can combat it with correct information,” Nelson said. “We can’t control what people say, but we can control the message if it’s wrong.”
Dr. Mercola’s new book, "The Truth About COVID-19," is also heavily featured on his website. Dr. Mercola said that the book, which was published on Amazon in April, “exposes the hidden agenda behind the pandemic, showing the countermeasures have nothing to do with public health and everything to do with ushering in a new social and economic system based on totalitarian, technocracy-led control.”
Pamela Young, a Port Charlotte flight nurse who transports trauma patients to hospitals, has seen the real-life effects of misinformation.
“When COVID first started, I tried to talk people out of [misinformation],” Young said. “I tried to offer people the science behind the vaccine and explain what a vaccine does and how it works, and it was like talking to a brick wall. I’m at the point now where I’ve just given up. I don’t even try to talk to people about it and change their minds, because it doesn’t work. They are so firmly entrenched in their beliefs, no matter how inaccurate the source, that they think I’m the crazy one.”
Young shared her experience with vulnerable children sick with the coronavirus.
“We just took a 2-year-old patient from Sarasota to All Children’s Hospital with COVID and respiratory distress,” Young said. “She’s doing okay, and that was something her mom had said. The 2-year-old couldn’t get vaccinated, but the mom could have and didn’t. And now her child’s in the hospital. She was kind of voicing the same opinion: I wish I would have just done it.”