The feds forgave Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans totaling over $1 million to antivax organizations including ones run by conspiracy theorist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., discredited scientist Dr. Joseph Mercola, Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, and others, the Daily Beast reported on Thursday.
The PPP was ostensibly intended to protect small businesses impacted by the novel coronavirus pandemic and help them retain workers by extending businesses and other entities federal loans that were potentially forgivable if the borrowers didn’t lay off workers. But much of the $800 billion+ in funds handed out so far have gone to big businesses with banking connections which sucked the pool dry faster than many others could apply. According to the Daily Beast’s review of public records, groups that spread misinformation, hoaxes, and lies claiming vaccines aren’t safe and effective managed to get a cut of that sweet, sweet funding too.
The Daily Beast reported that public records show that the Small Business Administration (SBA) forgave a $145,339 loan plus thousands more in interest to RFK Jr.’s Children’s Health Defense Co. (CHD), a prolific source of anti-vax misinformation. CHD helped publish and promote a book by the doctor at the center of the hoax Plandemic documentary, Dr. Judy Mikovits; produced a film called Medical Racism: The New Apartheid that attempts to convince Black Americans they are being used as guinea pigs for coronavirus vaccines; and published innumerable blog posts by RFK Jr. with false claims about non-existent links between vaccination and a number of conditions such as autism.
RFK Jr. has collaborated with QAnon adherents to spread claims that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergens and Infectious Diseases, intends to sicken an “entire generation of Americans” with coronavirus vaccines. Kennedy has also been denounced by his own family over his role in the antivax conspiracy movement.
The SBA forgave a $72,500 loan to the alternative medical practice of Dr. Sherry Tenpenny, a prominent anti-vax doctor who claimed to Ohio legislators earlier this year that the coronavirus vaccine makes people literally magnetic, according to the Daily Beast. (It does not.) Dr. Joseph Mercola, the disgraced physician whose debunked and retracted study claiming a link between vaccines and autism fueled much of the modern anti-vax movement, scored forgiveness of nearly half a million in loans to two businesses. Ronnie Cummins, who has worked with Mercola on a book claiming the pandemic is part of a plan for a dystopian “Great Reset,” runs the Organic Consumers Association. The SBA forgave it $165,400 in loans.
Finally, according to the Beast, the SBA forgave loans to anti-vax publishers the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) and TTAC Publishing ($137,466 and $252,050 respectively). The NVIC is considered one of the country’s most powerful antivax organizations and in October 2020 organized a conference for the movement to coordinate a “master narrative” asserting the coronavirus is not dangerous and vaccine side effects are widespread and more dangerous than the virus itself. The conference also urged targeting people with large social media followings with anti-vax propaganda, as well as focusing on Black Americans wary of the history of medical racism.
The SBA, of course, doesn’t really care what business functions borrowers actually carry out—just that they meet program requirements. But it’s frustrating that the same organizations which are helping fuel vaccine hesitancy across the U.S. are also receiving disaster funds intended for businesses actually impacted by the pandemic. As the Daily Beast noted, some of the organizations on the list are already quite wealthy. RFK Jr. holds pricey California fundraisers for the CHD. Mercola, for example, estimated his net wealth at over $100 million in 2017. He’s also poured millions into the NVIC over the years. And one would presume that being a professional anti-vaxxer is one of the few occupations that actually experience greater success in the midst of a pandemic.
The U.S. recently missed an adult vaccination target of 70% over the Fourth of July weekend, due in significant part to vaccine misinformation spread by groups such as the above and efforts by former President Donald Trump and the Republican Party to foster vaccine hesitancy among conservatives and in red states in particular. According to polling data posted by the Kaiser Family Foundation at the end of June, 10% of Americans say they will “wait and see” whether they will receive a vaccine, 6% say they will only do so if required, and 14% say they definitely will not. Among the top reasons cited were concerns that the vaccine is “too new,” will result in side effects, lack of trust in either the government or vaccines, or the belief they are not safe. The partisan gap in vaccination rates is also growing, according to the foundation, with 46.7% vaccination rates in counties that voted for Biden as of July 6 and just 35% in those that voted for Trump.