Doctors grow frustrated over COVID-19 denial, misinformation
By HEATHER HOLLINGSWORTHOctober 5, 2021
The COVID-19 patient’s health was deteriorating quickly at a Michigan hospital, but he was having none of the doctor’s diagnosis. Despite dangerously low oxygen levels, the unvaccinated man didn’t think he was that sick and got so irate over a hospital policy forbidding his wife from being at his bedside that he threatened to walk out of the building.
Dr. Matthew Trunsky didn’t hold back in his response: “You are welcome to leave, but you will be dead before you get to your car,’” he said.
(He estimates that he has cared for 100 patients who have died since the pandemic began, including the man who threatened to walk out of the hospital.)
Such exchanges have become all-too-common for medical workers who are growing weary of COVID-19 denial and misinformation that have made it exasperating to treat unvaccinated patients during the delta-driven surge.
The Associated Press asked six doctors from across the country to describe the types of misinformation and denial they see on a daily basis and how they respond to it.
Here are their stories:
LOUISIANA DOCTOR: ‘Just stop looking at Facebook’
When patients tell Dr. Vincent Shaw that they don’t want the COVID-19 vaccine because they don’t know what’s going into their bodies, he pulls up the ingredient list for a Twinkie.
“Look at the back of the package,” Shaw, a family physician in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “Tell me you can pronounce everything on the back of that package. Because I have a chemistry degree, I still don’t know what that is.”
DALLAS ER DOCTOR: Baffled at how he’s ‘lost all credibility’ with anti-vaccine patients
Dr. Stu Coffman has patients tell him they are scared about vaccine side effects. They don’t trust the regulatory approval process and raise disproven concerns that the vaccine will harm their fertility. He said the most unexpected thing someone told him was that there was “actually poison in the mRNA vaccine” — a baseless rumor that originated online.
He is confounded by the pushback.
“If you’ve got a gunshot wound or stab wound or you’re having a heart attack, you want to see me in the emergency department,” he said. “But as soon as we start talking about a vaccine, all of a sudden I’ve lost all credibility.”
KENTUCKY: Political views come into clear focus after diagnosis
Dr. Ryan Stanton recently had a patient who began their conversation by saying, “I’m not afraid of any China virus.” From that point on, he knew what he was up against in dealing with the patient’s politics and misguided beliefs about the virus.
Stanton blamed people like far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones for spreading some of the misinformation that has taken root among his patients. Among them is that the vaccine contains fetal cells. Another said it “is a simple fact that the vaccine has killed millions.”
“In fact,” he said, “that couldn’t be more wrong.”
MICHIGAN PULMONOLOGIST: Facebook post unleashes his frustration
For Trunsky, the vaccine pushback grew so intense that he turned to Facebook to describe the ire he confronts on a daily basis at Beaumont Hospital in Troy, Michigan. The post listed eight encounters he had in the two previous days alone in which COVID-19 patients explained misinformation-fueled reasons for not getting vaccines or made demands for unproven treatments.
Example No. 5 was a patient who said he’d rather die than take the vaccine. Trunsky’s response: “You may get your wish.”
ILLINOIS FAMILY PHYSICIAN: Traces misinformation back to Scripture, Nicki Minaj
Dr. Carl Lambert hears lots of wild misinformation from his patients. Some comes from the Bible interpretations; some originates from the rapper Nicki Minaj.
Some of it is the stuff of internet conspiracy theories, like there’s a chip in the vaccine that will take over their DNA.
UTAH DOCTOR: Fear of vaccine side effects, then fear of dying
When Dr. Elizabeth Middleton talks to COVID-19 patients about why they aren’t vaccinated, they often cite fear of side effects. But as they get sicker and sicker, a different sort of fear sets in.
“They sort of have this sinking look about them, like ‘Oh, my God. This is happening to me. I should have been vaccinated,’” said the pulmonary critical care doctor at the University of Utah hospital in Salt Lake City.