Yet again, the AZ legislature hosts a COVID hearing full of misinformation

covid-19 mrna vaccine
covid-19 mrna vaccine

After a second dose of the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine, a swarm of antibodies attacks the virus. Photo by Kateryna Kon | Science Photo Library via Getty Images

For the third time in less than a year, Arizona Republican lawmakers listened intently and offered no pushback during a special hearing at the state Senate that was billed as examining the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic but was instead rife with conspiracy theories, misinformation and fear-mongering about vaccines and public health.

In May 2023, the Novel Coronavirus Southwestern Intergovernmental Committee featured testimony from a group of supposed health experts who spread misinformation about vaccines and the pandemic during the committee’s time. Then, in October 2023, the committee met again, bringing some of the same “experts.” 

On Friday, the committee once again convened, bringing more of the same people to speak. 

The committee had previously faced criticism for its awkward name, which has been promoted in abbreviated form by the QAnon-friendly political nonprofit The America Project. The abbreviated name, NCSWIC, is a commonly used abbreviation in the QAnon world, where it means “Nothing Can Stop What Is Coming,” alluding to predictions of arrests and executions of members of the “Deep State.” 

The Republican elected officials on the panel were state Sens. Frank Carroll and Janae Shamp and state Rep. Steve Montenegro, who chairs the state House of Representatives’ Health and Human Services Committee. Sen. T.J. Shope was scheduled to be on the panel but Carroll said he filled in for the senator, who was not able to attend. 

Shamp, who was present at the U.S. Capitol for Jan. 6, has spread a multitude of QAnon conspiracy theories online for years, including a post with “NCSWIC” in it. 

Montenegro works for the America Project which has promoted QAnon and QAnon influencers. 

U.S. Reps. Eli Crane and Paul Gosar were listed on the agenda as being a part of the committee but were nowhere to be seen and did not provide pre-recorded video messages, as they have done in the past two committees. 

“As a frontline caregiver who worked in the ICU during the height of the pandemic, I was very disappointed today during the Novel COVID South Western Intergovernmental Committee that there was a palpable lack of celebration or even gratitude for the folks who comforted loved ones and held their hands during a frightening time of uncertainty,” Brandi Giles, a registered nurse and Director of Preventable Diseases for the Arizona Families for Vaccines, said in a statement to the Arizona Mirror. 

“These attempts to undermine our health care heroes do a disservice to the people of Arizona, science and public health across the nation,” Giles said.

The Return of Misinformation

Dr. Peter McCoullough yet again boldly proclaimed that the COVID-19 virus came from a lab in Wuhan, China. There is no consensus on the origin of the virus.

“The spike protein was intentionally engineered in a Chinese security lab in Wuhan China,” McCoullough said, adding that the United States worked alongside China and claimed that Dr. Anthony Faucci, who led the federal government’s work to combat COVID-19, was part of it. 

McCoullough is known for spreading unfounded claims, especially around the origins of the virus. He previously has stated that he believed the pandemic was “planned” and has promoted the QAnon conspiracy film “Plandemic.”  

McCoullough has become a darling to those in both QAnon and the broader conspiracy world, appearing regularly on shows like the one hosted by antisemite Stew Peters, who said the COVID vaccine is a “bioweapon.” Peters also was behind multiple QAnon conspiracy documentaries that made dubious claims about the vaccine, including that it included snake venom. 

McCoullough has also appeared on disgraced retired Gen. Michael Flynn’s “Reawaken America” tour, where he has denounced drag shows and gender identity issues. 

And McCoullough has spread a false claim that millions of people have been killed by the vaccine. The notion comes from a highly flawed analysis of data claiming that mortality rates were spiking because of the vaccine. He also spread similar claims, such as saying that more than 500,000 people in the United States were killed by the vaccine, an idea based on a misrepresentation of United Kingdom data

He has also alluded to a conspiracy theory widely adopted by QAnon adherents, which was featured in a discredited film, claiming that blood clots found in people’s bodies were caused by the COVID vaccine. 

That film, “Died Suddenly,” suggests the vaccine is all part of a shadowy plot to depopulate the world. But experts who have examined the film’s claims have said that many of the clots appear to be post-mortem clots. Cases of blood clots caused by the vaccine are “very rare,” according to one study that found only approximately 1,000 cases out of 2 million. 

The movie also deceptively featured incidents that occurred before the pandemic in 2020, but presented them as consequences of vaccination.

The panel Friday also featured a presentation by Sedona-based Dr. Robert Apter, who prefaced his presentation with a slide stating that his opinions do not represent those of any organization he is associated with and none of the material presented should be construed as medical advice. 

Apter rose to prominence among the anti-vaccination crowd for his use of the drug ivermectin. The drug became popular with conservatives and anti-vaccination advocates as a COVID-19 treatment, which led some people to seek out a version of the drug intended for horses instead of humans and poison control hotlines saw an increase in calls. 

Ivermectin, which is primarily used for treating parasitic worms and is not an antiviral drug, has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat COVID-19. One form of the medication that is approved by the FDA is used for treating people with intestinal diseases and roundworms.

Apter and others claimed that the drug was effective in treating their COVID-19 patients, which they met digitally through the service “” The founder of the website has spread misinformation about COVID-19 and had told conspiracy theorist Alex Jones that the pandemic could be ended with bombings and assassinations.  

Apter claimed Friday that India’s adoption of ivermectin led to the country’s reduction in cases, though there have been no conclusive reports connecting ivermectin and a decline in cases in India. 

Apter and another panelist, Dr. Mary Talley Bowden, have been engaged in a legal battle with the FDA over statements the agency made about ivermectin during the pandemic. A federal appeals court recently reversed a lower court’s decision that their case could not move forward. Bowden said they are in the discovery phase currently. 

Bowden has had her license suspended, resigned from a hospital she worked at and has faced multiple complaints

Apter also claimed that there is a “worldwide coordinated agenda” that created the virus, vaccine and response. 

Speakers also chose to rail against hospitals and pharmacies, claiming that hospitals should not have seen a “single death” during the pandemic and that pharmacies were beholden to “Big Pharma.” 

The panel claimed that antiviral drug remdesivir was dangerous and was the cause behind deaths in hospitals. Studies have shown that the drug has increased positive outcomes for patients with long COVID and has helped in early treatment of the virus

Bowden also spoke about how she filed up to 20 complaints against pharmacists for not prescribing medications such as ivermectin. All the complaints were dismissed. 

“I would find other means to, you know, incentivize them to comply,” Bowden said. 

Now Bowden runs a non-profit that she said aims to get politicians to pledge to “ban the jab.” 

Banning the COVID-19 vaccines and remdesivir were talking points across the panel. 

“Do not get a COVID-19 vaccine. And we eventually will come together and we will get it pulled from the market,” Shamp said, also repeating a widely debunked claim that patents were filed for COVID-19 in 2015. Later, Shamp falsely said that inserts for the vaccine were left blank and patients could not get any information on the vaccine. 

The committee also heard from Prescott-area Dr. Stephen Hale, who, before speaking, said his employer, the Veterans Administration, were making him read a statement saying the views and opinions are his own and do not reflect the views of the VA. 

“There is no reason for anyone at all to get a COVID vaccine,” Hale told the committee, adding that a paper published by The Lancet on the ineffectiveness of hydroxychloroquine at treating the virus was a “hit piece” and “totally bogus.” 

McCoullough and others also advocated for a regimen that includes hydroxychloroquine and other drugs that have not been proven to adequately treat COVID. Those who say the protocol is effective often cite a study by McCoullough on its use. 

However, later studies featuring much larger sample sizes have concluded that the “protocol” done by McCoullough, as well as hydroxychloroquine, were not effective and had no impact on treating COVID. 

Friday’s meeting mostly touched again on claims that were said in the last two committees which have all largely been debunked. 

Shamp, who came to Senate leadership with the idea for the committee, said she intends to hold another one later this year. 

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