In "The Antivax Network," Chloé Pinheiro and her colleagues from the Ciência Suja (roughly translated as Dirty Science) podcast investigate the emerging Brazilian antivax movement.
The main focus of the episode is a group called “Médicos Pela Vida (MPV)” (roughly translated as “Physicians for Life”). During the pandemic, hundreds of physicians gathered around this anti-science organization and started to attack the use of COVID-19 vaccines even before they arrived in Brazil.
We went to Recife, a city in northeast Brazil, where the MPV was founded. We discovered that, despite its massive audience online and the fact that it had promoted an international congress last year, it doesn't have an actual office nor any infrastructure.
Nevertheless, this group has strong connections with American physicians and social networks such as Gettr. Also, it represents a bigger movement of healthcare professionals profiting off the spreading of vaccine misinformation. They profit mainly from offering alternatives for vaccines and treatment to “reverse” supposed vaccination effects, mostly based on cheap drugs and controversial therapies like ozone therapy.
We uncovered this network disseminated among various alternative social media platforms and message apps, such as Telegram, BitChute, and Gettr. We hear from eight experts to understand how antivax disinformation is built, why it spreads so well, and what is the MPV’s importance in this environment. Finally, we approach the hidden world of Telegram, a place where antivaxxers are connected with far-right extremists, fake vaccination cards sellers, and even neo-Nazis. We mined audience data to show that some channels, such as the ones related to MPV, have hundreds of millions of views.
As a nonprofit journalism organization, we depend on your support to fund journalism addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. Donate any amount today to become a Pulitzer Center Champion and receive exclusive benefits!
Transcript (English translation)
THAÍS: Hi guys, just to let you know that this episode is part of a series of stories being published by Chloé Pinheiro from our team, in different vehicles, and that have been produced with the support of the Pulitzer Center. This girl is very well-connected! And the whole season was only possible thanks to the Serrapilheira Institute, which fosters research and scientific dissemination in the country.
(SOBE SOM MÚSICA)
"My doctor, you who welcomed me, accept the affection of this tribute. ...."
THEO: The person singing this song is a guy named Antonio Veneu Jordão. He is a frigate captain in the Brazilian Navy Reserve. Or, as the way he was introduced several times at the event where this audio was recorded, "the man who can land a helicopter on a moving ship."
THEO: Veneu is also Special Advisor to the Dean of the Federal University of Triângulo Mineiro, and one of the main integrators of a group of doctors, although he has no training in the area, according to his curriculum lattes resumé.
SOBE SOM MÚSICA
He's our hero! My doctor ...
THEO: He's embarrassing himself there at the 2nd Global Congress of the World Council for Health Doctors for Covid-19 – yes, the name is joke, if not redundant. This event took place in July 2022 in Foz do Iguaçu, Paraná state. The song is by Veneu himself, in honor of the doctors who worked during the pandemic. But it's not a song for any doctor. He was actually paying tribute to a group that he was very close to, and that, in 2020, already began to attack the Covid vaccines, even before they arrived in Brazil. And that group hasn't stopped.
(SOBE SOM MÚSICA)
You chose the good, you faced the bad ...
THAÍS: Since the first season of Ciência Suja, we've been keeping an eye on the anti-vaccine movement in Brazil. But until now, we haven't talked about one of the most important groups in this story: the MPV, Portuguese acronym for “Doctors For Life”. Or Doctors For Doubt, as we prefer to call them.
THAÍS: With the leniency of the Federal Council of Medicine, this group grew during the pandemic, gained political influence, and came to defend the post-election coup. To this day, it is one of the main disseminators of false information about vaccines. And there is nothing innocent or organic about them.
"Guys, we have a lot of studies on ivermectin."
"Now let's talk about ozone therapy."
"The biological weapon they made in the form of a fake vaccine"
"There are enough elements to say that we are already at war"
THAÍS: Thanks to a well-articulated network of misinformation, of which Doctors For Life is part, people all over Brazil repeat false or distorted speech about vaccination.
"I've never had anything wrong with me, right? I've always been fit as a fiddle ... After the vaccine I had a heart attack."
"And then in the hospital the obstetrician told her not to get the fourth shot so as not to expose herself to the vaccine."
"And then the nurse said, 'Yeah, actually it’s because the vaccine isn't 100 percent safe.' At first I was outraged and said: 'you are a health professional'. She was a very young girl, by the way. And then she said that she believes in Jesus, that it is Jesus who heals and not the vaccine."
"Back home my parents are elderly, and I always had to tell them, 'Mom, Dad, I work with the vaccine, it doesn't work this way.'
THEO: Those lines are not all old at all. They come from audio that we collected between January and March. And believe it or not, there's even a relative of members of this podcast here, more than one even, falling for these chats.
VOICEOVER PETER HOTEZ
The anti-science movement kills more than firearms and car accidents in the United States.
THEO: That's the American doctor Peter Hotez, one of the leading experts on the anti-vaccine movement. We'll talk about him later again, but what he said now sums up the size of the problem: There are a lot of people dying not from the vaccine, but from believing lies about vaccines.
THAÍS: It's people who can't even choose. Coronavirus killed 850 children and adolescents in our country in 2022 at a time when that public could already have been vaccinated. Brazil, once a world reference in this aspect, is among the top ten countries in the world with the most unvaccinated children for basic childhood vaccines, after Congo, Pakistan and India. That's according to the World Health Organization.
THAÍS: In this episode, we're going to expose, in detail, the anti-vaccine misinformation network. We dug up fake vaccine record sales, sinister conspiracy theories, a lot of far right propaganda and even neo-Nazi content.
THEO: The Ciência Suja team also traveled to Recife, where Doctors For Life had their company registered. We talked to experts and watched hours and hours of denialist material to understand why these doctors continue to support such dangerous discourse. My name is Theo Ruprecht.
THAÍS: I'm Thaís Manarini, and this is the premiere of the third season of Ciência Suja, the podcast that's here to show, again, that in crimes against science, the victims are all of us.
>>>>>>>SOBE SOM OPENING TRACK<<<<<<<<<
THAÍS: Before delving into this story, we want to introduce Pedro Nakamura. Pedro is a young journalist from the state of Rio Grande do Sul who was interviewed for the premiere episode of the second season, about the proxalutamide treatment for Covid-19, and who shared important information with us for this episode. Hello Pedro, tell us how Doctors For Life caught your attention:
PEDRO: Hi, I'm Pedro Nakamura and I highly recommend that you listen to the episode of Ciência Suja about "the guinea pigs of Proxalutamide," which deals with this series of experiments that violated all possible and impossible norms of ethics in research. In fact, it was the doctors responsible for these tests that got me interested in Doctors For Life. At the time, in the second half of 2021, I was investigating this pair of doctors, infectologist Ricardo Zimermann and endocrinologist Flávio Cadegiani, and I noticed that on social media, they interacted a lot, followed and shared stories of the Doctors For Life group. And as the group got more onto my radar, I kept track of how much it projected itself from the Parliamentary Inquiry into the pandemic. I thought that in their performance there was a very well-organized kind of lobbying. And seeing what they were saying about Covid vaccines and looking at how misinformation was hurting immunization, I thought that to tell the story of how the anti-vaccine movement set foot in Brazil during the pandemic, it would be essential to also tell the story of the Doctors For Life group: who they are, where they live and what they eat. Or rather, how they are funded.
THAÍS: That's why we called Pedro to participate in this investigation with us.
THEO: Doctors For Life, or MPV, the Portuguese acronym, is an association of doctors with about 15,000 members spread throughout Brazil, according to their own data. Some of them you have heard of here: Maria Emilia Gadelha Serra, Flávio Cadegiani, Lucy Kerr and Nise Yamaguchi, who sees herself as a meritorious member. The thing is that almost none of them understand viruses or vaccines. A 2021 survey showed that of the 209 professionals registered on the platform, only two were infectologists.
THEO: Even so, they started to gain notoriety for their early treatment of Covid. And so, nowadays there are even certain medications that can help in early cases, in certain situations. But you know what we're talking about: When you hear us referring to early treatment here, we’re referring to the use of chloroquine, ivermectin, and other drugs that failed tests for Covid treatment.
THEO: In 2021, Doctors For Life even bought advertising space in the country's major newspapers to publish a manifesto advocating early treatment. It soon became clear that Vitamedic, a manufacturer of ivermectin, had financed the lawsuit for a bargain of more than 700,000 Reais. They also developed the Doctors For Life platform on the internet.
THAÍS: Between 2020 and 2021, this same company increased its revenue from the sale of ivermectin by 1,200% and was responsible for 80% of the country's ivermectin sales. 80%!
THAÍS: Around September 2020, when the vaccines were about to arrive, Doctors For Life started attacking them. For them, they are not vaccines, they are experiments. Or competition for ivermectin. It's just that it's a competition that works, right?
THAÍS: More than just aligned with the speech of former President Jair Bolsonaro, they served as scientific or pseudoscientific support for decisions about the treatment protocols of the former government. And then they tried to sabotage the arrival of the vaccines. Tell us about it, Peter:
PEDRO: You remember that story of the parallel cabinet that became famous in the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Pandemic, right? So, in September 2020 there was a meeting with Doctors For Life and Bolsonaro, arranged by federal state representative Osmar Terra, in which the proposal of this cabinet that would informally advise Bolsonaro on the issues of the pandemic, emerged. It arose from a speech by microbiologist Paolo Zanotto, who suggested the creation of a "shadow cabinet" to assist the federal government. A shadow cabinet would be a kind of hidden cabinet. A kind of secret committee that would make decisions without public debate or knowledge.
VOICEOVER PAOLO ZANOTTO
"Maybe it would be important if we set up a group, we could help the ... I'm not going to be part of that group because I'm not a vaccine expert, but I'd like to help the executive government put together a shadow board, like it's a shadow cabinet, these individuals don't need to be exposed to, shall we say, popularity."
PEDRO: But there's a plot-twist: different to how we think, the goal was not to advise the government on the prescription of early treatment. The aim was to set up a committee funded by the Ministry of Health to review and approve Covid vaccines. This is not me talking. It is in a letter that Doctors For Life delivered to Bolsonaro on the day of that meeting. And it is in the context of this plea that Zanotto is talking about the creation of this "shadow cabinet".
THEO: Doctors For Life was received at the Ministry of Health, where they drafted letters of notification, participated in public hearings to discuss childhood vaccination and were present in several municipal chambers and state assemblies of Brazil, almost always invited by parliamentarian supporters of Bolsonaro.
THEO: But their story began in Recife, the capital of Pernambuco state, well before they had influence in the federal government or even before Coronavirus. In February 2023, Felipe Barbosa, our editor-producer-handyman here at Ciência Suja, and Pedro Nakamura traveled there to try to understand how a local doctors' association became one of the national protagonists of the anti-vaccine movement.
FELIPE: Felipe here, everyone. Well, our plan was to try to find out more details about their emergence and go to Doctors For Life headquarters to talk to the founder, an ophthalmologist named Antônio Jordão, not to be confused with Antonio Veneu Jordão, that serviceman of the navy reserve that we mentioned at the beginning of the episode. We'll get to it still, but it's important to point out that there are two characters with almost the same name. Antônio Jordão we will call Jordão, and the reserve serviceman we’ll refer to as Veneu.
FELIPE: Jordão, the ophthalmologist, is a guy involved in medical politics. In 2007, he led a historic strike by public health doctors in Pernambuco state. But as many people were left without assistance due to the shutdown, the middle class itself was divided over Jordão’s strategy. And that got in the way of his election plans at the Regional Council of Medicine and the State Doctors' Union.
FELIPE: Until 2019, there were some attempts to elect the Medical Dignity group, the name before Doctors For Life. But since that strike there they were kind of ostracized, and they didn't succeed in electoral processes. So, the pandemic served as an opportunity to gain relevance.
VOICEOVER TIAGO FEITOSA
A little later we realize the beginning of the movement of this other group coming from the opposite direction. It came in the sense of guiding the medical area to a certain treatment, right? I’m talking about the treatment with hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, especially at the beginning stages. Then they introduce azithromycin, vitamin D, vitamin C, these other things that they add to a kit they called early treatment.
FELIPE: This is the voice of health physician Tiago Feitosa, PhD in public health and research professor at the Medical Science Center of the Federal University of Pernambuco. Our first stop in Recife was to talk to him, because Tiago was witness to these two moments of the operation of Antônio Jordão's group.
FELIPE: During the pandemic, Tiago participated in another group: the Solidarity Network in Defense of Life, which gathered professionals and researchers from Pernambuco from different areas to help find real solutions to the problems that would arise with the arrival of Covid in the state.
VOICEOVER TIAGO FEITOSA
When Mandetta leaves, the group enters the Ministry of Health, which promotes the initiatives with chloroquine, and they also have some government support. This happened very much at the level of a certain underworld of relationships, services and prescriptions that were often not public knowledge. You have no backing from any scientific entity. An investigation was opened by Cremepe regarding this group. To this day we don't know the result. What happened to that investigation?
FELIPE: Another source heard by Chloé said that they even distributed the "Covid kit" in poor communities in Recife. And then when the vaccine arrived, there were people who didn't want to get vaccinated because they were already, quote-unquote, "protected." We reached out to Cremepe to find out more about this complaint, but they said that the case was under wraps.
FELIPE: The Public Prosecutor's Office of Pernambuco received two complaints on the subject but did not take the case forward, using ruling 4 of 2020 of the Federal Council of Medicine as their justification, which allowed the use of any treatment for Covid-19 with that argument of "medical autonomy".
FELIPE: The day after the interview with Tiago, we went to the registered address of Doctors For Life - a spacious house in Boa Viagem, Recife’s well-known upper-middle-class neighborhood. It is here where Vera Lopes, a famous pediatrician in the city, has her clinic. Vera was a councilwoman for two terms in Recife and tried to get elected as a federal representative in the last election. Interestingly, when she took a seat on the city council, one of her struggles was for more vaccines in the public network.
FELIPE: On the internet, we found out that every Wednesday they provide free care for those who need it. So, we chose to go on that day as there was a higher chance of the clinic being open.
(SOB SOM AMBIENTE)
Felipe: "We arrived here in front of the Doctors For Life address, and ...."
FELIPE: Arriving there, we saw a white wall on which was written "Doctor Vera Lopes" in huge blue letters. The space was hers. As for Doctors For Life, no sign. No plaque or reference indicating that it was the group's headquarters.
(SOB SOM AMBIENTE)
Pedro: "Yes, the headquarters of Doctors For Life is not an office, it's not an administrative headquarters or anything like that. It's a clinic."
FELIPE: When we rang the bell, disappointment: No one was there.
(SOB SOM AMBIENTE)
Felipe: "I think it's closed; someone would have already answered by now"
FELIPE: We decided to go to the health center in the neighborhood of Pina, where Jordão works. Upon arrival, you could see that it was a very simple unit. We asked for him at the door, an employee went inside to inform him that we wanted to talk to him and, a little to our surprise, Jordão came to receive us. In that first conversation, we introduced ourselves and he was very receptive. And then we arranged another conversation for Friday, this time recorded.
FELIPE: In the afternoon, we went back to the Vera Lopes clinic and this time, found the gate open, so we went inside where we found a couple of chairs in the waiting room, a TV tuned to Record channel transmitting a Bible soap opera, and a friendly secretary behind a desk talking to patients. The secretary said that there were no Doctors For Life headquarters there. We were surprised but didn’t leave. Pedro, tell us what the interaction with the patients and the secretary was like.
PEDRO: You could tell that the staff were very simple because it was the Wednesday of the free service. So, there were people from a city in the interior of Pernambuco state, parents of young children, patients renewing prescriptions. And then after all the small talk, we come to the subject of "vaccines". At the same time, the secretary took out her cell phone and showed me a video with images of people suddenly passing out. The caption of that video read "Who needs a fourth dose?" Then at the same time I asked her if she had got her Covid shot, to which she responded yes, three jabs. And then the subject of the room became who had and who hadn’t got their shots and if they had felt any adverse effect afterwards ... And the most ironic thing was to discover that there in the waiting room of Doctors For Life, which since 2020 had been lobbying against vaccination, everyone was vaccinated, alive and with no aftereffects.
FELIPE: Sometime later, Dr. Vera arrived. Before she started seeing patients, she called us into her office to understand what we were doing there – since it wasn't a formal interview, you won't be hearing her voice. She also confirmed that the Doctors For Life headquarters was right there, but that it worked from upstairs, in a part of the building that we didn’t have access to. And the reason for the headquarters being there was that she had the free space, which she gave to her colleague, Jordão.
FELIPE: Then at a certain point, Dr. Vera decided to call Jordão to let him know that we were there. Minutes later, Jordão, the founder of Doctors For Life, arrived. He decided to bring forward the appointment he had set up with us, but only after his consultations. We then sat waiting patiently and it was already starting to get dark outside when Jordão finally called us into his office.
FELIPE: Jordão confirmed what we already knew about the history of Doctors For Life and supported the idea that it is only a small part of a large movement of doctors, a spontaneous action motivated by a greater purpose. No links to politicians or ideologies.
SONORA ANTONIO JORDÃO
Those smaller things you put aside. And in the case of our movement that's it, it's a legitimate movement of doctors, without any kind of prejudice, without partisan ideological ties or any other petty interests. We're above that.
FELIPE: Spending a good part of the day there in the office of a doctor who gave up her semi-abandoned built-on office for Jordão to use as the headquarters of Doctors For Life, gave the impression of a movement that had been half-abandoned. And for Pedro and myself, this was very much in conflict with the big congress they had organized in July 2022 that had all that singing you heard at the beginning of the episode. So, let's get into this congress for you to understand these two different worlds.
(EFEITO FITA VOLTANDO)
VOICEOVER ISAURA FERRARI
It seems to me.... I attended the second Global Congress of Doctors For Life in Foz do Iguaçu. It was five days of congress. Intense, right? Morning and afternoon lectures attended by people from absolutely all over the world, okay?
THAÍS: What you're talking about is Isaura Ferrari. Isaura is a sociologist at the Federal University of Santa Catarina who studies the adoption of alternative therapies in Brazil’s National Health System (SUS) and was already aware of Doctors For Life. They were the subject of her master's degree.
VOICEOVER ISAURA FERRARI
We know that they have a very well consolidated network of doctors and other professionals in the world that make up this broader, more extended group of sharing some beliefs about medicine.
THAÍS: Isaura analyzed the posts of an anti-vaccine Facebook group of 15,000 members in 2020. And soon the term "Doctors For Life" emerged.
VOICEOVER ISAURA FERRARI
I was realizing the importance, the discursive relevance that appeared there, of these medical professionals who were sometimes appointed as Doctors For Life, but this was more in the period leading up to the pandemic, right?
THEO: Then Isaura began to realize that there was a whole group of professionals with anti-scientific practices that were referenced through social media and YouTube channels, and she then published an article that maps the profile of all these people. It was because of this that she saw she was going to attend the Doctors For Life meeting in Foz do Iguaçu. Since the plan was to continue studying them, why not go see up close who these people were?
VOICEOVER ISAURA FERRARI
The first lecture: a doctor goes up there and says, "Corona isn't even a virus! Because viruses are this and viruses are that. Covid isn’t even caused by viruses, because if you go look at bla bla bla." And then he does a whole exhibition, several slides that look like science and so on, OK, and then everyone applauds. Down goes the guy, up goes the next guy. 15-minute presentations, okay? Quick thing.
THAÍS: This event in Foz do Iguaçu was covered by Canção Nova TV, which belongs to a Catholic community, and the lectures were broadcast by social media network Gettr, with rights to simultaneous translation into other languages. It also had the support of a local religious cultural center.
THAÍS: This cultural center’s website even sells the book of one of the most prominent and active doctors of Doctors For Life, Eduardo Leite, an anti-vaccine Bolsonaro supporter who ran for councilor in Feira de Santana in 2020 but was not elected.
VOICEOVER ISAURA FERRARI
So the church was there. There was a priest and there were representatives of the cultural center of the church.
THAÍS: Isaura even mentioned the variety of professionals from different areas at the event.
VOICEOVER ISAURA FERRARI
Lots of lawyers. A lot of journalists were present. So here we have it: legal, journalistic, religious, and financial. Many diverse companies were there. Of those I observed, it was more related to these therapy products and such, you know, that I told you about.
THAÍS: And there were a lot of other companies on the banner at the back of the stage. Some very strange ones, such as the telemedicine platform Doctor8, which even participated in the free distribution of Covid kit prescriptions. It also had the "quantum health" companies FisioQuant and bioFao, which focus on homeopathy and promote "biofield healing".
THEO: An interesting discovery through her research, Isaura found that among the doctors who were listed on the Doctors For Life website, there were many homeopaths and acupuncturists. The proportion of homeopaths was 8 times higher than expected for specialized physicians in general in Brazil.
THAÍS: And there were other companies not directly linked to health, like the chain of Havan stores. There was even a message from the owner, Luciano Hang, on the big screen of the event.
VOICEOVER LUCIANO HANG
"At the second world congress of Doctors For Life. (...)"
"With this we are also sponsors of this event. I also want to congratulate you all, I also want to say to all of you: keep doing the work you are doing. For the freedom of the doctor and especially for you to fight for the health of the Brazilian people and the people of the whole world. Thanks, big hug, from Luciano at Havan. Thank you!"
THEO: Hang is always popping up with Doctors For Life. And why? Well, that's where we come back to the figure of Antônio Veneu Jordão, a.k.a. VENEU, that frigate captain we mentioned at the beginning of the episode.
VOICEOVER CONGRESS PRESENTER
Let’s pass over to commander Veneu? Commander Veneu, the man who flies airplanes in rough seas with sailing ships.
THEO: Veneu was that bridge between the business community and Doctors For Life. I don't know if you remember, but especially while vaccines were in development, there was pressure from Brazilian businessmen to completely open up commercial activities in the country. For these folks, it fit like a glove to use the argument that there were already medicines capable of protecting from Covid and that there would then be no reason for people to stay at home. It was financial support that made sense.
THAÍS: Veneu is a very young guy in Brasilia. In 2018, he was the coordinator of Bolsonaro's campaign in the Triângulo Mineiro region. In 2019, he was appointed special advisor to the Federal University of Triângulo Mineiro, a role he picked up while coordinating the relationship between entrepreneurs and Doctors For Life.
THAÍS: Veneu is also a partner at a car rental company in Brasilia that has seen its revenues grow more than tenfold under Bolsonaro. His main clients were Bolsonarist representatives. Veneu’s role as political coordinator is documented and was confirmed by Jordão himself in our conversation in Recife.
VOICEOVER ANTONIO JORDÃO
Enter Veneu, who had a lot of skill having already participated within the armed forces in international missions in Africa, Haiti, and so on ... So much so that when he left, he went into the private sector doing consulting and crisis management. And he started coordinating this group of businessmen, chatting to some people here and others there. And people would call, every week there were meetings where he would give a presentation of the Covid numbers in the world.
THAÍS: We tried to contact the Federal University of Triângulo Mineiro and Veneu to understand what he was doing there, but we didn’t hear back from them.
(EFEITO FITA CORRENDO PARA FRENTE)
THEO: And then we come back to the present and ask that question: How does an association that in the middle of 2022 organized an international congress appear with their headquarters practically closed the following year? There are two reasons for this, to put it simply. The first is that, and thanks to vaccines, life is going back to its normal rhythm, so there is no longer any reason for big businessmen to fund the publication of a manifesto or sponsor a congress to encourage people to leave home. Everybody's already back on the street. In the conversation with Felipe and Pedro Nakamura, Jordão said that, today, the formal activities of Doctors For Life survive from the donations of the doctors themselves.
VOICEOVER ANTONIO JORDÃO
Peter: Are you guys able to keep that structure running with some sort of… Are you the ones who finance it too?
Jordão: The doctors' donations. Everyone gives monthly: one gives 50, another 100, 200, 300. There is also a little bit left over from the congress registration fees, there is already support.
THAÍS: But there was another moment in their conversation where it is very clear what the second reason is for the Doctors For Life headquarters almost closing.
VOICEOVER ANTONIO JORDÃO
So that's what we’re left with, because the rest is intellectual production. Doctors For Life is intellectual production, not material.
THAÍS: Let me repeat: "Doctors for Life is intellectual production," meaning that it is a lot of content on social media, exchanges on instant messaging apps and organization of online movements. The physical headquarters may be left because their real headquarters is the virtual world. In fact, it may always have been the virtual world. And there, my friend, their reach is gigantic, in the hundreds of millions of views. We’ll talk more about this performance of theirs in the virtual world after the break.
THAÍS: This break is to remind you that Ciência Suja now has a crowdfunding program. Are you enjoying the episode and our work? Then consider subscribing to one of our four plans on the Orelo platform, ranging from 10 to 50 Reais, that provide exclusive benefits.
THAÍS: To find out more about the options available, visit our website, www.cienciasuja.com.br, or orelo.cc/cienciasuja. And a special thanks to our supporters who subscribed to the Paladins of Science plan: André Biernath, Maria Lucia Barbosa, Mariana Ferreira, Patricia Maria, Gustavo Mataruna, Cibele Randi Barbosa, José Gallucci Neto, Deolindo Crivelaro, Maurício Terra, Rômulo Neves and Valéria Correia de Almeida. On our supporters-only Orelo wall, we’ll be creating a topic to discuss this episode.
THEO: Ciência Suja is also part of Guarda-Chuva Radio, a confraternity of journalistic podcasts with excellent work done by our colleagues. And today we wanted to talk about one of the newest partners of Radio Guarda Chuva, Sessão Cine Garimpo. Weekly, on Fridays, Suzana Vidigal talks about cinema, movies and TV series in a very special way. Suzana is a guru on the subject, and it is well worth checking it out. Let’s get back to our episode.
========================END OF BREAK========================
THAÍS: Jordão doesn't really seem to have gotten very enriched with Doctors For Life, nor has it become any more relevant. But, as he himself said, he is only a small part of a huge group of doctors who, shall we say, go against common sense. There are so many, but so many people that have profited that it was even difficult to come up with a selection of what to bring here for you. There are even people with criminal records. We chose some names from this multiverse, kind of randomly, just to give you an idea of the size of the market.
THAÍS: Lucy Kerr, for example, an ultrasound technician who has millions of views on YouTube and has become a benchmark in talking about ivermectin treatment for Covid. On Telegram, she sells courses on this treatment with a discount of 50% for Doctors For Life members.
THEO: Another doctor who is used as a source of information by the Doctors For Life channel is Victor Sorrentino.
VOICEOVER SORRENTINO (Instagram)
We have to start drawing correlations. The person had a health condition before, their health worsened, and the only thing in the middle of this deterioration of health or fertility was either having a disease or being inoculated. We have to raise that hypothesis.
THEO: This is him in one of his Instagram videos, associating the vaccine with infertility. This video has been viewed more than 610,000 times and has thousands of comments. Sorrentino has more than a million followers on Instagram and has been involved in an incident that caused international outrage. He was detained in June 2021 in Egypt for sexually harassing a saleswoman in a store. He later returned to film his apology.
THEO: This guy is opening a paid integrative medicine course for 2024 because the class of 2023 has already sold out. He also sells subscriptions to an online living club for 39 Reais a month, and charges 5 thousand Reais per consultation. Oh, and in 2022 the waiting period for an appointment was one year!
THAÍS: According to what came out in the government’s Parliamentary Inquiry of the pandemic (CPI), Vitamedic directly paid some Doctors For Life doctors as consultants, among them Flávio Cadegiani, who already held a position in another company that organized the irregular tests with proxalutamide in Brazil. He is also a fan of ivermectin.
THAÍS: These are just a few examples of how this gang profits from the misinformation they promote. And apart from the money, there's the question of relevance.
THAÍS: The thing is, when swimming against the tide, these people who generally didn't have much prominence before find a new vein to explore. The lies about vaccines that were told at the Doctors For Life congress are shocking, but they are nothing new for those who follow this subject in Brazil. In fact, sometimes you even feel like you're in a multiverse of madness when you listen to the things they repeat.
"A pandemic of people with immunodeficiency caused by post-Covid or post-vaccine." "Founded by the pharmaceutical industry that include foundations like Bill and Melinda Gates."
"I summon all the individuals who forced the development of this vaccine without having adequate knowledge of genocide. And not our president."
"I repeat: Brazilian Society of Infectious Diseases, the FDA, CDC, Anvisa. They are entities linked to the pharmaceutical industry."
THAÍS: And just to show Ciência Suja’s approach to this story, I'm going to bring a clear example of distortion of reality, which is the story of the sudden deaths associated with Covid vaccines. There's a lot of videos linking any spell of fainting or case of death from cardiac arrest to the vaccine. The Doctors For Life people say this, and the people who are afraid of the vaccine believe it and repeat it. It became a "truth" in this multiverse.
THEO: There's even a quote-unquote "documentary" called Died Suddenly, which links the Covid vaccine to supposed blood clots and an increase in sudden deaths. It's kind of hidden in some social media platforms, but it got 15 million views in just one link. All of this in that "parallel world" that many people don't even know exists.
THEO: And there's a lot of aspects to consider there. First, you can't tell what actually happened to the people in the videos or if they're even recent. Second, not everything that happens after the vaccine happens because of the vaccine. In fact, it is very rare for them to cause serious adverse reactions.
THEO: It's just that when a giant population is vaccinated at the same time, these millions of people keep hurting themselves, passing out, getting sick, making nonsense, exposing themselves to risks ... Anyway, they keep living and they keep dying, unfortunately. Infectologist Alexandre Naime, from the Federal University of São Paulo, explains how anti-vaxxers use these events as ammunition.
VOICEOVER ALEXANDRE NAIME
And so how does fake news work, which I've already talked about? You take this data that is true and put it in the other context. A context of sudden death. Sudden death of a young man has always happened. That he had some undiagnosed arrhythmia which eventually progressed to sudden death. Sudden death is an entity that happens in a young person. But when you have a very large contingent of vaccinated people, some unscrupulous doctors start attributing that to the vaccine.
THEO: And it's not that vaccines can't trigger adverse reactions.
VOICEOVER ALEXANDRE NAIME:
Yes, we have some serious adverse events related to the vaccine. There are some people who may develop vascular manifestations, specially thromboembolism, with the adenovirus vaccine platform. It can only turn into issues related to stroke or myocardial manifestations, or a heart attack. Regarding messenger RNA vaccines, there is the possibility of myocarditis, an inflammation in the heart muscle, especially in younger people. Most of the time it is light with no repercussions. And when you have a more severe case of myocarditis, it's treatable.
THEO: Meaning that these people turn the exception into a rule to reverse the discourse: The vaccine is more dangerous than the virus. And then they invert this, making it look exactly like science, bringing in documentaries, testimonials from supposed experts, articles published in periodicals and so on.
THAÍS: But there are other elements besides this makeup of data that make up a denialist message stick. The sense of danger is one of them, as explained by Adriana Ilha, a professor at the Federal University of Espírito Santo who coordinated the university's Laboratory of Studies on Image and Cyberculture and is now in the Ministry of Health.
VOICEOVER ADRIANA ILHA
So if you look at the screenprints, for example, mainly of the groups and such, they are always impactful. There is no evidence there that those people may have actually died because of the vaccine or an adverse reaction to the vaccine. But just the fact that they died for some reason after being vaccinated, they already pose these processes as if it were due to and caused by the vaccine. So, I say it's a policy of terror.
THAÍS: And that danger doesn't always come with arguments about health. Now we will hear from data scientist João Guilherme, a researcher at the National Institute of Science and Technology in Digital Democracy.
VOICEOVER JOÃO GUILHERME
Risk is necessarily contextual. The religious audience is the same thing: The person is not necessarily afraid that the beast chip will get into them, but getting vaccinated, for that group, often means losing a support network that is rooted in religion in a way that would not happen in more elite groups which have a support network that follows X number of other reasons. So, if religion is the biggest support network of some groups, it's obvious that religion is going to have an impact there. It's no use saying the pastor is lying. It's much more complex than just based on the credibility of the information.
THEO: And here comes another crucial factor for a lie about vaccines to catch on: repetition. And these days it's much easier to bombard someone with the same message, nonstop.
VOICEOVER ADRIANA ILHA
They understand the algorithm of the network so that their ideas are disseminated in groups, in chats, anywhere. So, they understand what the move is that they have to make to have greater reach and impact.
THEO: We often speak generically about misinformation on social media. But the message that arrives in your aunt's WhatsApp is just the visible part of a complex underworld, full of video platforms and messaging apps with little or no moderation and actors with the most diverse interests possible. Now you'll hear from Athus Cavalini, who worked with Adriana Ilha and runs weekly reviews on this online misinformation network.
VOICEOVER ATHUS CAVALINI
But the anti-vaccine movement itself, we identify that they are on top of four major pillars: We have a group that are the scientifically incorrect, right? Those who deny actual science, the deniers, they believe that vaccines have very serious side effects, for which there is no scientific evidence. We have the conspiracists. Conspiracists believe in conspiracy theories involving vaccines; the discourse usually related to New World Order, a theory that a group of very powerful people dominate the world and are working for population control, and then vaccines are part of that. We have the anti-establishment, or anti-traditional crowd that only opposes vaccines for purely ideological or religious reasons, right?
THEO: And there's a fourth pillar, which is that of people who are genuinely concerned about the problem.
VOICEOVER ATHUS CAVALINI
Within the concept of misinformation, we have this leftover. Misinformation is affecting some people who, even if they are not as integrated in the movement, end up hearing it often enough that it becomes a concern. So, we also have the pillar of these people who are not necessarily immersed in these conspiracy theories or immersed in a very serious denialism.
THAÍS: The group that Athus works for, Labic, monitors Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Telegram. He notices a constant variation between who is the most influential actor in a given period and on which platforms. But guess who is always standing out? Yes, Doctors For Life.
THAÍS: João Guilherme, who also focused on this unhealthy environment, says that having a distribution structure like that of Doctors For Life is key for misinformation to thrive.
VOICEOVER JOÃO GUILHERME
You have groups with this spread-out structure like Doctors For Life. You have the page producing content, you have groups in each state echoing that content, and you have street mobilization groups that are going to take political action based on that content. This structure is very prone to orchestrated viralization.
THAÍS: It works like this: If you get a WhatsApp message that confirms what you've heard from a doctor on YouTube, who in turn says the same as a live on Instagram which uses as a reference a distorted headline in a big newspaper ... How can it be a lie?
THEO: After all the controversy about the influence of social media in the elections, the bigger actors, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and WhatsApp themselves began to monitor misinformation better. But anti-vaxxers always find a way to circumvent enforcement. Dayane Machado, a researcher at Unicamp, published a study showing that YouTube channels change letters or use numbers and emojis to escape moderation and continue monetizing videos.
THAÍS: And then there's the new video platforms, which are much less regulated. Among these is BitChute, where Felipe here at Ciência Suja found the whole of the Doctors For Life congress. There's Gettr, a platform created in the United States that extols "free speech." Or rather, the freedom to post fake news.
THAÍS: We’ll go back to these video platforms in a minute. But first it is important to talk a little about Telegram, which is the alternative messaging application to WhatsApp with many features that facilitate the spread of misinformation. It is installed on two out of three mobile phones in Brazil, according to a survey by the website Mobile Time.
THAÍS: Under the guise of protecting privacy, it's easy to create fake Telegram accounts, even with disposable international numbers. And there you have a well structured anti-vaccine network. In a month, Chloé Pinheiro, the producer here at Ciência Suja, responsible for our partnership with the Pulitzer Center, pulled up more than 50 channels and groups with this footprint. Labic, where Athus works, has seen much more than that.
THAÍS: Their software found 248 relevant channels carrying anti-vaccine content. And they've already interacted with more than 6,000 other smaller channels.
VOICEOVER ATHUS CAVALINI
There's that ABRAVAC, isn’t there? The Brazilian Association of Vaccine Victims, something to that effect.
THEO: Well, Athus is talking about the Brazilian Association of Vaccine Victims, ABRAVAC, which was the topic of our episode "The Anti-Vaccine Strikes Back" of the second season. If you haven't heard of it yet, check it out sometime. But ABRAVAC, guess what ...
VOICEOVER ATHUS CAVALINI
Yes, they are also always there hanging around Doctors For Life.
THEO: These groups are adapting to the environment: They change their names, they open another channel, they use codes. ABRAVAC itself changed the name of their group to Hestia Guardian and began offering reiki at a distance and focusing on religious and conspiratorial messages. The channel entitled Doctors for Life changed its name to SOS Armed Forces a few months ago, then became Geopolitics and Current Affairs, and then, when the coup attempt went wrong, it was blocked by Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court.
THAÍS: And an important thing to mention here is that because of Telegram’s settings, you can't verify who owns the real owners of the groups and channels. In the case of Doctors For Life, ourselves, and study groups such as Labic consider the Geopolitics and Current Affairs channel as part of the virtual ecosystem linked to Doctors For Life because the email address domain, @medicospelavida (Doctors For Life), and much of the content against vaccines that circulated there was produced by Doctors For Life.
THAÍS: In addition to this, there is one more channel, with the MPVC19 domain, and the Doctors For Life Super Group, with the domain of @medicospelaliberdade (Doctors For Freedom), which references the larger channel Doctors For Life in the group's description.
THAÍS: To prove that they are the property of Doctors For Life, it would require a police investigation or a lawsuit. But even if they are not, these channels and groups share their name, link it with the material of their website and attract a lot of audience on Telegram, which undoubtedly ends up benefiting and exposing the brand.
THEO: With the help of Henrique Rieger of Núcleo Journalismo, Chloé is doing an analysis of the group’s engagement numbers. The full mapping will come out on the Nucleus' own website, also as part of the Pulitzer-supported project, but she gave us some numbers. Tell us more, Chloé.
CHLOÉ: In the two channels associated with Doctors For Life, there were 5,000 messages sent in two years. And remember that on Telegram, only the creator sends the message. They were forwarded 1.6 million times, a number that may be underestimated because of some bugs in data scraping, and these messages were viewed 166 million times.
THEO: Look, I've been following a relatively large journalistic website audience on a daily basis, and those numbers there are impressive. This volume of content sticks messages in people's heads.
THAÍS: And imagine how much money you could get out of this audience. Of those hundreds of millions of views, how many of those aren't from health professionals willing to pay for a course with unscientific content? Or of families in fear, behind an expensive treatment to detox from the vaccine?
THAÍS: The politicization of the vaccine agenda has caused the issue to explode in 2021 and 2022. Today, the interest of politicians in their speech has diminished somewhat, as Jordão himself said to Felipe and Pedro. But in 2023, these groups remain super active and are being replaced by others. And there are three points there that should be worrying society more. First, these crooks now have a much larger network to offer pseudoscientific alternatives to vaccines.
THEO: Second, politicians may be embarrassed to say they are anti-vaxxers, but many understand the potential of such a large and engaged audience for their power projects.
THAÍS: Third: Very radical speeches and actions are springing up from this ecosystem.
THAÍS: In addition to fake news and conspiracy theories, there is criminal activity taking place on Telegram, such as the sale of fake vaccination certificates. Look at this example of the messages that circulate in these groups:
"Free yourself of this poison. Get your vaccination certificate now."
THAÍS: We will be posting the screen print of this message on our social media channels and website. Basically, it promises to insert the proof of vaccination directly into the National Health system, including the bivalent doses, without the person having to get the actual shots. And there's more: Now those messages have started to include the sale of vaccine certificates from the children's vaccination calendar. Yellow fever, HPV, hepatitis and "all the others".
THAÍS: It's shocking, yes, and it shows that mistrust of Covid vaccines may be spreading to other vaccines. For now, vaccine hesitancy isn't the main cause of the drops in coverage, but even that is on the rise, studies suggest.
THEO: It's very easy to find messages attacking the other vaccines in the profiles of these misinformers and in their Telegram groups. Eduardo Leite himself, one of Doctors For Life's most engaged doctors, posted in March 2023 suggesting that autism rates are increasing because of vaccines.
THEO: Aside from that, on Telegram there are still gun sales, racist speech, and even Nazi support. In March 2022, The Intercept did a story with the headline "Anti-vaccine groups on Telegram have become a barn of neo-Nazis," written by Victor Hugo Silva. By the way, a shout out for Victor, who does an enormous amount of investigative work! Here's what he wrote about one of these channels:
One of them, according to Caldeira, had "clear indication" of neo-Nazism: it was content produced on the channel Tearing down the Stones of Georgia, with 24,000 subscribers, which reported that the virus was "the crown of the beast" and that the unvaccinated would be "annihilated and concentrated."
THEO: In the monitoring that Chloé has done together with Núcleo, the peak audience of the Doctors For Life channel was on January 8, the day of the terrorist attacks in Brasilia.
THEO: On March 21, 2023, a rumor that Donald Trump was being arrested in the United States, spread by Trump himself, brought supporters of the former president to the streets of New York. In the photos, a brooch reading "Vaccinate this!!" and a pointed middle finger was spotted.
THEO: These are two examples of how talking about vaccine adherence is invariably talking about politics. Chloé spoke with Peter Hotez, an American doctor who is a reference in the anti-vaccine movement. He, incidentally, helps manufacture vaccines without money from Big Pharma. Tell us more, Chloé.
CHLOÉ: So, Peter started to get back into it when his daughter was diagnosed with autism in the 1990s. It was a time when they were spreading a lie that the measles vaccine caused autism, and that lie was created by a former English doctor who just wanted to make money from his own vaccine and from family lawsuits against the manufacturers. That's in our season one episode "The Anti-Vaccine Menace." Anyway, then Peter wrote a book called "Vaccines Didn't Cause My Daughter's Autism," and he's been following the antivax ever since. Look at what he told me:
VOICEOVER PETER HOTEZ
About ten years ago, they began to transform into a political movement linked to the far right. And that started here in Texas, with the Republican Tea Party Movement, around concepts like "Freedom in health care" or "Medical freedom."
CHLOÉ: From the moment this agenda began to be used by the far right, vaccine hesitancy grew a lot in the United States. Peter showed me some graphs that show the difference in coverage from 2013, especially in his state, Texas, which is super conservative.
VOICEOVER PETER HOTEZ
I found that half of the 92,000 Covid deaths in Texas happened after vaccines were already available, but because people refused to take them, they died. And in the United States that number stands at 200,000.
CHLOÉ: Peter cares so much about the subject that he's writing another book about this anti-science movement. He considers it more dangerous than media-driven problems, such as school shootings in the United States.
VOICEOVER PETER HOTEZ
So the point of this book is to talk about the anti-vaccine attacks, or anti-science attacks, coming from the far right, that have become a major killer force in our society. Two hundred thousand Americans have died because of anti-vaccine activism promoted by far-right members of Congress.
THAÍS: With the rise of Trump and Bolsonaro to power, the ubiquity of social media, polarization and the pandemic, these ideas have spread like wildfire. And Doctors For Life was the one that most sparked denialism on Brazilian soil. Now you'll hear Athus talking about Doctors For Life.
VOICEOVER ATHUS CAVALINI
It was already quite noticeable that they were the glue between the two movements. They contributed a lot at the time of bringing international information to Brazil and, especially in their case, they carried great weight in relation to the audience, because they presented themselves as doctors in fact, right? It's a group of doctors. It's like, "If the doctors are saying this, who am I to go against it?"
THAÍS: More than a bastion of the defense of ineffective drugs and the attack on vaccines, the name of the group was a political arm of the extreme right on social media. So much so that, as mentioned before, the channel that uses the name Doctors for Life even changed its name to things like SOS Armed Forces and Geopolitics and Current Affairs.
THEO: The far right has taken advantage of the discussion about vaccinating people because it involves the debate of individual freedom, a topic that these folks value much, much more than the duties of life in society. There is also the pitch of it being a public expense for the entire population, including the poorest, and these people believe that the state should be as lean as possible. Finally, there's the matter of using chaos to your advantage.
VOICEOVER ISAURA FERRARI
Because their big goal is what: To cause disruption. And whoever causes disruption can't necessarily have anything to replace it with. And that's one of the great characteristics of fascism if you think about it.
THAÍS: That was Isaura again. And there is a whole game of group swaps, or group name changes, to evade punishment and bring denialism closer to extremist political ideas.
VOICEOVER ATHUS CAVALINI
Doctors For Life was in an anti-vaccine cluster, and it suddenly jumps into the political cluster of the network. It jumps to the other side, and the associated discussion group remains in the anti-vaccine cluster. And then, after a while, it becomes clear that the tendency of this discussion group is for it to get closer, right? Meaning that they will pull their database, the people who participated, over to another discussion.
THAÍS: And so, it's a two-way street: The person most connected to Bolsonaro’s ideologies approaches the anti-vaccine speech, and the anti-vaxxer is increasingly flirting with extremist policies - not within the Doctors For Life group itself, but in this complex ecosystem of interaction.
THEO: In practice, it works like this: An unsuspecting person makes contact with the Doctors For Life group or others that follow the theory of New World Order, one of the most famous and seductive conspiracies which says that a small group of people run the world and plan to implement a totalitarian regime. But before that, these super villains are going to kill millions of people with vaccines. We have prints of messages like these in doctor groups.
THEO: The unsuspecting will then see where this message came from and end up falling into a larger group more focused on conspiracy theories, and then this group forwards messages from another group, even more hidden, and perhaps more extremist.
THEO: And the message gets worse with every step down you take: The vaccine is bad, the vaccine has been developed by someone who wants to do harm, this someone who wants to do harm is Jewish ... And then maybe Hitler wasn't so wrong.
VOICEOVER ATHUS CAVALINI
So the conspiracy theories have dominated the discussion and unfortunately they take the public that was only, for the lack of a lighter word, but only in the anti-vaccine movement and end up pulling that audience to other theories, which are much more serious, like this theory of the New World Order, which is a theory that brings this idea that six or eight families of Jews rule the world. And then they bring all this anti-Semitic discourse, this association with Nazism, with neo-Nazism.
THAÍS: Felipe from our team also found images of swastikas in these more closed circuits. And Athus highlighted the connections of a specific channel which uses the side effects of vaccines in their name but posts Nazi studies that have nothing to do with health. That channel was cited in at least 24 other groups in 2022, meaning that the participants are "one click" away from it. And to two or three of several others. In the last report issued by Labic, where Athus works, published in March of this year, it is written:
"It is necessary to keep up with the potential emergence of micro-communities with a tendency to increase extremism."
THAÍS: Since we started investigating the anti-vaccine movement in Brazil, there was a suspicion here in the group of their connection with neo-Nazi groups. As this is a sensitive topic, we decided not to publish anything until we had enough evidence. But in this episode, we couldn’t hold back. In addition to what we have already mentioned, almost all the sources we have heard have spoken of fascism. Look at Adriana Ilha as an example:
VOICEOVER ADRIANA ILHA
So you're seeing this very strong Nazi perspective, right? Fascism very strong in these social movements and anti-vaccine movements that are part of this.
THAÍS: And Athus as well.
VOICEOVER ATHUS CAVALINI
So, the anti-vaccine movement is really very close to neo-Nazism, Nazism, and extremist movements in general.
THEO: The very studies of the networks and the places where misinformers are hiding reinforce this argument. And now we quickly return to those more suspicious video platforms. Gettr is a well-known stronghold of Trump supporters in the United States, and are more lenient on misinformation, although there is still some regulation there. And an important point to remember is that Gettr helped Doctors For Life to disseminate the contents of the congress and promised to translate their content into English and Spanish.
THEO: And then there’s BitChute, where the entire Doctors For Life congress was sitting. The Anti-Defamation League, an institution that has been fighting against hate speech for a hundred years, has called them a "cradle of hate." They have an extensive report on the widespread presence of Nazi and supremacist speeches there. And they write:
Of the 25 anti-Semitic and white supremacist YouTube channels identified by the Anti Defamation League, 14 had BitChute accounts. While 11 of the original YouTube channels were banned or suspended, their corresponding BitChute accounts have been viewed more than 10 million times.
THAÍS: Solving the problem of misinformation, not only about vaccines, but in general, is a subject that would yield many episodes. And we'll end up talking about it more often throughout the season. Platforms have to be better regulated, the socioeconomic contexts need to be studied, possible crimes committed by the misinformers need to be investigated, the middle class has to be educated ... But there is something to be learnt that is special for the scientific community.
VOICEOVER JOÃO GUILHERME
It is very easy for us to keep pointing at these actors without thinking because, until today, for such a large part of the population, science is something so cloudy, it is almost a dogma. Science comes, you obey without the slightest idea of how it was done. And then someone could say, "Look, I'm the spokesperson for science, do this." And off people go and somehow believe.
THAÍS: The WHO considers vaccine hesitancy one of the greatest threats to global public health. And the answer to it involves the scientific community engaging politically. Science alone won't do it. In his interview with Chloé, Peter Hotez talked about what one of the hardest things for him to do is, as a doctor.
VOICEOVER PETER HOTEZ
So that's one of the things that I'm struggling with as a scientist. We say you shouldn't be a politician, right? But Józef Rotblat, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, was a physicist, a scientist, but he spoke out against the use of nuclear weapons. He says that "the concept that science should be neutral still remains, but this is a holdover from the ivory tower mentality, even though the ivory tower was demolished with the Hiroshima Bomb."
THAÍS: This example of nuclear weapons was covered in our season two episode "The Science of War." In World War II, scientists began to realize that it would be necessary to take a political stand against the conflict in order to save lives. In several of the episodes of Ciência Suja, the warning bell rings again. To stick to the war analogy, we are fighting a battle trying to keep vaccination policies standing, one of the most life saving strategies in human history. And we're going to need more people on the front lines.
THEO: After we recorded the episode, two things happened that were noteworthy. And we will mention them here because they help confirm some of the hypotheses raised. The first is that Chloé saw some North American health journalists beginning to receive more attacks on Twitter from the last week of March. After Elon Musk took over, the platform became a den of misinformation and several profiles that were previously blocked became active again.
THEO: Then a few days passed by, and the attacks made their way to Chloé herself. The initial attacks against her were made by the profile "Aslan TT", which is also the name of a Telegram channel. This profile, in addition to being anti-vaxxer, runs up against the neo-Nazi discourse that we have already commented on here. This reinforces the far-right's connection with scientific denialism.
THAÍS: The second thing is that Doctors For Life found out that we were going to do an episode that touched on them about a month before publication. Next thing, Doctors For Life members and fans began attacking our social media pages. They also issued a statement in a kind of Minority Report style, you know that Tom Cruise movie about the police who arrest people before they commit the crimes. The note rebuts the points they thought we would address before knowing what they were.
THAÍS: In short, they start with a lie that a source inside Ciência Suja had leaked that we were going to be doing an episode. We are almost 100% sure that no one from our extensive five-person team has leaked this information. They are more than likely aware of it because we went to the headquarters and spoke to the creator of the movement himself.
THEO: The statement then goes on to say that we purposely hide studies that show harm brought about by vaccines. But some of the articles they cite come in that preprint format that has not yet been reviewed by other researchers or published in journals. Others were opinion articles or studies published in low-impact scientific journals, meaning that they tend to evaluate the work less thoroughly. A case of "anything goes".
THEO: More importantly, scientific method values the collection of solid evidence. It's a heap of serious research that makes up the so-called scientific consensus, not one or two half-baked articles from somewhere.
THEO: And the evidence available so far points to a consensus that Covid vaccines are effective and safe. They do have a risk of adverse reactions, but that risk is low and much, much less than the benefit they bring. Today, the discussion is about who to prioritize for booster shots, and even whether certain groups could take fewer boosters, thinking about economic cost. They're also talking about what kind of vaccine to take. But no one serious is saying it's better to leave people unvaccinated, or that boosters are bad. That's a lie.
THAÍS: This Doctors For Life editorial and the attacks on our social media channels are further proof of how the misinformation they propagate is organized, and not spontaneous messages from well-meaning people.
THAÍS: Ciência Suja is presented by me, Thaís Manarini.
THEO: And by me, Theo Ruprecht. This episode was compiled by Chloé Pinheiro, Felipe Barbosa, Pedro Belo and Pedro Nakamura.
THAÍS: The script was written by Chloé and Felipe, with review and observations by myself, Theo, both Pedros - Belo and Nakamura.
THEO: The sound editing and the tracks for this episode are by Felipe Barbosa.
THAÍS: The complementary voices and extra content are by Pedro Belo.
THEO: The cover art of the episode is the work of the duo Mayla Tanferri and Guilherme Henrique, who are with us again in another season. Always an honor! For this episode we used audios of lectures and presentations of the Second Global Meeting of the World Council for Health Doctors for Life, which were published on the internet in different media, Canção Nova TV Channel, Vitor Sorrentino’s Instagram and the Metrópoles newspaper.
THAÍS: This third season has once again had the support of the Serrapilheira Institute.
THEO: Ciência Suja is a production of NAV Reports. For more information about the podcast, to become a supporter and to have access to the complementary materials of this episode, visit our website, www.cienciasuja.com.br. Or our social media. We're on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and now TikTok.
THAÍS: We'll see you in two weeks, with a brand new episode. Until then!