A far-right doctor who calls COVID-19 vaccines "needle rape" is exacerbating Idaho's ongoing coronavirus crisis — which has left the state with a shortage of ICU beds and forced hospitals to turn away less-critical patients.
Ryan Cole, a dermatopathologist, was recently elected to Central District Health, which oversees health-care issues for roughly one-third of Idaho residents, the Daily Beast reported Monday.
"The problem is that one of the people Idaho medical experts say too many people are listening to is Cole," according to the site. "The Ada County Republican Party backed Cole and far-right figures like Ammon Bundy and at least one militia leader cheered his appointment. Among other highlights, he has called the COVID-19 vaccines 'fake' and even likened the safe and effective shots to 'needle rape.' He has also pushed wild, unsubstantiated theories, like linking mRNA vaccines to cancer, while becoming a darling of the far right."
Idaho has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, at about 40 percent, and the state recently went into "crisis standards of care," meaning surgeries are being delayed and hospitals may soon be forced to decide who receives life-saving care and who doesn't. At one hospital, 95 percent of COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated.
Dr. Ted Epperly, Cole's predecessor on the Central District Health Board, told the Washington Post: "To watch my state implode over political decisions that have adverse consequences on health is horrifying to me. … That's the tragedy that I'm watching unfold."
David Pate, a doctor and former Idaho hospital administrator who co-authored an upcoming book on pandemic responses, told the Daily Beast: "We have two things—we have masks, and we have a vaccine—and he is undermining both. What is dangerous about what Dr. Cole is doing is that there are people out there looking for someone with that cloak of authority to tell them what they want to hear."
Angela Housley, whose 80-year-old mother was turned away from one hospital during an emergency, told the Daily Beast: ""It's just not working—our system is not working. This is about life and death, and we're acting like there's two sides. Due to medical triage, my mom is looked at as someone who might not get to live, and it takes my breath away."
Kitrina Marcroft, who has an aggressive form of bladder cancer and recently had surgery delayed, called the situation "scary" and said she wishes "people would just listen to the science and to the experts."
"What happened to caring about the people around you?" Marcroft said. "Why are we turning our back on science?"