Right-wing ministry continues to use Facebook to dispense deadly COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation to millions of followers

Daystar broadcasts vaccine misinformation on Facebook

Citation Molly Butler / Media Matters

A right-wing Christian ministry with more than 2 million Facebook followers is touting an unproven drug as a treatment for COVID-19 and promoting the false and medically dangerous claims of a man who says that COVID-19 vaccines are killing people and will cause a global “catastrophe” that is likely to “wipe out large parts of our human population.”

The claims are being made on the Facebook page of Daystar Television, an online, cable, and broadcast network that features evangelical Christian programming. Daystar Television reaches more than 100 million homes in the United States and its Facebook page shares episodes of its flagship program Ministry Now, which often features anti-vaccine and COVID-19 misinformation, with its more than 2.6 million followers. 

On March 18, Media Matters published a report documenting the numerous false and often dangerous claims Daystar Television makes on Facebook about the COVID-19 disease and the vaccines meant to stop its spread. Facebook subsequently removed several of Daystar’s videos that promoted dangerous misinformation. 

But Daystar Television has continued to push dangerous COVID-19 and vaccine falsehoods on its Facebook page, as evidenced by the March 22 edition of Ministry Now

Previewing the anti-vaccine message of the broadcast, Daystar Television co-founder and Ministry Now co-host Marcus Lamb falsely claimed that the COVID-19 vaccine being administered is “not even a vaccine” and is “experimental.” According to Lamb, “this process has never worked on animals.” In fact, the inoculations are vaccines and they have been safely administered to more than 100 million people in the United States alone. Lamb then purported that Ministry Now would “share with you the leading minds in the world” on COVID-19 vaccines, but instead the program highlighted individuals who are spreading false information to the detriment of public health.

During the episode, Ministry Now co-host Joni Lamb highlighted the claims of Dr. Geert Vanden Bossche, calling him a “vaccine maker” who “has all these credentials.” Vanden Bossche has recently gone viral on social media platforms for his baseless claim that COVID-19 vaccinations should be brought to a halt immediately to prevent a global “catastrophe” where the vaccines cause the creation of even deadlier variants of COVID-19 that are likely to “wipe out large parts of our human population.”

According to Vanden Bossche, “If we, human beings, are committed to perpetuating our species, we have no choice left but to eradicate these highly infectious viral variants,” which he claims would require stopping all COVID-19 vaccinations. Vanden Bossche -- who claims he’s developing a superior vaccine but has apparently declined to share further details with the world -- made several basic scientific errors that fatally undermine his theory in an article he published to promote it. 

To share Vanden Bossche’s erroneous theory, Joni Lamb played a clip from the online show The High Wire, which is produced by notorious anti-vaccine activist Del Bigtree, whom she referred to as “our good friend.” (Bigtree has made a number of appearances on Ministry Now. In November, Facebook terminated The High Wire’s Facebook page for violating the platform’s COVID-19 policies against “misinformation that could cause physical harm.")

Following the promotion of Vanden Bossche’s baseless claims, Joni Lamb shared two anecdotes where a COVID-19 vaccine supposedly caused someone’s death in order to highlight -- without evidence -- Vanden Bossche’s claim COVID-19 vaccines will “be catastrophic to the world.”

Then Ministry Now turned to the promotion of asthma treatment drug budesonide, which is an unproven treatment for COVID-19. Several studies have investigated whether inhaled corticosteroids might alleviate COVID-19 symptoms, but the results of these studies, according to meta-analyses of them, have been mixed, variously suggesting corticosteroids could improve, have no effect, or could worsen patient outcomes.

The most well-known promoter of budesonide as a treatment for COVID-19 is Texas-based Dr. Richard Bartlett, who appeared on the program. Bartlett, a recent Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, entered into a “Mediated Agreed Order” with the Texas Medical Board in 2003 following his “inappropriate treatment of patients,” including allegedly “administering unnecessary antibiotics and steroids” to a 4 year-old patient.

In October, the Food and Drug Administration sent a warning letter to Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corporation after the company advertised budesonide as a “silver bullet” against COVID-19 -- a description first used by Bartlett to describe the drug’s supposed effect on the disease. 

During his appearance on Ministry Now, Bartlett claimed of budesonide, “The bottom line is it works.” He also claimed it was settled science that “inhaled budesonide can prevent 90% of hospitalizations from COVID specifically” and that, “I’m not saying it’s a cure, because that’s illegal to say it’s a cure.” (Bartlett has previously referred to budesonide as a cure for COVID-19.) He also suggested on Ministry Now that taking budesonide is preferable to getting a COVID-19 vaccine and promoted the deadly idea that population-wide resistance to COVID-19 should be reached through natural herd immunity.

Marcus Lamb asked Bartlett how people might acquire budesonide and Bartlett then touted the website “www.budesonideworks.com,” which connects interested parties with doctors who will prescribe the drug as a treatment for COVID-19. 

During the interview, Marcus Lamb claimed that budesonide “heals the lungs” and “is something that will help you.” Curiously he said that both he and Joni Lamb “have both used budesonide and have not gotten COVID” -- even though the drug is touted as a COVID-19 treatment rather than preventative. Lamb added that “these things work” before promoting “www.budesonideworks.com.” He also urged viewers to also contact the Texas Medical Board to urge that it does not take any action against Bartlett.