Despite seemingly suspending reality TV star Dr. Drew in 2022 for violating its COVID-19 misinformation policies, YouTube appears to still be profiting from his conspiracy-driven content.
Practicing physician Drew Pinsky, known as Dr. Drew, has seemingly pivoted from reality TV star and celebrity doctor who specializes in interpersonal relationships to right-wing media personality. In recent years, Dr. Drew has undermined pandemic mitigation efforts, pushed conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 vaccine, and become a frequent guest on Fox News’ Gutfeld!.
YouTube claims to prohibit content on vaccines and COVID-19 (including treatment and prevention) that contradicts guidance from local health authorities or the World Health Organization. The platform recently told CNN that “content that alleges that vaccines cause chronic side effects, outside of rare side effects that are recognized by health authorities” is also prohibited. Despite these clear policies, YouTube has struggled to moderate COVID-19 misinformation, allowing and monetizing videos rife with conspiracy theories.
In 2022, Dr. Drew claimed to have been suspended from the platform and was then seemingly reinstated without consequence. According to a Media Matters review, he has since been able to stream on YouTube with impunity, regularly pushing COVID-19 misinformation and conspiracy theories. In some instances, YouTube has even monetized this seemingly prohibited content.
After his show on HLN, a cable network owned by Warner Bros. Discovery, was canceled in 2016, Dr. Drew launched the podcast Ask Dr. Drew, which streams across multiple social media platforms, including YouTube. In addition to whining about cancel culture and censorship, Ask Dr. Drew has become a hub of COVID-19 misinformation and conspiracy theories. Many of the podcast’s guests are right-wing figures who have downplayed the pandemic, pushed unscientific treatment for COVID-19, or fearmongered about vaccine efficacy and safety. They include:
- Dr. Peter McCullough: Frequent Fox News guest and COVID-19 vaccine conspiracy theorist
- Alex Berenson: Tucker Carlson’s 2022 go-to COVID-19 and vaccine misinformer who has been dubbed the “pandemic’s wrongest man”
- Naomi Wolf: COVID-19 conspiracy theorist who has previously been suspended from Twitter for spreading vaccine misinformation
- Dr. Joseph Ladapo: Surgeon general of Florida and COVID-19 vaccine fearmongerer who has appeared on QAnon and white nationalist-linked media
- Dr. Vladimir Zelenko: Late anti-vaccine activist who aggressively pushed the unfounded treatment of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19
- Del Bigtree: Early anti-vaccine figure who was banned from YouTube for COVID-19 misinformation and founder of anti-vaccine group Informed Consent Action Network
- Dr. Kelly Victory: Frequent co-host of Dr. Drew’s podcast and Colorado doctor who is also a COVID-19 conspiracy theorist
From lying about the COVID-19 vaccine's impact on reproductive health to spreading baseless conspiracy theories about the vaccine's mortality rate, here is a sampling of what can be found on Ask Dr. Drew:
Pushing dangerous misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine’s impact on reproductive health
Despite Dr. Drew’s guests claiming otherwise, COVID-19 vaccines do not cause miscarriages nor do they affect ovarian health or fertility. Additionally, vaccines do not affect the safety of breast milk nor do they pose a risk of “genetic manipulation.” Yet, Dr. Drew and his guests have baselessly fearmongered about the vaccine’s supposed impact on reproductive health.
- In a February 21 monetized clip titled “Pfizer Smoker Gun: mRNA Vaccines Risks to Women & Reproduction Exposed,” Wolf spread misinformation for nearly 10 minutes. She baselessly claimed that Pfizer’s “goal” was to affect reproductive health, that there is “so much spontaneous abortion and miscarriage,” and that breast milk is unsafe because of the vaccines.
- In a clip posted to YouTube on February 24, Zelenko pushed a debunked narrative that relied on an “incomplete” and “faulty” dataset to baselessly claim that “miscarriage rates have jumped in the first trimester significantly.”
- During a monetized March 31 episode, guest Berenson made an unsubstantiated claim that “you can really pin” the declining birth rates in some countries “to about nine months after the mRNAs began.”
- In a monetized episode released on April 18, Wolf once again baselessly connected the Pfizer vaccine to the “loss of the fetus,” saying, “There’s no evidence, there’s so much evidence to the contrary” that the vaccine is safe for pregnant women.
- Later in the same episode, Wolf fearmongered about the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 vaccine on babies whose mothers’ have been vaccinated — “We don’t know if boys are going to turn into normal, adult men with characteristics that we identify as traditionally masculine, like deep voice, body hair, you know fertility”— and called the vaccine a “bioweapon” immediately after disclaiming that she is a political analyst, not a doctor.
Baselessly claiming that vaccines cause chronic side effects and alter people’s genetic makeup
Contrary to the false claims made on Dr. Drew’s podcast, COVID-19 vaccines are not “biological agents” nor are they “gene therapy.” Additionally, FactCheck.org noted that the vaccines are safe, debunking the narrative that “18 million people” or 7.7% of COVID-19 vaccine recipients were so severely impacted by the vaccines “that they had to go to the hospital.” Nevertheless, Dr. Drew’s guests ignored this scientific evidence, distorted data on the vaccine’s safety, and baselessly claimed that the COVID-19 vaccine is not really a vaccine at all.
- During the monetized January 31 episode, Bigtree fearmongered about the vaccine, incorrectly claiming that 7.7% of people sought medical care and 30% of recipient’s lives were impacted after receiving the vaccine.
- In the same episode, Bigtree said the mRNA technology “has never really been used in human beings before. It comes from genetics splicing, and trying to use mRNA to do gene therapies. A lot of people would say this should’ve been approved like a gene therapy and would have never been released if that group had looked at it.”
- On March 31, during a monetized episode, Berenson argued that the vaccines at this point are not actually vaccines. Rather, they are “very powerful biological agents.”
- During the monetized May 3 episode with Dr. McCullough, occasional guest host Victory lamented about being canceled for her anti-vaccine campaign. Before McCullough pushed the unfounded treatment of nattokinase for long-term “vaccine injury syndromes,” Victory baselessly claimed that she and McCullough have been “proven now to be right” about the “the overwhelming and irrefutable evidence of severe harms from these vaccines.” She continued, “There are too many people suffering severe injuries from these vaccines in particular.”
Overstating the risk of developing myocarditis to discourage vaccine use
The CDC reports that myocarditis has “rarely been reported” in those who have received the vaccine. Additionally, according to CBS News, “Studies have largely confirmed that the overall myocarditis risk is significantly higher after an actual COVID-19 infection compared with vaccination.” Despite this scientific evidence, Dr. Drew and guests have overstated the risk of developing myocarditis after inoculation, arguing that many who receive the COVID-19 vaccines develop the condition.
- On the monetized December 7 episode, Ladapo was given the floor to fearmonger about COVID-19 vaccines causing myocarditis. Explaining his deeply flawed study on the connection between the vaccine and heart condition, Ladapo said: “The main finding was that in young men, unlike any other population that we looked at, in young men there was a signal for a much higher risk of cardiac death. There was a signal that indicated that these COVID-19 vaccines were increasing, the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines were increasing cardiac death.”
- During the monetized March 31 episode, Dr. Drew and guest Berenson devoted a segment to football player Damar Hamlin and his mid-game collapse. Both connected his heart condition to the COVID-19 vaccine and the development of myocarditis. Berenson said while the likelihood of developing myocarditis from a COVID-19 infection is unlikely, “That is not true of the vaccines.”
- On the monetized May 3 episode, during a discussion about Hamlin, McCullough baselessly claimed that “the number one cause of that in an athlete who has been screened for other causes of sudden death is actually COVID-19 vaccine-induced myocarditis.”
Claiming that the vaccines are killing people and downplaying COVID-19
Despite what one might hear on Ask Dr. Drew, there is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines are contributing to excess deaths, nor are they a mechanism to control the population. Additionally, contracting the disease these vaccines fight against can have long-term health impacts and can be fatal, which is why doctors and health authorities recommend a vaccine. Nevertheless, Dr. Drew and his guests have downplayed the severity of the virus and peddled conspiracy theories about the safe and effective vaccine.
- In a clip posted to YouTube on February 24, Dr. Zelenko baselessly claimed that the FDA committed “premeditated first degree murder” and “crimes against humanity and genocide” because “there is 100% correlation with what the prophetic FDA said would happen in terms of side effects to actually what human beings experienced.” He later said that the COVID-19 vaccine “is actually a very effective tool for population control. Some people die right away. Some people’s life spans will be decreased because of chronic illness. … It is amazing, actually, as a weapon to control the population.”
- On the monetized March 31 episode, Berenson said, “Countries like Australia … and Taiwan and a lot of Europe, they’re struggling with sort of ongoing excess mortality that’s gone on … month after month after month,” and, “To my mind, the first likely cause [of excess mortality] is vaccines.”
- During the monetized January 31 episode with Bigtree, Dr. Drew said, “I am going to throw a little lighter fluid on what you’re saying,” before pushing an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory about hospital admissions and death certifications being manipulated, resulting in skewed data about how dangerous COVID-19 actually was. Bigtree followed up by calling COVID-19 “a bad cold” and said that the death rates from the virus were “very, very low.”