New Yorkers who lost their mother to COVID-19 blame far-right conspiracy theorists
In the United States, the COVID-19 pandemic has been deadly not only because of COVID-19 itself, but also, because of all the far-right conspiracy theorists who have pushed false information — a combination of MAGA Republicans, anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, right-wing media pundits, and White evangelical Christian fundamentalists. NPR’s Geoff Brumfiel, in a late April report, talks to the relatives of a 75-year-old New York City woman who died of COVID-19 in December 2021; they believe her death was avoidable, and they blame the conspiracy theorists that she listened to.
Brumfiel doesn’t give the family’s last name in his report, only listing the unvaccinated 75-year-old mother as Long Island resident/Bronx native Stephanie and her children as Laurie and Vikki. Stephanie’s husband is named Arnold.
“One thing everyone agrees on is that Stephanie didn't have to die,” Brumfiel explains. “Even months after it happened, her family is struggling to figure out why…. In the years leading up to her death, Stephanie had become embroiled in conspiracy theories. Her belief in those far-out ideas caused her to avoid vaccination and led her to delay and even refuse some of the most effective treatments after she got sick.”
Laurie told NPR, "I don't believe she was supposed to die. I blame the misinformation…. I know we're not alone. I know this is happening all over the place.”
According to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, COVID-19 has killed more than 6.2 million people worldwide since it emerged in Wuhan, China in late 2019 — including over 993,000 people in the United States. And according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than 230,000 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. could have been avoided if the patients had been vaccinated.
“Not everyone who refuses a vaccine believes in elaborate conspiracy theories, but many likely do,” Brumfiel notes. “Anti-vaccine advocates have leveraged the pandemic to sow mistrust and fear about the vaccines. Local papers across the country are dotted with stories of those who refused vaccination, only to find themselves fighting for their very lives against the disease.”
Laurie and Vikki became worried when their mother started sending them conspiracy videos.
“Stephanie's videos told her COVID was a hoax, but Laurie and Vikki took it seriously,” Brumfiel reports. “They were worried about giving their parents the virus. So, they stayed away, trying to keep them safe…. When the COVID vaccines came along, Stephanie absolutely refused to get one because she falsely thought the shots contained tiny microchips. Moreover, she began avoiding her daughters, who had gotten vaccinated, because she believed false information that the vaccines were being used to somehow spread COVID.”
Vikki and Arnold recall that Stephanie became furious when her daughters didn’t believe the COVID-19 conspiracy theories that she was buying into.
Vikki told NPR, “She was angry that we weren't listening to her and believing what she believed.” And Arnold recalled, “A couple of times, I tried to speak to her on an analytical basis. But I could see she was getting defensive, and I didn't want to alienate myself from her.”
Stephanie’s relatives recall that when she became developing symptoms of COVID-19 in November 2021, she initially refused to get tested or go to the hospital.
“Instead, she ordered drugs online from a natural healer in Florida,” Brumfiel reports. “Two of the drugs, ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, are ineffective against COVID, but many conspiracy theorists believe they work. Stephanie waited for the pills to come.”
Stephanie died on December 28, 2021.
Laurie told NPR, “Whoever is creating all this content is, on some level, waging a war here in America. I think people need to wake up to that."
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