Children attend online classes at a learning hub inside the Crenshaw Family YMCA during the Covid-19 pandemic on February 17, 2021 in Los Angeles, California ( AFP / Patrick T. Fallon)

Indiana doctor spreads Covid-19 misinformation during school board meeting

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A video has been shared across social media of Dr Daniel Stock, as he makes several false and misleading statements while giving testimony at a school board meeting in the US state of Indiana. He repeats previously debunked myths about Covid-19 vaccines, inaccurately claims that face masks are ineffective in slowing the spread of the virus, and touts unapproved treatments.

"Doctor Addresses School Board over Futility of Mask Mandates and Covid-19 Protocols in most Schools," says the text over a video shared in an August 7, 2021 Facebook post. The video features Dr Daniel Stock as he addresses the Mt Vernon Board of School Trustees in Fortville, Indiana.

Screenshot of a Facebook post taken August 13, 2021

The video, which has more than 94,000 views on Facebook, is one of many iterations shared on social media. It can be found on Instagram and Twitter where it was shared by Raheem Kassam the former editor-in-chief of Breitbart News London, receiving 6 million views.

Several copies were posted to YouTube, but have since been removed for violating the platform's community guidelines. It was similarly removed from Tik Tok, however, not before one post received more than 12.6 million views.

Stock is a licensed primary care physician and his testimony questioned the guidance provided to the board by the Indiana State Department of Health. A spokesperson for the department rejected the criticism and highlighted the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccine at preventing hospitalization and deaths in a statement to the local WTHR TV.

AFP debunks three statements made by Stock.

Claim: "Coronavirus and all other respiratory viruses, they are spread by aerosol particles which are small enough to go through every mask."

Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus "spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets," the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website says. "Masks are a simple barrier to help prevent your respiratory droplets from reaching others. Multiple studies show that masks reduce the spray of droplets when worn over the nose and mouth."

The CDC also says they are not just a barrier to a person transmitting the disease: "Studies demonstrate that cloth mask materials can also reduce wearers' exposure to infectious droplets through filtration."

Graphic showing the levels of protection provided by the wearing of face masks when near an infected person. ( AFP / Alain BOMMENEL, Jean-Michel CORNU)

Dr Benjamin Neuman, an expert in coronaviruses who chairs the Biological Sciences Department at Texas A&M University-Texarkana told AFP in June 2021 that "several scientific papers arrived during the spring and early summer of 2020, showing that masks effectively prevented infection, blocking both release and inhalation of virus particles."

Health experts also say the virus is bound to larger particles when it travels through the air.

These larger particles -- created by sneezing or coughing -- are large enough to be stopped by face masks, according to Jung Jae-hun, a professor of preventive medicine at the Gachon University College of Medicine and Science in South Korea, who explained the process to AFP in April 2021.

"If you are able to block droplets, you can stop the viruses [contained within them]," he said.

Claim: "No vaccine, even the ones I may support and would give to myself and my children, ever stops infection."

Scientists say it is difficult to produce vaccines that offer "sterilising immunity"-- stopping virus infection altogether. For example, this was achieved for measles, but not the rotavirus.

This was echoed by an article written by Dr Sarah L Caddy, a Clinical Research Fellow in Viral Immunology and Veterinary Surgeon, at the University of Cambridge. She said that "while sterilizing immunity is often the ultimate goal of vaccine design, it is rarely achieved. Fortunately, this hasn't stopped many different vaccines substantially reducing the number of cases of virus infections in the past."

The Covid-19 vaccines authorized for use in the US have not achieved sterilizing immunity, but they are effective at preventing serious disease, hospitalization and death.

A scientific brief published by the CDC on July 27, 2021 found: "The US Covid-19 vaccination program has the potential to substantially reduce the burden of disease in the United States by preventing serious illness in fully vaccinated people and interrupting chains of transmission," while adding that, "the risks of SARS-CoV-2 infection in fully vaccinated people cannot be completely eliminated where community transmission of the virus is widespread."

Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a July 16 briefing that "this is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated."

"We are seeing outbreaks of cases in parts of the country that have low vaccination coverage because unvaccinated people are at risk. And communities that are fully vaccinated are generally faring well," Walensky said.

The CDC recommends getting the Covid-19 vaccine "regardless of whether you already had Covid-19."

Claim: "I can tell you having treated over 15 Covid-19 patients that between active loading with vitamin D, ivermectin and zinc that there is not a single person who has come anywhere near the hospital."

The FDA has not approved ivermectin to treat or prevent Covid-19.

"The FDA has received multiple reports of patients who have required medical support and been hospitalized after self-medicating with ivermectin intended for horses," it said on March 5, 2021. They caution against using ivermectin to treat humans with Covid-19.

The WHO also advised that ivermectin was only to be used to treat Covid-19 in clinical trials, in guidelines published on March 31, 2021.

Zinc has also been widely touted as a supplement to prevent and cure Covid-19. Zinc is a nutrient that can help the immune system fight off infection, however, while there is some evidence zinc helps the body fight colds, the American National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine says "scientists don't know if it helps ease Covid-19 symptoms."

In April 2021, Nairobi-based epidemiologist Dr Emanuel Okunga told AFP that taking zinc does not prevent or treat Covid-19.

"So far, studies show that zinc is not effective in treating Covid-19, and self-prescription with zinc is dangerous," he warned.

The US National Institutes of Health warns against taking high doses of zinc to prevent Covid-19, pointing to a lack of evidence and potential side effects, including irreversible neurological conditions from long-term use of supplements.

Scientists have recommended taking vitamin D -- which the body creates from exposure to sunlight -- to promote healthy bones and muscles as people spend more time indoors during the pandemic.

However, there isn't yet enough evidence to recommend using vitamin D to prevent or treat Covid-19, and clinical trials are ongoing.

Raymond Tellier, microbiologist at the McGill University Health Center, cautioned against taking "too high a dose, which can lead to toxicity."

This warning is supported by a study, published in Clinical Medicine, that found that "more than the usual daily supplement should only be taken under medical supervision."

AFP Fact Check previously debunked claims about "cures" for Covid-19 such as zinc, vitamin C and vitamin D, here.