A six-minute video filmed during an open meeting of the Mount Vernon, Indiana, school board on Aug. 7, 2021, features a man named Daniel Stock, who identified himself as a medical doctor, making a series of misleading or unintelligible arguments against masks and vaccines. "I would suggest the reason we still have a problem [with COVID-19] is because we're doing things that are not useful," he told the audience in a video that has since gone extremely viral.
Rhetorically speaking, there is nothing different about this video and what we would call "copypasta" — repeated copy-and-pasted bits of nonsensical text found in forwarded emails or Facebook posts. Like those "copypasta" posts, Stock's speech collects a series of long-debunked, anti-vaccine or pandemic-denial talking points that contain overt misrepresentations of science and medicine. Like so many copypasta posts from the pandemic, Stock claims, vaguely, that his arguments are supported by published scientific research on a flash drive he provided to the school board.
Stock's arguments are not, in fact, supported by published scientific research. He repeatedly mischaracterizes or misunderstands the papers that he cites, while ignoring that a significant number of these papers have been retracted. Though Stock does run a medical practice, the talking points he uses here, based on their content, appear to come from information shared by vaccine skeptics across social media and blogs. At the time of this writing, Stock and other opponents of COVID-19 vaccines have focused on painting rising case numbers caused by the delta variant, and the increasing incidence of infections in people who have been fully vaccinated as evidence against their use.
Here, Snopes goes through Stock's folksy but misleading diatribe point by point.
Stock's Argument Against Mask Effectiveness
Stock opens with an oldie but a goodie: the notion that the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, is small enough to pass through any mask and therefore masking provides no protection. "One thing you should know about coronaviruses and all other respiratory viruses: they are spread by aerosol particles which are small enough to go through every mask," he told the audience. There are two problems with this tired argument, which has been on the internet almost as long as COVID-19 has been on this earth.
First, bits of SARS-CoV-2 viral material do not generally travel through the air unattached to anything. They are attached to larger bits of mucus that can hover in the air for a time and enter the body of another human being. While masks would not stop "naked" SARS-CoV-2 particles, they can stop these more prevalent larger particles. Both animal studies and observational studies support this assertion.
Second, masking is not done to protect the wearer from incoming viral material, it is done primarily to prevent the release and spread of potential outgoing viral particles that could infect others nearby. This strategy is crucial for reducing the transmission of COVID-19, because a high incidence of transfer occurs from people who — because they are either pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic — have no idea they are exhaling infectious viral material.
Stock claims that "at least three studies sponsored by the NIH" on his flash drive support his contention that masking does not reduce transmission of COVID-19. A look at these supposed studies reveals that he is primarily relying on a speculative hypothesis about masking presented in a journal dedicated to extreme and likely false hypotheses.
That paper, which went viral in anti-vaccine circles in May 2021, was not sponsored by the NIH and it had been retracted a full three months before Stock gave his speech. Explaining their retraction, the journal editors wrote that the author had used "misleading or inaccurate citations" and misrepresented his credentials. For some reason, Stock cites this retracted paper twice on his flash drive. He also cites a study claiming harm from masking in children that was retracted on July 16, 2021, due to "fundamental concerns about the study methodology."
Reading the papers before putting them on a flash drive does not appear to have been part of Stock's speech preparation. In several cases, Stock cites studies that conclude the opposite of what he implies they say. For example, in his list of supporting evidence from his flash drive he cites a June 2020 paper that found that "more than 200,000 COVID-19 cases were averted by May 22, 2020" thanks to state mask mandates. "The findings suggest that requiring face mask use in public could help in mitigating the spread of COVID-19" the paper concludes.
If Stock had read the papers he cited or taken a look at the non-retracted, peer-reviewed literature, he would find that it reveals a significant body of work, including papers on his own flash drive, that support the contention that masking reduces transmission of COVID-19.
Stock's Argument That Vaccines Won't Eradicate COVID-19 Ignores Other Benefits
After his discussion of masks, Stock argues that humanity will be unable to eradicate COVID-19 entirely, and therefore vaccination serves no epidemiological purpose. "The CDC has managed to convince everybody that we can handle this like we did smallpox where we could make a virus go away," Stock told the audience. "That will not happen with [COVID-19] any more than it will with influenza, the common cold … or anything else that has animal reservoirs." Such an argument actively ignores the multi-faceted benefits of vaccination on both an individual and community level.
It is likely that SARS-CoV-2 will never be fully eradicated, but that is not a valid argument against vaccination. On an individual level, vaccines significantly reduce the likelihood of serious complications, hospitalization, and death even in cases of so-called breakthrough infections. This reduces the burden on emergency rooms during outbreaks, which have repeatedly seen severe limitations in available COVID-19 hospital beds during outbreaks and that can result in increased mortality.
The end goal of vaccination is not always the complete eradication of a disease — something that has been achieved only in the case of two diseases — but to reduce the overall burden of that disease. In this case, Stock's use of the flu vaccine is illustrative of that point. A CDC analysis of the 2017-2018 flu season (which was more deadly than average) found that "influenza vaccination ... season prevented 6.2 million illnesses, 3.2 million medical visits, 91,000 hospitalizations and 5,700 deaths associated with influenza."
Claims Regarding COVID-19 Vaccine Ineffectiveness Are Unsupported By Data
Stock repeatedly argues that the vaccines are not effective. The assertion primarily relies on the existence of so-called "breakout infections" and focuses on a CDC study of a COVID-19 outbreak in Barnstable County, Massachusetts. This outbreak has become one of the most popular talking points alleging ineffective vaccines because 74% of those infections occurred in individuals who had been vaccinated. In fact, as Snopes has previously reported, the data provided by that study are unable to speak to vaccine effectiveness, and Stock's treatment of these data are misleading.
As Edward Nirenberg explained on his blog Deplatform Disease, determining vaccine efficacy requires knowing not only how many infections occurred but also how many exposures occurred. The Barnstable County data does not include any information on number of exposures, and therefore will never be able to address any question regarding vaccine effectiveness. The Barnstable outbreak coincided with a massive influx of tourists who visited Provincetown for "multiple summer events and large public gatherings" between July 3 and July 17, 2021.
The fact that so many people infected in this outbreak were vaccinated is not surprising, given that Provincetown — Barnstable's biggest city — had a 95% vaccination rate. Nirenberg explains why this is significant in a thought experiment:
Here’s a thought experiment for you to understand why [the Barnstable data] isn’t useful. Suppose I take 100 fully vaccinated people and put them in a room where I introduce aerosolized measles virus. We might expect a few of them to get sick because vaccines aren’t 100% effective. 100% of the cases will be in people who were fully vaccinated. Does that mean the vaccines don’t work? Secular trends in the incidence of measles would suggest otherwise.
In addition to misusing the Barnstable data to argue against vaccine effectiveness in general, Stock repeatedly makes the baseless statement that vaccines have no effect on those people who have already been infected with COVID-19.
Stock argues that "people who have recovered from COVID-19 infection actually get no benefit from vaccination at all, no reduction in symptoms, no reduction in hospitalization and suffer two to four times the rate of side effects." None of these statements is supported by the literature Stock cites on his flash drive, and his claims are belied by actual data.
A July 22, 2021, New England Journal of Medicine paper studying real-world data from December 2020 to April 2021 found that, "authorized mRNA vaccines … attenuated the viral RNA load, risk of febrile symptoms, and duration of illness among those who had breakthrough infection despite vaccination." Recently released CDC data from May and June 2021 also support these conclusions. These are explicit benefits to being vaccinated even if you have previously been infected with COVID-19.
It is unclear what data Stock is referring to with regard to previously infected people experiencing "two to four times the rate of side effects," but he appears to be referring to the fact that previously infected people commonly react to their first mRNA vaccine shot in a similar manner to how people with no COVID-19 exposure react to their second shot. This is not an indictment of vaccine safety but a predicted effect from the uncontroversial fact that a person's initial COVID-19 infection serves a similar function, immunologically speaking, to the first dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine.
Stock additionally claims that "no vaccine, even the ones I support and would give to myself and my children ever stops infection," implying that vaccinated people will spread COVID-19. The fact that vaccines — in general — do not prevent infection is a red herring that holds limited relevance to the transmissibility of COVID-19 in vaccinated individuals. Numerous studies indicate that vaccinated individuals have a significantly reduced viral load and that, as a result, they are less likely to spread COVID-19 even in asymptomatic cases.
COVID-19 Vaccines Do Not Make Your Immune System "Deranged"
Stock appears to blame COVID-19 vaccines for the current increase in COVID-19 cases worldwide, while ignoring other factors like the global easing of COVID restrictions or the rise of a more contagious variant. In a statement that betrays ignorance of basic epidemiology, Stock states that "the natural history of all respiratory viruses is that they circulate all year long waiting for the immune system to get sick through the winter or become deranged as has happened recently with these vaccines."
First, not all respiratory diseases peak in winter. Second, many factors driving viral seasonality are controlled by factors that do not concern the human immune system. Third, a "deranged" immune system is not a thing — it is, instead, scientifically meaningless scare-bait.
The "deranged" immune system claim has its origins in the arguments made by Sherri Tenpenny, one of the most prolific sources of anti vaccine talking points, back in December 2020. "To help you understand," Stock told his audience, "you need to know the condition that is called antibody mediated, viral enhancement." He described this as "a condition done when vaccines work wrong." Actually, his explanation conflates two different scientific concepts — antibody dependent enhancement (ADE), which is not specific to vaccines, and "vaccine-associated enhancement of disease (VAED), which is specific to them.
In extremely simple terms, sometimes the antibodies an individual's immune system creates to fight against a pathogen bind to it without destroying it. These are known as non-neutralizing antibodies. The creation of non-neutralizing antibodies can serve, counterproductively, to protect a virus from the immune system, leading to a more severe infection. In these scenarios, the more severe reaction happens upon a second exposure to the pathogen, as by that time the body has produced antibodies that serve to protect the infecting pathogen.
This phenomenon is not exclusive to vaccines, and can be also caused by natural infection to some diseases. The most well-documented example of a disease that can produce ADE is Dengue fever. When such antibodies are produced as a result of vaccination, the condition can be classified as VAED.
For as long as COVID-19 vaccines have existed, anti-vaccine activists have attempted to sow fear about the possibility that they will cause ADE and lead to catastrophe. In a February 2021 interview, for example, Tenpenny claimed that “the problem is that the antibodies that [mRNA COVID-19 vaccines] generate are going to be deadly … And it’s going to take somewhere between four months and maybe fourteen months before we see the whole ravage of what’s going to happen to people who are vaccinated with this vaccine.”
As Snopes has previously explained, the claims made by Tenpenny to support that charge rely on the false assertion that studies regarding failed efforts to test vaccine candidates against SARS and MERS hold direct relevance to COVID-19 vaccines. The claims also rely on actively ignoring any scientific paper published on the topic since 2019. Scientists were well aware of potential ADE problems in coronavirus vaccines when the pandemic hit, and this research informed their successful effort to create COVID-19 vaccines that avoid that fate and produce long-lasting neutralizing antibodies. Some 1.8 billion humans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and there have been zero clinically confirmed cases of vaccine enhanced COVID-19.
Data Do Not Support Vitamin D, Ivermectin, and/or Zinc as COVID-19 Treatments
Stock repeatedly references the potential for other remedies to cure COVID-19. He specifically focuses on vitamin D supplementation, zinc supplementation, and the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin.
Stock's argument on the efficacy of vitamin D to cure COVID-19 comes from distorting the findings of studies done on people who were vitamin D deficient or who were already hospitalized with COVID-19. He repeatedly cites such papers as if they hold relevance to a healthy individual, despite the fact that the data he cites are incapable of addressing those claims.
The paper he primarily cites, for example, looked at "asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 RNA positive vitamin D deficient individuals." Its authors separated these subjects into a control group and a supplementation group. The authors of the study found that those participants who received vitamin D supplements cleared their bodies of SARS-CoV-2 more quickly than those who didn't.
Such a finding has no bearing on whether a person who is not vitamin D deficient will receive any benefit from supplementation in a fight against COVID-19. Other papers cited to support Stock's vitamin D claims are relevant only to people with severe COVID-19 in hospital settings, and even in those studies a causal relationship between supplementation and improved outcomes cannot be determined.
Another paper Stock cites on this front has had a "statement of concern" appended to it — a step that often precedes retraction — indicating that "there are statements in the article … that suggest a causal relationship between vitamin D levels and the clinical outcome of COVID-19 infections which is not supported by the data."
Despite its promotion by vaccine skeptics, no data supports the use of ivermectin for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19, either. Claims to the contrary have their origin in a study that was conducted in petri dishes, not living humans. Efforts to study its potential anti-COVID-19 effects in humans have failed to show any benefit. Claims that zinc could increase the effectiveness of ivermectin — similar to claims made of hydroxychloroquine and zinc a year ago — are similarly devoid of quantitative support, though there are clinical trials presently investigating the question.
It is perhaps no surprise, given this lack of actual scientific evidence, that Stock relies on an unverifiable and wholly unimpressive anecdote to sell his claim. "I can tell you having treated over 15 COVID-19 patients," Stock bragged, "that between active loading with vitamin D ivermectin and zinc, that there is not a single person who has come anywhere near the hospital." Data derived from a sample size of 15 patients of whom we have no knowledge about the severity of their infection or other health conditions has no clinical value, especially when the majority of COVID-19 cases do not result in hospitalization.
The Bottom Line
The fact that Stock has a medical license and gave a speech in a public setting gives his collection of recycled arguments a superficial veil of legitimacy. But that masks the fact that he is merely repeating existing misinformation in a manner no different than a chain email or a copypasta post.
Stock's medical license does not mean he read or correctly interpreted the studies he put on his flash drive — in several cases he explicitly does not. His use of multiple retracted papers is almost as problematic as the fact that Stock is apparently getting medical advice from a journal — Medical Hypotheses — that is dedicated to radical speculation.
Stock's endorsement of a paper in that journal arguing that masks don't work suggests that he would be amenable, in his practice, to recommending masturbation as a cure for nasal congestion or recommending a reduction in wearing high heels to prevent schizophrenia, as both claims were also published in that same journal.
Vaccines, like masks, are not perfect. Breakthrough infections will continue to happen in higher numbers as the pool of people vaccinated continues to grow. Variants will likely challenge the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines over time. The suggestion these realities render vaccines pointless is, however, a malicious falsehood. Contrary to Stock's unsupported claims, vaccines reduce the severity of both infection or reinfection, reduce the likelihood of transmission, and effectively eliminate the risk of death from COVID-19 for most age groups.
Stock's experience with 15 cases of COVID-19 aside, nothing else known to science at this time is capable of imparting these benefits.