How a rogue doctor who called the vaccine 'needle rape' was made an Idaho public-health official in its worst COVID crisis yet
Dr. Ryan Cole speaking to KTVB from his laboratory in Boise, Idaho in December 2020. KTVB / YouTube
A doctor who called the COVID-19 vaccine "needle rape" made it onto one of Idaho's top health boards.
Dr. Ryan Cole, a pathologist with no public health experience, was championed by the GOP.
His victory came as Idaho was overwhelmed by severe COVID-19 cases, the low point of the pandemic.
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In Boise, Idaho, a lab-coat doctor spoke reassuring words to concerned parents and school principals about the new semester's COVID-19 restrictions.
"Statistically speaking, masks are ineffective," said Dr. Ryan Cole, recklessly and incorrectly, on an Aug 26th Zoom call with the Peace Valley Charter School that ruled on the action to be taken if classes should be resumed.
"I think we need to be careful and say it's time to let kids be kids," said Cole.
Cole's specialty is dermopathology - a discipline that focuses on skin diseases that have little relevance to respiratory diseases like COVID-19.
Nonetheless, Cole is a celebrated figure among anti-Vaxxers. He made headlines in July by calling the vaccine a "clot shot" and "needle rape" in a presentation to America's Frontline Doctors (AFD), a group known for COVID-19 misinformation.
At the end of the Peace Valley school meeting, the board had abandoned its plan for a mask mandate, the statesman from Idaho reported.
Cases rose across the state. With only 39% of the state fully vaccinated - one of the lowest rates in the country - hundreds of people had to be hospitalized, which pushed the system to its limits.
Two weeks later this system collapsed. Ten of the state hospitals have been put under crisis protocols advising patients that they may be treated below the usual minimum standard, e.g.
On the same day, Idaho's largest public health committee, the Central District Board of Health (CDH), announced that Cole would become its seventh member.
Cole's survey shows how the state's public health apparatus has been scaled back and politicized in the wake of the raging pandemic, according to activists and former Idaho officials speaking with Insider.
The CDH is Idaho's largest health agency and covers Ada, Boise, Elmore, and Valley counties. Its board of directors is elected by 12 commissioners, three from each county.
Cole made it onto the board thanks to a backlash against CDH restrictions that drove coronavirus skeptics into positions of power.
Vaccines "a toxic attack"
Dr. Ryan Cole gives a talk on COVID-19 testing for Crush The Curve Idaho in 2020. Dr. Ryan Cole / Crush The Curve Idaho
In an interview with Insider, Cole denied being a vaccination opponent, saying that he was generally in favor of vaccinations and had many himself.
But he said he hadn't had the COVID-19 vaccination and argued that getting it should be a personal choice. He did not respond to his comments on "needle rape".
He has also derided the vaccine as "experimental," a common insult among antivaxxers. All vaccines used in the United States went through extensive clinical trials before being temporarily approved. The Pfizer vaccine has now received full FDA approval.
Cole is a regular representative of the anti-Vaxx and conservative speakers and gives lectures to groups like the AfD. He was funded by the right-wing Idaho Freedom Foundation and Infowars.
He has also appeared on the podcasts of lawyer and Conservative talk show host Daniel Horowitz and anti-Vaxx conspiracy theorist Dr. Sherri Tenpenny spoken.
In his lab, Cole often tells his listeners that he sees data that suggests the vaccine is damaging people's immune systems. He admitted to Insider that post-vaccination side effects are extremely rare, but this point rarely comes up in his conversations.
"This is no longer good science. It is a poisonous attack on our population," said Cole to loud applause about the vaccination campaign at the AfD summit. "And it has to stop now."
He also told Insider he was concerned that the vaccine was causing mutations like the Delta variant, a false claim that has been repeatedly debunked.
Cole has instead been promoting the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment. The drug is currently considered unproven at best and a dangerous distraction from better treatment at worst, The Guardian reported.
He has also touted vitamin D as a replacement for mask wearing and social distancing, another claim that has been verified and found deficient.
"Undermining Our Efforts"
Dr. Ryan Cole addresses America's frontline doctors. America’s doctors on the front lines
Unlike many of those he addressed at the AfD summit, Cole's résumé and easy-going manner make it harder to fire him.
None of the sources Insider spoke to challenged Cole's expertise as a pathologist, which he believes was backed up by five years at the highly regarded Mayo Clinic around the year 2000.
Cole told Insider that vaccinology and epidemiology "have been part of my entire career," although he did not name any specific qualifications or experience to back the claim.
As the pandemic spread, Cole's dermopathology lab expanded from analyzing skin samples to processing COVID-19 tests.
Data from these tests - which are not public - "gives him a very unique view of overall public health," Cole Diagnostics spokeswoman Kelli Cole told Insider.
Insider spoke to one of the leading voices against Cole's appointment, Dr. David godfather. He is the former CEO of St Luke's Healthcare System, a nonprofit that operates in Idaho and other states.
He is also a good friend and co-author of Dr. Ted Epperly, whom Cole has deposed from the CDH board of directors.
Godfather told Insider that the ideas Cole is promoting are "just inconsistent with public health science." "And it undermines our public health efforts," he said.
He added, “Dr. Cole is already wearing the mantle of his licensed doctor status. He uses all of these things to give him a touch of legitimacy.
"Now he will have this additional appointment to advertise to be a member of the health committee."
Mike Satz, who heads the Idaho 97 campaign group - which opposed Cole's appointment - gave Cole a blunt assessment.
"Ryan Cole is not an infectious disease expert," he told Insider. "Ryan Cole is the guy who looks into a microscope."
How the GOP ousted public health
Dr. Ryan Cole takes his place to be interviewed for the CDH board on August 9, 2021. Ada County, Idaho / YouTube
Opposition to Cole's appointment came from the Idaho Medical Association, several state medical experts, the Idaho Statesman editorial team, and local activists - but it ultimately achieved little.
The 2020 election ousted officials, including Diana Lachiondo, a Democrat, one of three commissioners in Ada County and one of 12 officials who will vote for Cole's appointment.
In a viral post from December this year, Lachiondo described an angry crowd who arrived at her home armed and made threatening noises. Epperly, Cole's predecessor, had a similar experience.
Lachiondo's former seat and others were occupied by Republicans who were able to deliver the seven votes required to replace Epperly with Cole.
Around the same time, Republican-dominated Idaho legislation deprived public health officials of the power to directly impose public health restrictions and demoted them to an advisory role that lawmakers can ignore.
Rod Beck and Ryan Davidson, newly elected Republican commissioners in Ada County, both said the CDH is guilty of exaggeration and needs reform.
Davidson, in a June post on Facebook, accused the CDH of involvement in the "greatest violation of modern individual freedom" for its limitations, including insisting on indoor masking, banning large gatherings and urging some stores to close.
Epperly's "doomsday" prophecies have not come true, he said - especially before the surge that overwhelmed Idaho's health care system. (Davidson did not respond to a detailed request for comment.) He became a great advocate of Cole and his hands-free, personal approach to public health.
Epperly sees a connection between the mobs who chased him and Lachiondo and the Republicans who introduced Cole.
"It has become so profound among the people," he said in an interview with Insider.
“And we have lost sight of our common enemy. The common enemy fights the virus ... but what was replaced as a common enemy are now each other. "
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