Authored by Katie Spence via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),
Dr. Mary Talley Bowden, a Stanford-educated ear, nose, and throat doctor, isn’t afraid to voice her beliefs. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, she repeatedly used her platform on Twitter and TikTok to question the vaccines, promote ivermectin as a treatment, and call out pharmacists for refusing to dispense it.
But her efforts resulted in significant backlash. On Nov. 7, 2021, Dr. Danielle Jones, an OBGYN who posts under the handle @MamaDoctorJones on YouTube, TikTok, and Twitter—and has millions of followers—put out a video accusing Bowden of “grifting,” rejecting science, and profiting from those who questioned the vaccine.
The video received thousands of comments, including from Team Halo members, Dr. Zachary Rubin, a pediatrician, and Christina Kim, an oncology nurse practitioner. Team Halo is a social media influencer campaign formed as part of the United Nations Verified initiative and the Vaccine Confidence Project to increase vaccine uptake.
“That doc is problematic,” Rubin wrote. Kim followed with, “Wow. That ‘doctor’ should have her license revoked.”
On Nov. 12, 2021, five days after the video, Bowden received a text message from the Houston Chronicle, “Hi Dr. Bowden, I’m told you’ve been suspended from Houston Methodist pending further investigation because of your comments on social media. I plan to report that this afternoon but wanted to give you an opportunity to comment.” Stunned, Bowden responded that the text was the first she had heard of the suspension.
The suspension turned out to be the tip of the iceberg. Over the following months, Bowden’s life was thrown into chaos as multiple social media influencers targeted her. However, the most dogged was a pharmacist named Savannah, who posts under the handle @rxOrcist.
“Savannah has over a million followers. She made a video about me because I have been calling out, online, pharmacists that were refusing to dispense ivermectin,” Bowden told The Epoch Times. “The majority of them happen to be Asian. So, she, therefore, concluded that I was racist against Asians and called me a ‘xenophobic, racist [expletive],’ among other things.
“Because she has so many followers, when she makes a video about you, you get an army of people coming after you. A lot of fake people [writing] reviews. That’s one of the biggest things. You can’t get them removed. I’ve tried to get them removed, and I can prove that they’re not my patients.”
Bowden added that she’d been kicked off of TikTok, is on probation on YouTube, had complaints filed against her, and has even had to call security when someone came to her office and threatened her.
In the video, Savannah showed that she reported Bowden to the Texas Medical Board. The board declined to investigate her specific complaints. Still, they are pursuing two other complaints—one filed by Houston Methodist claiming a violation of patient care and one filed by Texas Health Huguley Hospital for prescribing ivermectin.
In the comments of Savannah’s video, Tyler Kuhk, a nurse and previous Team Halo member according to web archives, and who posts under @thatsassynp, stated, “How these loons still have licenses is beyond me. Why is an ENT even treating COVID?”
Savannah is part of a group called Shots Heard, which calls itself a “rapid-response digital cavalry dedicated to protecting the online safety of health care providers and practices.” Kuhk is also a member. Savannah joined Shots Heard on Aug. 6, 2020, and Kuhk joined on Feb. 13, 2021.
According to its website, Shots Heard is an initiative under The Public Good Projects (PGP), a “public health nonprofit specializing in large-scale media monitoring programs, social and behavior change interventions, and cross-sector initiatives.”
Another of PGP’s initiatives is the Public Health Communications Collaborative (PHCC), which sits within the CDC Foundation—a nonprofit arm of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) established by Congress.
The goal of the communications collaborative, according to PGP, is to decrease misinformation and increase vaccine demand worldwide. And it’s using social media influencers to silence vaccine detractors.
A Tangled Web
PGP is headquartered in New York and was founded in 2013. Its current CEO is Dr. Joe Smyser, who holds a Ph.D. and master’s in public health and completed his postdoctoral training at the CDC.
The Tennessee Department of Health states about Smyser and PGP, “Dr. Smyser has designed some of the United States’ most influential and impactful health campaigns to date in partnership with the CDC, FDA, Kaiser Permanente, Rockefeller, and Humana.”
According to its website, the CDC Foundation is “the sole entity created by Congress to mobilize philanthropic and private-sector resources to support the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s critical health protection work.”
Since its creation, the CDC Foundation has launched over 1,300 “health protection programs” and raised over $2 billion in support for the CDC.
One of those health protection programs is PGP partner PHCC, which according to its website, was formed in August 2020 to “provide unbiased communication about the COVID-19 pandemic.” And one of the ways PHCC accomplishes that is by putting out “Misinformation Alerts,” which are powered by PGP.
For example, on March 23, PHCC posted on its website that a “well-known anti-vaccine physician” claimed that COVID-19 vaccines caused an increase in miscarriages and stillbirths. It labeled it a “high-risk alert” and recommended, “directly addressing and debunking the misinformation.”
That “debunking,” according to PHCC, includes using a “strong, robust social mobilization” to amplify messages from the World Health Organization and UNICEF, encouraging social media organizations to flag “misinformation,” and promoting “trusted pro-vaccine voices.”
Enter, Shots Heard.
Shots Heard and Team Halo
On its homepage, Shots Heard states, “If you stand up for vaccine science, we’ll stand up for you.” It includes a link for people to apply to “sign up to defend vaccine advocates.” It also provides a link to “Alert the Shots Heard Cavalry,” plus a link to a members-only Facebook group, which currently has 1,176 members.
An insider in the group who requested to remain anonymous for fear of being kicked out supplied The Epoch Times with screenshots and messages of the Shots Heard Facebook group.
In one “alert,” a Shots Heard member named Bernadine Huff posted, “It’s important for all of us to stop the insanity and to call out other healthcare workers that don’t believe in science.” She encouraged Shots Heard members to “report” a graduate nurse named Megan to the Ohio Nursing Board for providing information on how to get a medical exemption for the COVID-19 vaccine. The replies from numerous Shots Heard members simply state, “reported.”
In another “alert,” Shots Heard group administrator Jeff Sykes posts, “Hey Shots Heard, it’s been brought to our attention that Dr. Scott Jensen has been using his online platforms to spread misinformation about COVID-19. … We need your help reporting him.”
Shots Heard member Marcia Fiamengo posted this alert, “Need help reporting this group,” and linked to a group promoting ivermectin. Among the many who replied was New York’s Suffolk County Department of Health account, which wrote, “Reported.”
Fiamengo also posted on Dec. 29, 2021, “Fantastic news,” and attached a screenshot of Dr. Robert Malone’s suspended Twitter account. Shots Heard member Angie Anderson states in the comments, “Ooooh, I just reported a few of his posts yesterday. So satisfying when you see real results.”
On March 24, 2022, Fiamengo encouraged Shots Heard members to report Bowden. Again, Suffolk County Health responded, this time with “Done.” On May 2, 2022, Fiamengo again made a celebratory post. This time for an American Frontline Doctor being stripped of all state licenses after prescribing ivermectin. “Wooooo!!!! Another one bites the dust!” she said.
Shots Heard doesn’t limit itself to reporting single healthcare practitioners. On Sep. 12, 2021, Shots Heard member Liz Ditz “reported” a preprint by researchers Dr. Tracy Beth Hoeg, Allison Krug, Josh Stevenson, and Dr. John Mandrola, which found vaccine-induced myocarditis might be worse than COVID-induced myocarditis. Shots Heard members were outraged.
Moreover, Shots Heard doesn’t limit itself to simply “reporting.” When Bowden posted on Twitter, “Are Americans supposed to take this [expletive]? We don’t want your shot, and we especially don’t want it for our kids,” her post was flagged and flooded with Shots Heard member comments.
Such tactics are called “gang stalking,” Nicole Sirotek, a registered nurse in Nevada and the founder of American Frontline Nurses, told The Epoch Times. “[Shots Heard members] make videos about [the offending health care worker] saying they need to be delicensed, then [Shots Heard] followers go and hunt down the nurse and swarm the licensing board.”
Sirotek has been the victim of many such attacks from Shots Heard and Team Halo—the two groups share many of the same members.
For example, in December 2022, Team Halo member Jess, who posts under the TikTok handle @jesss2019, doxed Sirotek on TikTok by revealing a previously court-sealed name change. Jess is a “Featured Influencer” for The Health Influencer Council, another PGP project that includes Shots Heard, and This Is Our Shot — a “diverse coalition of health heroes” who engage on social media to combat misinformation and build vaccine trust, according to its website.
An Inside Look
Tyler Hardy, a previous Team Halo member known as “your favorite field epidemiologist” until he ignited a social media firestorm for lying about some of his credentials, told The Epoch Times he’s seen both sides of the social initiates.
“I joined Team Halo at the beginning of 2022, in January. I was invited by nurse Jess [@jesss2019],” Hardy said. “I wanted to educate, and that was why I thought Team Halo would be good because it would give me the exposure to do that.
“As I got behind the scenes of these big creators, right, these people like Dr. Cat and Dr. Jon, Jess, @thatsassynp, I learned that they were, pardon my French, just [expletive]. And they let that stardom of being part of Team Halo get to their head.”
During his time at Team Halo, Hardy said Team Halo members communicated over a private WhatsApp chat. Anytime a Team Halo member disagreed with someone online, “You just put it in the chat, and then every single person in Team Halo would instantly jump on them. Get them fired,” Hardy said.
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