Steve Kirsch, COVID, disinformation
Photo credit: All images extracted from videos and tweets embedded below.

Recent Tucker Carlson guest Steve Kirsch took stolen patient records from New Zealand in his desperate quest to prove the COVID-19 vaccines are killing in droves.

Listen To This Story
Voiced by Amazon Polly

New Zealand’s 1 News recently reported that the country’s public health agency, Health New Zealand Te Whatu Ora, has begun notifying around 12,000 individuals impacted by a patient vaccine record breach that saw the data posted on “a US-based blog.” 

The data was taken by Barry Young, a former IT worker at Health New Zealand, who claimed the data proved the COVID-19 vaccines were killing people at an alarming rate — a conspiracy theory spread online and through films like Died Suddenly

Young, who was arrested and charged with dishonestly accessing a computer this past December, has become something of a folk hero for the die-hard anti-vax crowd. While out on bail, he appeared on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’s InfoWars, where he was lauded as a “whistleblower.”

The blog where the data stolen by Young ended up belongs to a newer American conspiracy theorist, tech mogul turned virulent anti-vaxxer Steve Kirsch. He claims to have de-identified the vaccine data before posting it to his Wasabi server late last year for public download (it was subsequently removed following an injunction granted to New Zealand investigators). 

Kirsch — who appeared in Died Suddenly — recently made an appearance on propagandist Tucker Carlson’s X show to discuss this “epidemic” of COVID-19 vaccine deaths oddly seen only by those in far-right circles. Boasting about his Carlson appearance, Kirsch posted on his substack, “People thought it was EXCELLENT with over 100K likes and 6.6M views.”

Making a Misinformation Superspreader

Kirsch — whose pre-pandemic career is most notable for the development of an optical mouse — ran the Elon Musk-funded COVID-19 Early Treatment Fund (CETF), which sought to find a cure for COVID-19 through repurposing of drugs including hydroxychloroquine. Unfortunately, the CETF failed to find a silver bullet in the existing pharmacopeia — and Kirsch failed to cope with this reality. Eventually, his entire CETF board walked out on him, citing his increasingly erratic behavior, and Kirsch turned hard against the treatment that did work to lessen transmission and severity of COVID-19 illness — the vaccines. 

A former Democratic donor, Kirsch has inserted himself (and his ample bank account) deeply into the far-right anti-vaccine movement, working with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI; referred to by former Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas as “our [i.e., Russia’s] guy in the Senate”) and going so far as to appear on Steve Bannon’s War Room: Pandemic podcast. 

Kirsch’s CETF follow-up effort, the Vaccine Safety Research Fund (VSRF), boasts anti-vax stars Drs. Peter McCullough and Robert Malone on its expert leadership roster and hosts anti-vaxxers and other members of the far-Right (such as Stop the Steal promoter Jack Posobeic) on its weekly Rumble podcast.   

The VSRF was a sponsor of the January 2022 Defeat the Mandates rally in Washington, DC, alongside big-name — and big-money — anti-vax groups like Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Children’s Health Defense, Del Bigtree’s Informed Consent Action Network, and the ivermectin-pushing Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance (FLCCC). Kirsch spoke to the crowd of thousands — which included members of the Proud Boys — though he was largely overshadowed by his far-Right A-list fellow speakers.

A major proponent of Kennedy’s presidential campaign and a contributor to the MAGA-aligned Vigilant News Network, Kirsch is also the founder of the COVID Litigation Conference. His supposed pursuit of “truth” and “justice” should be juxtaposed with his illegal obtaining of this stolen patient vaccine data from New Zealand, which suggests the law is a consideration only when it serves his agenda. Like a ransomware attacker, Kirsch publicly threatened Health New Zealand that he would release the names of individuals in the stolen data if the agency did not respond to his emails.    

The Steve Show  

In late fall of last year, Kirsch began hyping up “record-level data” he had obtained that would prove that vaccines were killing people in droves and that he was not, as his alma mater MIT’s Technology Review branded him in 2021, a “misinformation superspreader.” In fact, he would present this bombshell data in the auditorium bearing his name — thanks to his $2.5 million donation to MIT — and expected a large crowd!

Kirsch stated he had previously attempted to give a speech on the elite university’s campus the year prior and had failed to find a faculty member who would support his talk. He was able to secure the November 30 appearance thanks to an invite from the recently formed MIT Students for Open Inquiry.  

In the lead-up to the event, Lisa Finley Laehy — an attorney and fellow resident of affluent Los Altos, CA, who serves as the VSRF “head of research” — admitted in a Twitter space that it was illegal for Kirsch to have this patient-level data. She later attempted to walk back the comment as sarcasm.

Cofounder of the FLCCC, Dr. Pierre Kory, stated at a VSFR event ahead of the MIT talk that Kirsch’s data “could change the entire narrative.” As a physician, Kory should understand the ethical and legal issues posed by taking patient data without clearance or consent and not be enthusiastically supportive of what Kirsch has done. New Zealand has rules in place similar to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) that governs the security of private patient health data in the US. Though perhaps such ethical concern would be too much to expect from the physician who continues to promote ivermectin — his “wonder drug” for COVID-19 — and hurl fraud accusations against major studies that show the antiparasitic’s lack of efficacy against the virus.

Kory, another recent Carlson guest, has taken a staunchly anti-vaccine stance following the failure of his own pharma miracle cure. He has a pricey private telehealth practice for long-COVID and vaccine injuries, falsely claiming the latter are far more common than the former. And the FLCCC has of course promoted ivermectin for long-COVID, despite there being no evidence for the efficacy of its use in that case either. 

At the MIT talk — which drew few students, according to an attendee who requested anonymity — Kirsch, wearing a “Misinformation Superspreader” T-shirt, referred to this New Zealand data as his “Rosetta stone.” He claimed, based on an extrapolation of his own non-expert analysis of said data, that 13 million people had been killed by the COVID-19 vaccines worldwide. This would mean more deaths from the vaccine than have been reported from the virus itself (though COVID-19’s true global death toll is likely higher than the oft-reported 7 million figure). 

A recording of Kirsch’s talk was posted to Rumble, where it has racked up over a quarter million views. But his analysis was swiftly debunked by actual experts. Dr. Jeffrey Morris, a professor of public health and director of the Division of Biostatistics at the University of Pennsylvania, pointed out that New Zealand had negative excess mortality in 2020 and 2021 and the only periods of excess mortality in 2022 correlated with waves of COVID-19. Dr. David Gorski, who has written about anti-vaxxers for over a decade, discussed how Kirsch failed to address confounding variables, such as age, in his pursuit of the specific result he was aiming for from the data. 

The anti-vax online community was not universally supportive of Kirsch’s event, and some expressed doubt with respect to the quality of the data he had obtained. For example, Nick Hudson — founder of the South Africa-based anti-lockdown group Pandata (with which McCullough has also been involved) — tweeted that he had been part of a group that received the New Zealand data and felt “little could be concluded from it.” Hudson also expressed concern that the data had “all the elements of a set-up” and worried it would be used for “key names in the resistance [i.e., anti-vaxxers and COVID-skeptics] to be brought low.” 

Shortly after his MIT event, Kirsch called into New Zealand media personality Sean Plunket’s show The Platform, where the host called an argumentative Kirsch “a Michelin-star cooker” and lambasted him for taking stolen patient records from the country.  

Taking the Show on the Road

Despite the blowback to his MIT talk from both the science-based medical community and a faction of his anti-vax community, Kirsch continued promoting his fatally flawed analysis. 

He gave a presentation similar to his MIT one as a panelist at disgraced MP Andrew Bridgen’s early December anti-vax event in London. Bridgen was kicked out of the Tory party for his anti-vax extremism, which included comparing the vaccination program to the Holocaust. The panel included Kory and Malone presenting in person alongside Kirsch, with McCullough calling in remotely. 

In the US, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2022 showed that the most highly vaccinated states had lower excess mortality compared to less vaccinated states. But this right-wing anti-vax movement — which contributed to the pandemic being deadlier than necessary by downplaying the threat of the novel virus, pushing false cures, and stoking vaccine hysteria — cannot admit that, lest their entire movement crumble.   

While some anti-vaxxers, such as fallen former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson, have broken with the most extreme arm of the anti-vax movement where Kirsch proudly resides, plenty of the extreme anti-vaxxers are still getting platformed by right-wing media and politicians.

In fact, Kirsch’s appearance on Carlson’s show was not even the first time claims of millions of COVID-19 vaccine-induced deaths had been made on the X-exclusive program. On January 5, Bret Weinstein, a vocal proponent of ivermectin and member of Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R-FL) Public Health Integrity Committee, called claims of 17 million vaccine deaths “credible.” He was citing Canadian anti-vaxxer Denis Rancourt, whose work Kirsch discussed in his MIT talk as being more or less in line with his own estimations. (Rancourt is also a virus denier, and Kirsch disagrees with him on that front.) 

Earlier this month, at Johnson’s anti-vax International Crisis Summit (ICS) event sponsored by CPAC, the charges of massive numbers of COVID-19 vaccine deaths were made by Edward Dowd, a former portfolio manager at Blackrock and founding partner of a “macro alternative investment firm.” 

Dowd published a book for Children’s Health Defense — featuring a foreword from CHD’s founder Kennedy — called Cause Unknown: The Epidemic of Sudden Deaths in 2021 & 2022 & 2023. The book, which falsely asserts that the COVID-19 vaccines are responsible for a surge in young deaths, features a photo of 12-year-old Braden Fahey, who was not vaccinated and who died as the result of a malformed blood vessel in his brain, his family has said. In the age of Died Suddenly, such misuse of family tragedies for the anti-vax narrative is not an isolated incident — and not confined to the US.

Retraction and Outrage

At his MIT talk, Kirsch excitedly announced he had a peer-reviewed paper on these dangerous vaccines that would be published in the scientific literature — his first such publication in the medical science space. In January, Kirsch, McCulllough, et al. published “COVID-19 mRNA Vaccines: Lessons Learned from the Registrational Trials and Global Vaccination Campaign” in Cureus, as previously discussed

The paper featured a gross misuse of the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting (VAERS) system — a go-to tactic for anti-vaxxers during the pandemic, including GOP politicians like Johnson and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who have hosted anti-vax panels similar to Bridgen’s — and was denounced by outspoken members of the medical community online.

In February, Kirsch posted on his substack account that the paper was headed for retraction, including an email from the journal in his post. The email outlined several of the issues with the paper, including: misrepresentation of all-cause mortality and VAERS data; insufficient evidence to support claims of high levels of DNA contamination in the vaccines; misrepresentation of a cited study used to claim the vaccines could cause cancer; and the incorrect statement that spike protein created by the mRNA vaccine remains in the body long-term and causes damage. 

Kirsch has since announced he is taking legal action against Cureus and its parent organization Springer Nature for this censorship — to the tune of $250 million. In the same manner as he threatened Health New Zealand by posting emails to Twitter/X, Kirsch posted an email he sent to the publishing outfit making the legal threat and boasting about his connections from the COVID Litigation Conference to intimidate.

Not the Saviors

The Global COVID Vaccine Safety project just published a massive new adverse event study of 99 million vaccinated individuals across eight countries. While Kirsch and his fellow anti-vaxxers did their best to spin the results in their favor, a correct interpretation of the study is that serious adverse events from the vaccines — which have saved over 10 million lives globally — remain extremely rare. 

Benefits of vaccination have far outweighed the risks of unvaccinated COVID-19 infection. 

The study also showed that there are those in the scientific and medical community actively investigating these rare issues. It is not just the Kirsch and Kory types who care about vaccine injuries, as their anti-vax movement claims in order to demonize those acting within the medical consensus by promoting vaccination. 

Anti-vaxxers cling to the exceedingly rare vaccine injuries as a support for their movement, and to distract from the damage they have caused. This is not genuine care for those with vaccine injuries — and, in politicizing these rare cases, individuals like Kirsch do a disservice by making level-headed conversation about the issue near impossible. 

In the absence of sufficient real cases of harm, they resort to misusing VAERS, and — in the case of the desperate Kirsch — mangling stolen data. This is beyond unethical — what Kirsch has done with this latest stunt is illegal and should entail consequences. 

On March 7-8, Kirsch held his second annual COVID Litigation Conference in Las Vegas. He documented the spectacle for his 474K followers on Twitter/X, where he continues to regularly defend his New Zealand analysis and challenge actual experts to debate him. 

On March 18, VSRF and the FLCCC co-sponsored Children’s Health Defense’s rally outside of the Supreme Court for “free speech” on the day the court heard Murthy v. Missouri — a landmark case about the government’s right to regulate disinformation on social media platforms. 

Kirsch’s own wealth and proximity to political and legal power should not be allowed to shield him from accountability for his malign actions. He has been a useful foot soldier in the right-wing attack on public health but is now, thanks to his arrogance and law breaking, a compromised weak link for the extensive disinformation network he’s been working in for the past four years. His name and the names of those who continue to work with him should be brought low — they have only themselves, not the vaccines, to blame.

Karam Bales is a UK-based disinformation researcher and freelance journalist who writes regularly for the Byline Times as well as his own initiative, the Counter Disinformation Project. He is a former executive for the National Education Union, Europe’s largest education trade union.

Comments are closed.