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In Idaho, a doctor-turned-conspiracy theorist is in power as the state reels from Covid

Idaho has one of the worst vaccination rates in the country, and it just gave an anti-vax conspiracy theorist tremendous power.

In Idaho, a doctor-turned-conspiracy theorist has been appointed to a powerful regional health board, demonstrating the depth of the state’s disinformation crisis.

Dr. Ryan Cole has referred to Covid-19 vaccines as “needle rape” and the “clot shot,” he has promoted unproven remedies like the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin and he has falsely claimed there’s statistically no efficacy in masks, On Wednesday, Cole reportedly said the "intrusion" of politics into physician-patient relationships "must end." Interfering with that relationship "may actually constitute crimes against humanity," he claimed.

Now, he will serve on an influential health board for the foreseeable future, at a time when Idaho’s health system is crumbling due to Covid. His appointment to Idaho’s Central District Health Board was ratified by seven out of 12 county commissioners in Idaho, who successfully placed him in a seat he will be allowed to hold until September 2026.

Photo illustration: A doctor wearing a mask surrounded by syringes with scribbles over them.
Anjali Nair / MSNBC; Getty Images

Cole was appointed to his role on the board — which has control over some local health measures, including mask mandates — on Sept. 7. That same day, Idaho health officials activated “crisis standards of care,” a protocol that allows hospitals to ration health care due to the scores of unvaccinated people filling overwhelming Idaho’s hospitals.

Idaho’s vaccination rate is among the lowest in the nation. In this state firmly under Republican control, the rate of unvaccinated people is likely a reflection of partisanship. Data released by the Kaiser Family Foundation this week suggests there is still a stark difference in vaccination rates among Republicans and Democrats. The data shows, on average, that counties that voted for Joe Biden in the 2020 election had 12.9 percent more of their residents vaccinated than counties that voted for Trump.

Cole is a doctor who specializes in dermatopathology, a field involving skin diseases — not respiratory conditions like Covid-19. His elevation is a sign that the war on disinformation doesn’t just involve laymen, and that credentialed officials can adopt dangerous theories as well.

The political opposition to public health measures is an anchor weighing down Idaho’s Covid-19 recovery.

Some health groups are trying to dissuade seeming experts like Cole from using their trusted positions to spread misinformation. Last week, the American Board of Family Medicine, the American Board of Internal Medicine and the American Board of Pediatrics all released a statement saying doctors who spread Covid-19 misinformation are at risk of losing their board certification.

The political opposition to public health measures is an anchor weighing down Idaho’s Covid-19 recovery. Last December, a county commissioner and health board member who supported a mask mandate — Democrat Diana Lachiondo — was forced to abruptly walk out of a public health meeting after learning protesters were outside her home, banging on her door while her child was inside. Lachiondo left her seat on the health board at the beginning of the year and was replaced by a Republican.

In January, Republicans took near-total control over the Ada County Commissioners board and they have moved quickly to replace sitting health officials loyalists on the Central District Health Board. Their most recent appointment was Dr. Ryan Cole.

Head over to The ReidOut Blog for more.