A Dickinson lawmaker is defending a social media post about a product that he maintains could be used to treat the coronavirus.
On Tuesday March 17, the Facebook post first appeared on the personal, public and shared account of Rep. Luke Simons, a Republican representing District 36, and his wife, Aliesha. It claimed that the coronavirus was treatable and that a doctor had shared the benefits of a botanical product with the Simons'.
The Facebook post further included an image of the product, VIRA-Pel made by Weed Botanicals Inc., which itself claims the product as effective against respiratory viruses including coronaviruses — though fails to note that the novel coronavirus is a unique strain.
The Press was unable to reach Simons for its initial story on the dubious claims of the product in the post, but Simons contacted The Press early the next day.
Simons refused to verify whether he, or his wife, made the post, though did say that he would take responsibility for it because he believes in it.
“This virus has got me studying quite a bit and by no means am I an expert on the subject, it’s interesting to me the frenzy people are in,” Simons said. “If you read my original post, you’ll see that I never said that it cured coronavirus, only that the coronavirus is treatable. If you have flu-like symptoms, I would strongly recommend that you go through the proper channels and go to the clinic or hospital as this virus should not be taken lightly.”
Simons added, “I do however believe that people are way over acting and I’ll keep looking for answers and input from all available sources.”
Dr. Paul Carson, who specializes in infectious diseases at Sanford Health in Fargo, is considered an expert in treating acute and chronic infectious diseases requiring hospitalization.
“I would take all of those social media ‘this might work, that might work’ with a pretty big grain of salt. You have to ask what’s the evidence,” Carson said. “When people post these various things on social media without good evidence, I think there is the potential for health risk.”
Carson added that there were a lot of control trials being conducted on a number of different drugs, including a lot of different theoretically promising antivirals and a few vaccine candidates, saying that it was important to, “Not waste our time on botanical conjectures.”
Carson did admit that he had never heard of Vita-Pel, specifically.
When asked why the post remained up, Simons said that he has always been unapologetically conservative, unapologetically an outside the box thinker and wouldn’t back down from sharing something that could help others.
“Is Tylenol the cure for coronavirus? No … but are you going to want to have something to help with the aches and pains? Yes you are. All I was saying was that this product could help out with viruses like the coronavirus,” he said.
Simons argued that sharing information is a tremendous tool that could aid medical professionals and everyday people alike as the state faces this unprecedented state of emergency.
"This is a suggestion of one cure thing that may happen and if the right doctor sees it, he may be able to contact someone else that says, 'Have you considered this?' 'Oh, that's interesting, maybe in conjunction with this, we can do this.' And so things change,” Simons said. “To me it seems like if you think outside the box, that's a bad thing. I'm sure glad Thomas Edison didn't think that."
Simons continued, “I thought it was a good thing that people have their own opinions and viewpoints, but if other people want to just hang out for the FDA or the sacred government to have all their answers for them, well that's fine too. That's the difference between people. Myself, I like research."
Carson cautioned that people be careful with the misinformation that circulates online, saying that professionals are working hard on solving this issue.
“I would tell people when they look at their social media posts, really try to rely on known sources of information that are reliable - Centers for Disease Control (and Prevention), World Health Organization, your state health department; those are all really striving hard to get up-to-date, good, reliable information out there - not conjecture, not anecdotes, not unproven remedies.”
There are currently no approved treatments for the coronavirus, although the FDA is exploring possible treatment options.