Vocal Anti-Vaccine Chiropractors Split the Profession

The conflict among chiropractors has become more consequential as the Delta variant of the coronavirus spreads and the rate of new vaccinations slows.

By Maggie Astor

Anyone who listened to the Idaho chiropractor Steven Baker’s podcast in May would have heard a cornucopia of misinformation about the coronavirus and the vaccines protecting hundreds of millions of people against it.

In an episode titled “Are the ‘Vaccinated’ People Dangerous?” (they aren’t), he claimed that scientists had never identified the whole virus (they have), that the vaccines turned people into “modern-day zombies” who spewed spike proteins in every breath and body fluid (they don’t), and that vaccinated people could disrupt the menstrual cycles of women around them (they can’t).

So, Dr. Baker said, he had a new policy: If any patients made “what I would consider a horribly poor decision to go get this shot,” he would not allow them inside his office for 30 days.

Dr. Baker, who didn’t respond to a request for comment, doesn’t represent all chiropractors, many of whom support vaccinations. But he is among a vocal cadre who have promoted doubts about the coronavirus vaccines online and in their clinics and, in the process, exposed a longstanding split within the profession.

On one side are people like him, who dismiss the overwhelming medical consensus that the vaccines are effective and safe. These chiropractors closely follow the ideas espoused more than a century ago by the profession’s founder, Daniel David Palmer, who rejected germ theory and believed that diseases were caused by spinal misalignments called subluxations that disrupted an innate life force.

The chiropractic profession, which involves adjustment of the spine through manual manipulation and is sometimes just called chiropractic, “emerged from this vitalistic, almost supernatural idea of healing,” said Timothy Caulfield, the Canada research chair in health law and policy at the University of Alberta. “It’s difficult for them to escape their roots, and I think that’s one of the reasons that so many people continue to be attracted to chiropractic who are more likely to be vaccination hesitant, and why so many chiropractic practitioners are in fact vaccination hesitant.”

On the other side are chiropractors who have called on their peers to encourage vaccination as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other medical authorities. In a 2013 paper in the Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, for example, four chiropractors wrote that by recommending vaccines “as clinically indicated, the chiropractic profession would promote the public good and, by doing so, would be in a better position to be embraced by the broader health care community.”

That paper, said one of its authors, Brian Gleberzon, a professor at Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College, “is still relevant.”

As the Delta variant of the coronavirus spreads and the rate of new vaccinations slows, the conflict within the profession has become more consequential. The United States is administering about 530,000 doses per day on average — compared with a peak of more than three million in April — and while case numbers are low nationally, they are spiking in states like Missouri and Arkansas, where vaccination rates are lagging.

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