JONESBORO — Matthew Hardin says he’s among those who fell for the coronavirus misinformation being spread on the internet.
As a result, he refused to get vaccinated.
“I was kind of adamant about not getting it,” Harden said, fearing the new type of vaccine hadn’t been properly tested. There was another factor. “Arrogance that I was healthy and young, and just wouldn’t get it.”
Harden, 37, said he gave too much credibility to conspiracy-oriented information he saw on Facebook and the internet show InfoWars.
“I won’t be getting any more information from him,” Harden said of InfoWars host Alex Jones. “He about killed me. I don’t say that lightly. I was was looking at death. I just got lucky.”
When he began getting sick, Harden felt a dilemma.
“I didn’t go to the hospital because I didn’t have insurance, and I didn’t want a thousand-something-dollar bill,” Harden said. “I didn’t want a ventilator or anything.”
He took over-the-counter drugs that he thought might provide some relief and tried to sleep it off.
“It all started with this what felt like a sinus infection,” Harden explained. “It was kind of humorous because I couldn’t smell no more. And someone asked, ‘Can you taste?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know. I haven’t eaten today.’”
As his suspicions grew, he went to the Craighead County Health Unit, 611 E. Washington Ave., to get a free virus test.
“It is so easy to go there and get tested,” Harden said. “All you have to do is sit in your car and roll down the window.”
He’s been recovering at home. And he posted this last week on his social media account:
“I’ve spent two weeks in hell from this bioweapon and it’s not a stretch to say I was near death. I could not breath, was coughing so hard I was vomiting, could not see straight, and was about to fall out of my chair from lack of oxygen. Rewind time and I would have gotten vaccinated.”
Something Harden didn’t know is that he didn’t have to worry about his medical bills, had he gone to a hospital, said Ty Jones, spokesman for NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital.
“That is covered by the CARES Act.,” Jones said. “If a person has COVID and doesn’t have insurance or money to pay, it is covered by the Cares Act.”
Dr. Shane Speights, dean of the Jonesboro campus of the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine, said he and his colleagues have noticed a trend in recent weeks as new cases and hospitalizations from the delta variant have risen so quickly.
“There seems to be a significant increase in the amount of misinformation about COVID, the COVID vaccines, unapproved treatments, etc., being passed around on social media,” Speights said. “We saw this last fall, but there has been a noticeable increase recently. For example, there was a video of a ‘doctor’ in Indiana speaking to a school board, who went on a rant quoting misinformation about COVID and the vaccine, then ended his comments trying to sell his proprietary vitamin supplements to the group.”
Speights said the video was seen about 90 million times.
“The follow up articles debunking his claims were only shared a few thousand times,” Speights said. “That’s just one story, there are many like it. The point is that misinformation spreads much faster and further than facts. But that’s not new.”
What is new is that misinformation on the internet is costing people their lives, Speights said.
“I have significant concerns for someone who chooses not to be vaccinated because they believe one of the countless myths being propagated on social media,” Speights said. “The current data is pretty clear, 92 percent of the patients hospitalized in Arkansas with COVID since February are unvaccinated and 90 percent of the people that died from COVID during that same time were unvaccinated.”
As of Tuesday, 1,135,361, or 44.4 percent of Arkansas residents age 12 and older were fully vaccinated, according to the Arkansas Department of Heath. In Craighead County, just 36.3 percent were fully vaccinated.
Harden said everyone he knows has received the vaccine, but he simply didn’t trust it.
“They’re all fine, and looking back I would have totally gotten it,” he said, adding he feels fortunate to be able to tell his story.