Dr. Joel Kahn is a fairly well-known cardiologist in my neck of the woods who recently came to my attention for his Twitter feed and its plethora of antivaccine pseudoscience. We’ll get to that in a moment, after I look at who Dr. Kahn is, given that I’ve only mentioned him on this blog one time before, in the context of his recommending a book by Vani Hari, otherwise known as the “Food Babe.” Specifically, he is an “integrative” (or, as he likes to put it, “holistic”) cardiologist who practices in the suburbs of Detroit at what appears to be a concierge practice. Of note, Dr. Kahn DOES NOT ACCEPT INSURANCE PAYMENTS FOR OFFICE VISITS (and the all caps are not mine, but straight from the page on his website that informs patients of this). Also, he charges $500 for a one-hour consultation and $250 for half-hour followup visits. (Nice work if you can get it.) Dr. Khan calls his clinic the Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity and advertises thusly:
The Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity in Bingham Farms, Michigan, is one of the world’s premier cardiac clinics. Joel Kahn, MD, and his team offer advanced care using a direct patient model — you have exclusive access to Dr. Kahn, longer and more thorough consultations, and access to the most advanced preventive screenings.
One of the clinic’s sought-after services is a one-on-one thorough evaluation with Dr. Kahn. It’s called the Ultimate Heart Check Up. Additional services at the clinic include Carotid Intimal Medial Thickness (CIMT) ultrasounds, EndoPat artery health screenings, advanced labs, calcium scores, genetic testing, and nutrition counseling.
I note that these tests are in addition to the consultation, with the CIMT ultrasound costing an additional $250; the EndoPat $225; and more, including the unproven “GAINSwave low-intensity shock wave therapy of erectile dysfunction, whose sales pitch describes it as a “turnkey, direct-pay brand that has been successful in helping our network of providers easily add an additional revenue stream to their practices,” “particularly powerful tool for edifying a solo practitioner’s or small practice’s independence,” and whose deployment “can augment existing services for virtually any medical practice.” Generously, Dr. Kahn notes:
You must carry insurance to cover other medical services. The Kahn Center fees are for the personalized services and enhanced access offered in the program in his office. For other medical visits and hospital services you will need your insurance.
One wonders how many of these “specialized tests” are covered by health insurance, but I do know that health insurance won’t pay for the numerous supplements that Dr. Kahn sells. Be that as it may, Dr. Kahn is fairly famous. His website includes a bunch of logos of television shows and other media in which he has appeared, including—of course!—Dr. Oz and the incredibly popular The Joe Rogan Experience podcast. Amusingly, there, as the “vegan cardiologist,” Dr. Kahn “debated” a an acupuncturist and “functional medicine” advocate named Chris Kresser who is also a famous proponent of the so-called “paleo diet.” In any event, Dr. Kahn’s whole brand is to recommend a plant-based diet as, more or less, the be-all and end-all of heart health, having written books with titles like The Plant-Based Solution: America’s Healthy Heart Doc’s Plan to Power Your Health. While there’s nothing intrinsically horrible about such a position, given that there is decent evidence that a more plant-based diet can be associated with better heart health, Dr. Kahn has, from my observation, gone a bit beyond that and appears to attribute near-miraculous powers to such a diet, much the way Dr. Dean Ornish does.
Dr. Kahn didn’t use to bother me that much, given that he seemed to be a run-of-the-mill vegan-promoting cardiologist most of whose other medical advice was sound. However, as time has gone on Dr. Kahn appears to have drifted further and further from science-based medicine. For instance, he’s now quite credulous about touting unproven health benefits of CBD and hemp oil, as well as “heavy metal detox” quackery:
And conspiracy mongering about how “pharma” and the FDA are “suppressing” plant-based miracles:
Dr. Kahn has become a font of COVID-19 and antivaccine misinformation.
So here were the very first posts I found on Dr. Kahn’s feeds. First, Instagram:
And on Twitter this morning as I was going over this post one last time:
Interestingly, Dr. Kahn’s promotion of “detox” quackery didn’t trigger Facebook’s algorithms, but his antivaccine stylings did.
Be that as it may, you will note that the Facebook and Instagram posts recycle a common antivaccine meme about “informed consent.” I’m just amazed that Dr. Kahn restrained himself from adding a rape analogy, given that antivaxxers frequently love to compare “forced vaccination” to rape. In any event, as I’ve discussed many times before, the version of “informed consent” that antivaxxers tout is in reality “misinformed refusal,” in which misinformation is used to drive a decision to refuse vaccines based on a distorted version of “informed consent” in which risks are hugely inflated and benefits as badly downplayed, if not denied altogether. Now he’s bragging on Twitter about having been put in “Facebook jail” for promoting misinformation. (I know, I know, Dr. Kahn doesn’t view it as misinformation, but it is, as I’ll explain yet again.)
There was such copious misinformation on Dr. Kahn’s social media that I had a hard time deciding which examples to feature in this post. However, there was one that I definitely had to start with, namely this Instagram post:
That’s right. Dr. Kahn is likening vaccination during pregnancy to smoking during pregnancy. I assume that he’s referring to the COVID-19 vaccine, but he doesn’t actually specifically say that he is. What tells me that he is are the hashtags “#experimental” and “#EUA,”the latter of which clearly refers to the emergency use authorization used to distribute the current COVID-19 vaccines and the “experimental” referring to a favorite antivaccine trope about COVID-19 vaccines, that they are still “experimental.” This latter trope is based more on a legal, rather than scientific definition, of “experimental” or “investigational, a legal definition that antivaxxers like Del Bigtree have exploited for propaganda purposes. Basically, drugs or vaccines that have not yet received full FDA approval must still be referred to as “investigational.” However, from a scientific standpoint these vaccines are clearly not “investigational” any more. They’ve all undergone phase 1, 2, and 3 testing, with phase 3 clinical trials involving tens of thousands of subjects. Moreover, they’ve been administered to hundreds of millions of people now, with an overall excellent record of safety and efficacy, efforts of antivaxxers to use fear mongering to claim otherwise notwithstanding, including memes like this one shared by Dr. Kahn:
Note his promotion of “natural immunity” and his parroting of common misconceptions about mRNA vaccines, which have actually been in development for coronaviruses and other pathogens for at least 15 years.
Contrary to his claim that he is “pro-vaccine,” Dr. Kahn is no more “pro-vaccine” than Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who likes to portray himself as “fiercely pro-vaccine” while likening vaccine mandates to the Holocaust, which, I’ve argued, is a form of Holocaust denial. It’s a form of Holocaust denial that Dr. Kahn gleefully echoes alongside the claim that children are at such low risk from COVID-19 that it’s wrong to vaccinate them:
The issue of vaccinating teens is a nuanced one in which the evidence does come out on the side of vaccination as being considerably safer than letting COVID-19 spread among teens. Of course, Dr. Kahn is not about nuance. He’s about comparing the vaccine program to the Holocaust and vaccine advocates to Nazis, while ignoring all the other non-fatal complications that COVID-19 can cause in children. It’s a technique that antivaxxers used to use to argue against the MMR vaccine.
But let’s continue with more examples, starting a couple of days ago:
Here, Dr. Kahn can’t believe that a journal retracted an article because it was a bad article by antivaccine activists that somehow got published. He can’t believe that editorial board members (including Edzard Ernst, who asked if the lead author was incompetent or dishonest) might have resigned because they honestly thought the article was so bad. No! To him it had to be a campaign to “suppress” science showing how supposedly dangerous COVID-19 vaccines are! He even does so while citing an article that explains that the study misinterpreted data to make the false claim that COVID-19 vaccines kill two people for every three that they save from COVID-19. As I’ve joked to people who sent me a link to this study last week, because I was busy and didn’t blog much last week, the study was published and retracted before I could even write about how awful it was!
Then there’s Dr. Kahn’s promotion of a favorite antivaccine bit of disinformation, the misrepresentation of reports to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) database. Here are some examples from Dr. Kahn’s social media feeds, in which he posts anecdotes and references to VAERS straight from the antivax playbook:
He also promotes Tweets from TrialSiteNews.com:
The claim that vaccines, be they COVID-19 vaccines or vaccines against other diseases, violate the Nuremberg Code is complete and utter bullshit that I’ve discussed more times than I can remember (for example, here). It’s a favorite lie used by antivaxxers that allows them to portray vaccine advocates as Nazis and physicians as Nazi doctors. I also note that this particular website features Dr. Peter McCullough on its advisory board. Dr. McCullough, as you might recall, is peddling the lie that COVID-19 vaccines are killing huge numbers of people. He also promotes an unproven drug and supplement cocktail for COVID-19, because, where there are COVID-19 conspiracy theories, there is grift. It’s a near-universal rule.
Then there’s this;
“I’m not antivaccine. I’m a pro-safe vaccines!”
“I’m not antivaccine. I’m a vaccine safety advocate!
“I’m fiercely pro-vaccine!”
Remember those quotes? They came from Jenny McCarthy 13 years ago and other antivaxxers echoing her, with the last one being the one I mentioned above by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who, again, is most definitely not pro-vaccine.
Before COVID-19 vaccines even received EUAs, I was warning that antivaxxers would weaponize VAERS reports this way, and since then I’ve discussed how antivaxxers (including Dr. McCullough) have misrepresented VAERS as showing mass death and destruction (and female infertility) from COVID-19 vaccines several times; so I won’t go into it again other than leaving embedded links. It’s all part of antivaxxers’ efforts to undermine confidence in COVID-19 vaccines.
Then there was Dr. Kahn saying this:
Yes, Dr. Kahn is promoting a favorite antivaccine talking point that the COVID-19 vaccines based on mRNA or adenovirus vectors are “experimental gene therapy.” They’re not. Nor do they “hack the software of life.” They’re vaccines based on technology that has been in development for two decades. Also note the false equivalence. Sure, it might be nice to do the things that Dr. Kahn advocates in terms of promoting healthy living, but right now we’re in the middle of a pandemic that’s killed over 600K people in the US alone. Vaccines are a way out. Reasonable people can argue whether “vaccine sweepstakes” and “vaccine lotteries” are a reasonable way to promote vaccine uptake, but that does not appear to be what Dr. Kahn is about.
He’s also all-in, it would appear, for ivermectin for COVID-19:
I’ve already written a post about how weak that review was. But wait, there’s more:
I can’t resist mentioning that that particular website is maintained by the same astroturf group that was promoting hydroxychloroquine a year ago.
And just today:
To summarize, I’ve already written about how ivermectin is the new hydroxychloroquine in that it has low scientific plausibility, no good evidence in clinical trials that it has significant activity against SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and is being promoted by astroturf groups pushing conspiracy theories about ivermectin being “suppressed” by big pharma and the government in order to promote COVID-19 vaccines and, of course, profits for big pharma.
What happened to our “vegan cardiologist” with respect to vaccines and COVID-19?
I could go on and on and on listing posts on the various social media endeavors maintained by Dr. Kahn in which antivaccine misinformation and COVID-19 conspiracy theories are promoted, but I think I’ve already posted enough to make my point. In the name of full disclosure, I also have to point out that Dr. Kahn was once the director of preventative cardiology at one of the hospitals at which I practice (not my cancer center!), which was a frustration to me. He was also faculty at my medical school. I don’t know if he still is, but I will definitely have to look into that.
My annoyance with Dr. Kahn’s previous (and possibly ongoing) academic and medical affiliations aside, not to mention his prominence in my neck of the woods, aside, I’m left with a question. You might notice that I haven’t really commented one way or the other on his promotion of a vegan diet as the near be-all and end-all of preventative cardiology, because the observation that a plant-based diet is associated with better health is not all that controversial for the most part, even if going as far as Dr. Kahn does in promoting the idea might be. That’s because I’m more interested in why he might have gone full COVID crank.
To address that question, I go back to my writings about the Cleveland Clinic, which, as you might recall, has gone all-in on “integrative medicine” quackery, having set up a traditional Chinese medicine herbal clinic, hired “functional medicine” guru Dr. Mark Hyman (it has been “wildly successful“), and set up a Wellness Clinic. You might remember that a few years ago the former director of that Wellness Center, Dr. Daniel Niedes, caused a stir with articles parroting antivaccine pseudoscience. He ended up being fired and going full “integrative quack” afterward. At the time, you might also remember that the Cleveland Clinic’s leadership should not have been so shocked that the director of its Wellness Clinic would go antivax, because that’s what happens when you let a culture of pseudoscience and magical thinking take hold within a department or institute in your hospital. What am I saying?
Basically, more and more, I’m coming to believe that integrative medicine, in which one “integrates” quackery with real, science-based medicine, all too often serves as a “gateway” to antivaccine pseudoscience. Sure, there are a lot of integrative medicine doctors who swear up and down that they are very much pro-vaccine, and most of them probably are. However, once you embrace one form of pseudoscience alongside science-based medicine, it becomes more likely that you will embrace others. Given how closely the rhetoric from antivaxxers about “natural immunity,” “toxins,” and distrust of big pharma aligns with similar beliefs among “integrative medicine” doctors, it shouldn’t be too surprising that a subset of such doctors goes down the rabbit hole of antivaccine conspiracy theories.
That appears to be what has happened to Dr. Kahn.