UCLA physician prompts criticism following appearance at anti-vaccination rally
Dr. Christopher Rake, a UCLA Health anesthesiologist, was recorded speaking at an anti-vaccination rally last month, igniting criticism from fellow UCLA physicians for contributing to the spread of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation. (Daily Bruin file photo)
A UCLA physician’s anti-vaccination activities prompted criticism from some UCLA faculty and staff, who said health care workers spreading COVID-19 vaccine misinformation threaten public safety.
A social media user recorded Dr. Christopher Rake, an anesthesiologist at UCLA Health, at an anti-vaccination rally. In the video, Rake said he was opposed to mandatory vaccination in the workplace and that he founded Citizens United for Freedom – an organization against mandatory vaccines – in response to an Aug. 5 California order that all health care workers must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 30.
Dr. Christopher Rake, an anesthesiologist from UCLA medical center, tells the crowd, “They want to force a vaccination or medication or treatment into my body that I don’t want. So they’re telling me, ‘Take the jab or we take your job.’ And I’m here to say no. That’s not ok.” pic.twitter.com/wP2kZyS1o7
— Andrew Kimmel (@andrewkimmel) August 30, 2021
CUFF’s website lists various resources containing vaccine misinformation, including documents claiming the safety trials conducted were insufficient and a link to a website instructing people on how to obtain prescriptions for ivermectin, an antiparasitic drug that has seen a sharp uptick in use after being falsely promoted as a method to self-medicate for COVID-19.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not authorized or approved ivermectin to treat COVID-19, and taking it in large amounts may lead to overdose and potential hospitalization, according to the FDA website.
“The comments recorded Sunday do not represent the views of UCLA Health,” said Phil Hampton, director of communications at UCLA Health, in an emailed statement. “Unvaccinated people remain at a greater risk of contracting COVID-19 and experiencing more severe symptoms, and we strongly encourage employees to be vaccinated.”
UCLA Health also replied to the original tweet containing the video of Rake, stating they require health care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo regular testing.
These comments do not represent the views of UCLA Health. Unvaccinated people are more likely to contract COVID-19 & we encourage employees to be vaccinated. We adhere to the state public health order requiring health care workers to be vaccinated or undergo regular testing.
— UCLA Health (@UCLAHealth) August 31, 2021
As of Sept. 17, Rake’s profile was still live on UCLA Health’s website. Rake did not respond to The Bruin’s request for comment.
Other UCLA physicians as well as faculty from the David Geffen School of Medicine have voiced support for a lawsuit against the University of California’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate requiring all faculty, staff and students to be fully vaccinated before fall classes begin. According to the court document, the faculty stated they should be able to make a choice about receiving the vaccine and expressed concerns over the adverse effects of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
However, other health care workers and faculty members expressed their frustration at Rake’s views and emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated during the ongoing pandemic.
“I think it’s mind boggling that a physician at a world-class institution would go to such a rally and use their name as a physician to directly contradict public health,” said Dr. Anna Yap, a resident physician in emergency medicine at UCLA.
Dr. Nina Shapiro, a professor of head and neck surgery at the School of Medicine and the director of pediatric otolaryngology at Mattel Children’s Hospital, said vaccine misinformation from doctors could be extremely dangerous.
“We as a health care community … were some of the earliest in the country to have access to it,” Shapiro said. “To twist that into a negative – especially when you know one of the main reasons why we are in this disastrous delta (variant-driven surge) is due to slow vaccine acceptance in the community – and spewing this misinformation is frankly deadly.”
Although Rake said in the video that he felt as if he were being forced to take safety precautions like getting the COVID-19 vaccine, Shapiro said she disagreed. She added that UCLA has provided great support to its staff throughout the pandemic by giving enough personal protective equipment and information on how to stay safe.
The vast majority of physicians and nurses at UCLA are vaccinated, as it is critical for them to protect themselves for the safety of their patients, Shapiro said. Yap added that the vaccine provides a sense of security after working on the frontlines throughout the pandemic.
The goal of vaccination is not only to prevent people from dying of COVID-19 but also to ensure non-COVID patients with other medical issues can get the care they need, Yap said, adding that this is increasingly difficult as her hospital frequently reaches capacity amid the recent surge in cases due to the delta variant.
In the week of Aug. 27, three UCLA Health or affiliated hospitals – Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center and Harbor-UCLA Medical Center – were above 90% capacity, according to the Californian.
Wait times at the emergency department where Yap works have reached 10 hours at times, and she has resorted to treating patients in the waiting room and taking on tasks typically meant for nurses because they are short on space and staff, she said.
“People are dying of preventable things (such as COVID-19) but our health care system is too overloaded because we as a society have too many individuals who think that … the ability to have a choice is more important,” Yap said.
She added that people should not listen to physicians such as Rake who do not follow the science of vaccines.
“For every one of him, you have hundreds of physicians who are out there saying, ‘Get the vaccine, wear masks, let’s help end this pandemic together,’” Yap said.