Last week, a Florida-based medical group called The Wellness Company made a big announcement: It would provide free care to those affected by the February train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. Residents, the company said, could simply go to a website to “register to receive free acute virtual care with a licensed doctor or medical provider.” Right away, the offer made headlines. Fox News ran a story; Kaiser Health News gave it a nod in a morning roundup.
“I founded this company to put patients before profits,” wrote Wellness Company founder Foster Coulson in a press release, “and that is exactly what we are doing.”
What that high-minded rhetoric doesn’t mention, though, is that The Wellness Company is not just an ordinary medical practice of community-minded physicians. Rather, it is a new company that says it is part of the right-wing “medical freedom” movement—which sees government interference in health care as dangerous. Over the last three years of the pandemic, the movement has grown as it opposes vaccine requirements and public health protections.
The Wellness Company’s top leaders have been at the center of this push. The organization’s chief scientific officer is Dr. Peter McCullough, a cardiologist who has garnered a massive following for his warnings about the supposed dangers of the Covid vaccines. Because of his statements about the vaccines, the American Board of Internal Medicine recommended last year that Dr. McCullough be stripped of his board certifications in internal medicine. The Wellness Company’s senior advisor is Dr. Paul Alexander, a former Trump official who participated in the anti-vaccine trucker convoys and called for officials who promoted the Covid vaccines to be imprisoned.
The Wellness Company declined to provide any details about how exactly a supplement and telehealth company focused on “medical freedom” planned to provide the services promised to those who had been exposed to toxic chemicals in Ohio.
But as Coulson himself noted in his press release, “East Palestine is simply not able to handle the magnitude of the crisis they are now facing.” Indeed, while the derailment has become a nexus for swirling rightwing conspiracy theories, it’s true that residents are desperate—the US government has been widely criticized for its failure to provide information and relief in the wake of the derailment.
The lack of clear public health guidance leaves victims searching for care and solutions, says Anna Swan, a postdoctoral scholar studying disinformation with the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public. “Offering free health care services when something like this happens appears to be a generous and selfless move on the surface—and one that is ostensibly not being taken by the health care system writ large,” she wrote in an email. Yet Swan doesn’t think The Wellness Company’s motives are as pure as they claim. Rather, she sees their offer as an example of “the ‘wellness’ industry’s continued reliance on emotional and moral appeals that take advantage of moments of tragedy, pain, or uncertainty.”
Founded in June 2022, The Wellness Company is the project of Canadian entrepreneur Foster Coulson, whose family made its fortune manufacturing firefighting planes. In a September episode of a right-wing podcast called House of Mears, Coulson told the origin story. He met the late Dr. Vladimir Zelenko through an employee who accompanied him as a security detail on a trip to Bolivia in 2019. A year later, in 2020, Coulson called Zelenko, who had by then gained national notoriety for his early promotion of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for Covid. The Trump administration touted the drug as a Covid cure, despite the lack of evidence that the treatment was effective, after consulting with Zelenko. When Coulson spoke to Zelenko, he was intrigued.
“We just had this connection,” Coulson recalled of their first phone call in 2020. “I knew in my heart that I needed to help him.”
Zelenko died of lung cancer in 2022, but Coulson says The Wellness Company is carrying on the doctor’s commitment to medical freedom. Its good works include selling supplements and telehealth consultations “to build a plan for you to de-prescribe from Big Pharma once and for all.”
In an “annual letter” that he published on the website, Coulson emphasized his altruistic motivations, accusing unspecified “other medical freedom companies” of unbridled greed. “They are owned by their donors and funded with dark money, or were created by big pharma, or led by billionaire crypto pedophiles,” he wrote. “Their motives always lead to the same places every single time: Fame, Money and Power.” The Wellness Company’s website prominently displays a quote from McCullough: “We refuse to profit from your sickness. Join the fight for medical freedom by supporting TWC.”
Yet in the ten months since he founded the company, Coulson and the other Wellness Company top brass have sought a certain kind of fame. All have been busy making media appearances on popular right-wing broadcasts. In October, Coulson was interviewed about The Wellness Company by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. In January, McCullough promoted the company on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ show. In an email to Mother Jones, McCullough wrote that he chose to appear on Alex Jones’ show because it “is important to reach all audiences since the COVID-19 vaccines have caused record injuries, disabilities, and death.” (McCullough, who had been banned from Twitter for spreading misinformation about Covid vaccines was reinstated in December.)
Stew Peters, the former bounty-hunter-turned live streamer with strong ties to white nationalist groups, offers a Wellness Company discount code. So does the website of the pro-Trump social media influencer duo Diamond and Silk. (Diamond died from a heart condition in January.)
Despite Coulson and McCullough’s claims that they aren’t motivated by profits, the supplements and services that The Wellness Company sells are not cheap. One called Spike Support Formula, which it recommends “to maintain daily health for anyone exposed to Covid, vaccines, or shedding,” costs $66. The Covid and Flu prevention package—which includes a supplement and a consultation with a telehealth doctor—is $120. Exemption letters “for all types of vaccines, and for all ages” cost $250. For $1,250, you can buy the Adverse Reaction Recovery package, which includes five virtual visits with a Wellness Company provider, as well as an at-home blood test designed to find “secondary effects of the vaccine.” (Members—who pay between $10 and $80 a month, depending on the level of service—get a discount on most products and consultations.)
The Wellness Company’s offerings are not limited to physical ailments. The company also offers a program that it calls the Warrior Wellness Initiative for “first responders” and, it seems, veterans. This program is designed to help “our warriors’ health [when it] falls out of balance.” For $265, shoppers can purchase a slew of supplements called “the Warrior Bundle.” In a section called “Quick Facts,” the website refers to mental illness among veterans, noting, “Almost as many American troops commit suicide as are killed in action.” (The Wellness Company did not respond to a question about whether the implication was that their supplements could help prevent veteran suicide.)
There is no high-quality medical evidence that the supplements The Wellness Company sells can treat the conditions their labels refer to, nor is there robust research showing the tests they offer can offer conclusive diagnoses. The Wellness Company does list studies on its website, but when I showed them to Joe Schwarcz, a science communication researcher and the director of McGill University’s Office for Science and Society, he was not impressed. Many of the studies, he explained, were about how the substances and compounds contained in the supplements behaved in lab experiments, not in randomized controlled trials, the gold standard study design that shows whether a drug does what it’s supposed to. A lab experiment, says Schwarcz, “does not prove that there’s any kind of clinical efficacy here.”
On a recent podcast, Coulson described the difficulty of wording medical claims. “We’re scared to put the words ‘long Covid’ on our website,” he said. “We have these packages, and we’re trying to figure out, what do you call ‘long Covid’ without saying it? Or ‘vaccine reaction’ without saying it?” McCullough wrote to Mother Jones that “no therapeutic claims are made for Wellness Company products.”
In addition to the 75,000 patients The Wellness Company claims to have helped, its leaders also seem to be influencing some high-profile Republican politicians. In December, the Brownstone Institute, a think tank that has advocated against vaccine mandates and Covid protections, hosted an event at which Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo spoke. An appointee of Florida governor Ron DeSantis and an outspoken critic of Covid vaccines, Ladapo noted that he is close with Wellness Company chief epidemiologist Harvey Risch. “Harvey [Risch] and I, we talk so much,” he said. “He’s helped me with so much, including a midnight phone call before we issued some guidance.” Later that month, when Florida governor Ron DeSantis announced an initiative to hold vaccine pharmaceutical companies accountable for injuries allegedly caused by Covid vaccines, Wellness Company employees were among the “leaders in the medical freedom movement” who issued a statement of support for DeSantis. “We praise Governor DeSantis for this courageous and much needed move,” they wrote.
At the Brownstone institute event, Alexander also said that he had met with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and that he was planning to meet with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.). His goal, he said, was to hold advocates of Covid protections accountable.
“I want every single person who put their hands on any policy that costed lives of Americans or anyone, I want them cleaned out financially and if we could, imprison some of them,” he said. “I want them sitting in a jail.”
In a February 16 post on his Substack, Alexander reported that McCullough, Risch, and he had been invited to a meeting at former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home. McCullough couldn’t make it because he was traveling, but Alexander wrote that he was “grateful to have dinner there, to be asked there, and to meet with the people we did.” He added, “Mandingo, vengeance, viciousness is needed by firing them all and jailing wrong doers, all Covid lockdown lunatics and involved with the vaccine, jail them, case closed. Trump loves nation. It is key. Most do not!”
Wellness Company leaders did not respond to a question about what they discussed in their meeting at Mar-a-Lago; they did not comment on their future political ambitions. Right now, they seem focused on their efforts in East Palestine, where they appear to be making a favorable impression. In a Facebook group devoted to helping residents near the site of the derailment, at least four posts over the last few weeks directed viewers to The Wellness Company. “I trust them 100 percent!” one commenter wrote. On the Wellness Company’s own Facebook page, posts about their East Palestine offer garnered even more enthusiasm. “OMG what a blessing!!” gushed someone in the comments. “Thank you so much!! God Bless you good doctors!!”
Images from left: Brian Cahn/Zuma; mpi34/MediaPunch /IPX/AP, Tyler Sizemore/Hearst Connecticut Media/AP