Vaccination Anxiety

 

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has just been released for use again. It was temporarily taken off the market when a “pause” was called for by the Biden administration after some rare cases of blood clots were discovered. The CDC now reports a total of 15 cases were found, all in women and mostly under the age of 50 years, out of over 8 million people vaccinated. Three of these women died.

To put this in perspective, the risk of blood clots is much higher from Covid-19 disease than from the vaccines associated with these complications. Blood clotting all over the body is one complication of severe forms of the disease. About 15% to 20% of Covid-19 patients who are admitted to intensive care units develop blood clots, according to Dr. Jean Connors, a hematologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Nevertheless, anxiety about vaccination is growing. It now appears that the supply of vaccines will soon outpace the demand. The Kaiser Family Foundation said this week that the country will likely reach a tipping point on vaccine enthusiasm by Mid-May, when supply outstrips demand. The Wall Street Journal reports the U.S. weekly average of vaccine doses administered, which has been generally rising since mid-December, ticked downward last week. The number of people receiving their first dose fell sharply, from a 7-day average of 1.9 million April 11 to 1.4 million April 17.

Enthusiasm for the Covid-19 vaccines has waxed and waned. When vaccines began to be rolled out, about a third of the population wanted to receive one as soon as possible and about 40% were unsure or wanted to wait and see. After successful rollout of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, many of those who were initially reluctant wanted to be vaccinated. However, the proportion who definitely didn’t want vaccination remained roughly about 20%.

Below is a chart depicting the percentage of state residents who have been vaccinated. Overall, 28% of the population is fully vaccinated, while 52% have received at least one dose of vaccine.

What percentage of the U.S. population needs to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity?

I addressed this question in an earlier post (Herd Immunity is Near) but it remains controversial. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical expert for the Biden administration, says we must have 70 – 85% of the population vaccinated. But inexplicably, this ignores the impact of natural immunity, which is achieved when someone contracts the Covid-19 virus and survives.

Dr. Marty Makary, professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, estimates over half the population of California has natural immunity today. This is based on data from the California Department of Public Health that found at least 38.5% had antibodies against Covid-19 as early as February. Extrapolating this data two months later suggests over half of Californians have natural immunity. If this is representative of the nation, herd immunity may be achieved very soon.

The next phase of the vaccination effort will center on making it easier for people to get vaccinated, according to Jeffrey Zients, the White House Covid-19 response coordinator. The government will also double down on vaccine education and measures to strengthen confidence in the vaccine.

The release of the J & J vaccine is an important step in vaccinating more Americans, especially those who are homebound or homeless. If you’re nervous about the J & J vaccine, find a site that will give you the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, although I believe the J & J vaccine benefits far outweigh the risks. But above all, get vaccinated – unless you have a health condition that prohibits it or your doctor has advised against it.

Masking Children While Censoring Covid Information

Do children need to wear masks? That’s an important question that millions of parents want answered. Yet big tech is censoring those answers they don’t agree with.

Jay Bhattacharya, Stanford University physician and economist, writes in The Wall Street Journal his experience with both issues. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis hosted a roundtable of scientists to discuss the state’s Covid policies. Don’t look for this kind of transparency from some governors, like New York’s Andrew Cuomo. DeSantis brought together Dr. Bhattacharya, Dr. Sunetra Gupta of Oxford University, Dr. Martin Kulldorff of Harvard University, and Dr. Scott Atlas of Stanford University. This distinguished panel of experts discussed the effectiveness of Florida’s Covid policies in the past year including restrictions of the lives of children.

One of the topics was the wisdom of children wearing masks. The press was allowed to ask questions and a video of the event was posted on YouTube by local media. But last week YouTube removed a recording of this routine policy discussion from its website. The company claimed the panel members and Dr. Bhattacharya were trafficking in misinformation.  The company said it removed the video “because it included content that contradicts the consensus of local and global health authorities regarding the efficacy of masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19.”

One has to wonder who are the experts YouTube considers more authoritative? This panel are all experts from the world’s most prestigious academic institutions. It seems clear they are not considered experts because they don’t agree with the Biden administration. It has been clear from the beginning of this administration that science would take a back seat to political agendas. (see CDC Director Caves to Politics) Big tech, like YouTube, is certainly in sync with this White House.

Dr. Bhattacharya says his reasoning regarding children wearing masks is a cost-benefit analysis. The benefits of masking children are small to none; the costs are much higher. He cites a study from Iceland conducted early in the pandemic when masking was uncommon. The study used a representative sample to track the source of Covid infections. The authors used contact-tracing methods paired with genetic sequencing analysis to establish precisely how the disease spread. Senior author of the study, Kari Stefansson, later told reporters that “even if children do get infected, they are less likely to transmit the disease to others than adults. We have not found a single instance of a child infecting parents.”

This study is consistent with others in the scientific literature. They all reach the same conclusion: Even unmasked children pose less of a risk for disease spread than adults.

The New England Journal of Medicine published a study from Sweden in February where primary schools have been open for in-person instruction throughout the pandemic. No masks were required, even when cases were increasing. Of more than 1.8 million children in school, in spring 2020 ages 1 through 15, not one died from Covid-19. This study also showed that teachers were at low risk for Covid-19; they contracted the disease at rates lower than the average of other Swedish essential workers.

More importantly, the evidence is overwhelming that masking can harm children’s developmental progress. Even the World Health Organization’s guidance document on child masking says that up to age 5 masking children may harm the achievement of childhood developmental milestones. For children between 6 and 11, the same document says that mask guidance should consider the “potential impact of mask-wearing on learning and psychosocial development.” They also go on to warn that mask-wearing during exercise may impair breathing.

Dr. Bhattacharya and the panel recommends against masking of children up to age eleven. Many other doctors and scientists agree. This is important information for parents, teachers, education administrators and politicians who are making mask-wearing decisions for children. It is unconscionable that YouTube would censor such vital information.

Fake Science Behind Long Covid Symptoms

How long does Covid last? Most Covid patients recover in 14 days, but some have symptoms longer. There is a growing effort by some to contend they have chronic Covid symptoms, sometimes referred to as “long Covid”, also known as post-Covid syndrome. Is this a real or imagined condition?

Dr. Jeremy Devine, a psychiatry resident at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario says there is no scientific basis for this condition. Yet, the National Institutes of Health last month announced a $1.15 billion initiative to research the “prolonged health consequences” of Covid-19 infection.

Dr. Devine, writing in The Wall Street Journal, says it deserves serious study. There is evidence that some elderly patients, with co-morbidities, do experience symptoms that outlast the coronavirus infection. But, as a psychiatrist, he notes that such symptoms can also be psychologically generated or caused by a physical illness unrelated to the prior infection. He says “long Covid” is largely an invention of vocal patient activist groups. Legitimizing it with generous funding risks worsening the symptoms the NIH is hoping to treat.

It seems that the concept of “long Covid” has its origin in a patient advocacy group called Body Politic. Launched in 2018, this group describes itself on its website as “a queer feminist wellness collective merging the personal and the political.” In March 2020, the group’s cofounders created the Body Politic Covid-19 Support Group. As part of their mission of “cultivating patient-led research,” the organization coordinated a series of online surveys on persistent symptoms. Based on the results of these surveys, the group produced the first report on “long Covid” in May, 2020.

Yet, many of the respondents never had Covid-19. Of those who self-identified as having persistent symptoms attributed to Covid and responded to the survey, not even a quarter had tested positive for the virus. Nearly half (47.8%) never had any testing and 27.5% tested negative for Covid-19. Body Politic published these results in a second, larger survey in December, 2020. Of 3,762 respondents, only 600 or 15.9% had actually tested positive for Covid at any time.

This shoddy research was nevertheless supported by NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, who has repeatedly supported the Body Politic Covid-19 Support Group’s patient-led research initiatives, promoting the surveys in a series of official blog posts, according to Dr. Devine. In fact, he points out, the NIH announcement of their decision to commit $1.15 billion to long Covid research explicitly referred to the Body Politic research surveys.

Why would a scientific institution, such as NIH, support unscientific conclusions?

Dr. Devine opines that this subjugation of scientific rigor to preconceived belief reflects a common dynamic encountered in clinical practice. He says, “Patients who struggle with chronic and vague symptoms often vehemently reject a physician’s diagnosis that suggests an underlying mental health issue, in part because of the stigma around mental illness and the false belief that psychologically generated symptoms aren’t “real.”

This situation is not unique in medicine. Other medical conditions, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, have advocacy groups to support those who claim to suffer from their symptoms. Solve ME/CFS is a support group, founded for those who claim to suffer from myalgic encephalomyelitis and chronic fatigue syndrome. This group was founded in 1987 by patients who felt their chronic and numerous medical complaints – including fatigue, “brain fog,” and an inability to exert themselves physically or mentally – were being dismissed by their physicians and neglected by the medical community.

The common denominator in all these support groups is the fundamental resistance to accept the idea that their chronic symptoms are related to an underlying mental health issue despite mainstream medicine’s assertions to the contrary. They reject the notion that these patients actually suffer from anxiety or depression or both.

In an effort to strengthen their political and media support for their position, Body Politic and Solve ME/CFS have announced they are launching the Long Covid Alliance. Its mission they declare: “To transform the current understanding of Long Covid and related post-infectious illnesses” including ME/CFS.

Dr. Devine says a central feature underlying many psychosomatic-symptom disorders is a fixed belief that one is ill and unlikely to recover. By drawing attention to and legitimizing the ever-present threat of long Covid, medical authorities will lead a large group of impressionable patients to believe that their Covid-19 symptoms have not resolved and that they are helpless victims of an unrelenting sickness.

The media has perpetuated such thinking in the past. Dr. Devine reminds us this occurred in the 1940s with chronic brucellosis, in the 1980s with Epstein Barr virus, and even today with chronic Lyme’s disease.  He concludes “The NIH’s decision is a victory for pseudoscience and will do more to harm than help patients.”

 

What do you believe? Send me your comments.