First things first. I am not a doctor, never have been, and pretty sure I’ll never be one. Nor am I an equestrian. In fact, the closest I’ve come to a horse was decades ago at the K-Bar ranch when they gave me the slowest horse they could find for the round-up. Even the cattle took pity on me.
So, I am no expert. Just someone who knows how to do a bit of research. I am writing at a time when, despite our overwhelming desire to get back to normal, we are still in the midst of a COVID emergency. When our President has decided to use his powers to mandate that federal employees, and those of companies that get federal contracts and those who interact with them, get vaccinated.
Why? Because COVID deaths are up to 1,560 a day, a 55 percent increase, with 161,327 new cases on September 5, 2021, up 8 percent. By the time you read this, we’ll have surpassed two milestones: 650,000 American deaths and 41 million cases. The Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci, recently told AXIOS that people are getting infected at 10 times the rate we need to get COVID under control:
“The endgame is to suppress the virus. Right now, we’re still in pandemic mode, because we have 160,000 new infections a day. That’s not even modestly good control … which means it’s a public health threat … In a country of our size, you can’t be hanging around and having 100,000 infections a day. You’ve got to get well below 10,000 before you start feeling comfortable,” Fauci said.
We try very hard to forget these realities. And yet cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have recently been moving ever upward, as the Delta variant surge moves from the south up north and to the west. As we memorialize 9/11, it’s hard to believe that 30,000 Americans died of COVID in August and we’re likely to lose up to 40,000 in September.
I don’t know about you, but it’s one thing when an adult takes risks, refuses to wear masks, and chooses not to get vaccinated, deciding to play the COVID odds. But it is adding another magnitude of risk when they expose unprotected children, children who don’t yet have the luxury of vaccination, and are unable to decide for themselves whether they can wear masks in their schools. Our hospitals and ICUs are now occupied by innocent kids.
COVID cases among children are surging. The American Academy of Pediatrics reported “As of September 2, over 5 million children have tested positive for COVID-19 since the onset of the pandemic. About 252,000 cases were added the past week, the largest number of child cases in a week since the pandemic began. After declining in early summer, child cases have increased exponentially, with over 750,000 cases added between August 5 and September 2.” [Emphasis added]
Remember when we took solace in the fact that children were largely unaffected by COVID, and the prevailing wisdom was that infected adults were passing COVID to their children. That’s changing before our very eyes, and the children are passing it to adults:
According to the New York Times: “A majority of United States counties were experiencing extremely high COVID-19 transmission in early September, according to an analysis of coronavirus case and testing data by The New York Times and public health experts. This means that unvaccinated people in those counties are at extremely high risk. Vaccinated people are at lower risk.”
Closer to home: “The average number of new cases in Berkshire County reached 27 yesterday, an 80 percent increase from the day before. Because of substantial spread, the CDC recommends that even vaccinated people wear masks here. Since January of last year, at least 1 in 16 people who live in Berkshire County have been infected, and at least 1 in 411 people have died.”
As for vaccinations, we’re behind the rest of the Commonwealth:
The Washington Post’s September 3, 2021 edition put a human face to our worsening dilemma: “Brian Pierce, the coroner in Baldwin County, Ala., thought he had seen the last of the coronavirus months ago as the area’s death count held steady at 318 for most of the spring and summer. But then in July and August, the fatalities began mounting and last week, things got so bad, the state rolled a trailer into his parking lot as a temporary morgue. ‘I think most people were thinking, “We’re good,” he said. “Life was almost back to normal.” Now, I’m telling my kids again to please stay home.’” [Emphasis added]
Were we really good? Were we back to normal? Normality, quite the concept. This summer, in Great Barrington, almost no one stayed home. At the rare times I ventured from my writing cave, hours after my early morning fresh air iced espresso, GB resembled an entertaining, if slightly bizarre, outdoor summer stock musical: a very few familiar locals interspersed with the large imported crowd of shoppers, sidewalks as packed as Fifth Avenue during a snowless Christmas vacation. Cars shark-like in a determined search of a space. Blame it on my COVID PTSD (Present Traumatic Stress Disorder), but I so often found myself hallucinating a special pandemicized version of REM’s wonderful “Happy, Shiny, People.” Do me a favor. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Now, just maybe you too can hear it: “Meet me in the crowd, people, people. Throw your love around, love me, love me. Take it into town, happy, happy.”
I kept hoping our visitors would put aside their cellphones for just a moment, so they could pull off one last climactic dance number, prancing gracefully up Railroad Street as the oh-so-young and enthusiastic Michael Stipe once did. With an all-together-now, joyous singalong, as if their very lives depended on it: “Shiny mask-less happy people holding hands. Shiny happy shopping people holding hands.”
To me, downtown GB sometimes seemed an absolutely fabulous display of denial times 10. What COVID? We’re the shiny happy mask-less people laughing! “What, me worry?”
It’s probably obvious by now, but in my own odd version of the Best Small Town in America, I haven’t seen normal in a growing while. And much as I’d like to live in Rep. Jim Jordan’s Republican Nirvana with all the other real Americans, I’ve watched and listened to too many doctors like Kavita Patel, Ashish Jha, Vin Gupta, Ezekiel Emanuel, Irwin Redlener, Natalie Azar, and just this morning Peter Hotez.
Jim Jordan notwithstanding, some things seem pretty obvious. As CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky puts it: “More children have COVID-19 because there is more disease in the community.”
I think it’s fair to say that it was the Delta variant that sabotaged our slow but steady move to normality. And many have not fully appreciated its greatly increased transmissibility. Or acknowledged that if we don’t vanquish Delta, we’ll likely need to respond to new variants.
Early on, in the first days of COVID, when so much seemed a mystery, there was greater justification for skepticism. Where and how did COVID first appear? Reasons to wonder, when every decision seemed tinged with politics. The never-ending lies of a Trump administration unwilling to level with the American people about how COVID spread, how virulent it was, and how unprepared we were to combat it. without the necessary protective gear, hospital beds, and ventilators.
So many people took the quick, dramatic development of the vaccines as a sign that the process was rushed, and because of that, decided the vaccine was ineffective, or worse, dangerous. And because our medical system was under such stress, and learning more every day about COVID and adapting on the fly, some people were especially vulnerable to misinformation and disinformation.
Regrettably, rumors, innuendo, and just plain falsities were multiplied many times on FOX News and Facebook, and by our President himself. How about we take a trip back in time.
Having heard COVID didn’t like sunlight, heat, and humidity, President Trump had a suggestion: “Suppose that we hit the body with a tremendous, whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light,” he proposed to Dr. Birx at the White House coronavirus press briefing. “Supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way.” He suggested maybe bleach would do the trick.
Then there were months in 2020 when Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson, and Sean Hannity of FOX News were touting the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19.
Then the President joined in. Remember that COVID briefing when President Trump counter posed his hydroxychloroquine hunch against Dr. Fauci’s decades-long experience fighting epidemics.
ABC News reported: “Trump said he thinks that because chloroquine has worked well against malaria, he thinks it will work well against COVID-19 … ‘We don’t know, but there’s a real chance that it could have a tremendous impact. It would be a gift from God if that worked. That would be a big game changer. So, we’ll see,’ Trump said.
“When asked if the drug was promising last Friday, the government’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, standing next to Trump, said ‘the answer is no’ because ‘the evidence you’re talking about … is anecdotal evidence … The information that you’re referring to specifically is anecdotal,’ he added. ‘It was not done in a controlled clinical trial. So, you really can’t make any definitive statement about it.’ Trump then stepped forward to add: ‘We’ll see. We’re going to know soon.’”
At a White House news briefing on April 3, 2020, President Trump continued to advocate for the malaria medicine: “Hydroxychloroquine — I don’t know, it’s looking like it’s having some good results. That would be a phenomenal thing.”
Then, the next day: “What do you have to lose? I’ll say it again: What do you have to lose? … Take it. I really think they should take it.”
Trump, at his April 5 White House news briefing: “It’s this powerful drug on malaria. And there are signs that it works on this. Some very strong signs.”
For two people, “what do you have to lose” turned out to be everything. A hospital in Phoenix, Arizona reported that “A man has died and his wife is under critical care after the couple, both in their 60s, ingested chloroquine phosphate, an additive commonly used at aquariums to clean fish tanks. Within 30 minutes of ingestion, the couple experienced immediate effects requiring admittance to a nearby Banner Health hospital.”
The growing use of hydroxychloroquine prompted medical experts to weigh in. The Mayo Clinic stated: “Using this medicine alone or with other medicines (eg, azithromycin) may increase your risk of heart rhythm problems (eg, QT prolongation, ventricular fibrillation, ventricular tachycardia,” warning that hydroxychloroquine “may cause muscle and nerve problems. Check with your doctor right away if you have muscle weakness, pain, or tenderness while using this medicine. Hydroxychloroquine may cause some people to be agitated, irritable, or display other abnormal behaviors. It may also cause some people to have suicidal thoughts and tendencies, or to become more depressed. If you or your caregiver notice any of these side effects, tell your doctor right away.”
Then the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued this statement about hydroxychloroquine sulfate (HCQ) and chloroquine phosphate (CQ): “FDA has determined that CQ and HCQ are unlikely to be effective in treating COVID-19 for the authorized uses in the EUA [Emergency Use Authorization]. Additionally, in light of ongoing serious cardiac adverse events and other serious side effects, the known and potential benefits of CQ and HCQ no longer outweigh the known and potential risks for the authorized use. This conclusion warrants revocation of the EUA for HCQ and CQ for the treatment of COVID-19.”
The World Health Organization weighed in:
But what about ivermectin? Used here in the States to treat intestinal worms in horses and cows, and for overseas refugees coming to the States as a presumptive treatment for parasites (with a prescribed dose of 200 mcg/kg orally once a day for 2 days before departure.) Now FOX viewers were misleadingly told about ivermectin’s ability to treat COVID. And ads began appearing on the internet advocating for governmental approval, along with an appeal for funds:
The British Ivermectin Recommendation Development Group (BIRD) calls itself “a truly grassroots initiative” and recommends “ivermectin for the prevention and treatment of covid-19 to reduce morbidity and mortality associated with covid-19 infection and to prevent covid-19 infection among those at higher risk.”
Groups like BIRD fed the FOX News machine. Ingraham, Carlson, and Hannity began the drumbeat for making ivermectin available, and criticized the medical community and Biden administration for not endorsing its immediate use.
It’s important to recognize how extraordinarily effective the misinformation/disinformation campaign about masking and vaccinations and self-prescribed treatments has been. It’s why I can’t write about COVID without writing about horses. It’s kind of remarkable that ordinary people have convinced themselves that, rather than getting a shot that’s been proven so successful, they will instead take anti-malaria drugs and medicines that have been developed to treat intestinal parasites, even rushing to get the version meant for livestock.
All of a sudden, all kinds of people were wanting to take Ivermectin. FOX Business reported: “The drug, ivermectin, has been reportedly flying off stores shelves in multiple states, including Texas and Oklahoma, even though it has not been approved for treating or preventing COVID-19 in humans.
“Noah Krzykowski, who manages the Irving Feed Store in Irving, Texas, told the outlet that he is seeing droves of new customers in search of the product. ‘You can tell the difference between someone who has cattle and someone who doesn’t,’ Krzykowski told the Morning News. ‘And we’re seeing a lot of people right now who don’t have cattle.’ Meanwhile, Alex Gieger, who manages the Red Earth Feed and Tack in Oklahoma City, Kansas, told KOCO that the store has been flooded with requests for the drug.” [Emphasis added]
The CDC prepared this graph showing how the number of prescriptions for ivermectin drastically increased as more and more influential conservatives endorsed the treatment:
On August 26, 2021, the CDC noted that the “clinical effects of ivermectin overdose include gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Overdoses are associated with hypotension and neurologic effects such as decreased consciousness, confusion, hallucinations, seizures, coma, and death. Ivermectin may potentiate the effects of other drugs that cause central nervous system depression such as benzodiazepines and barbiturates. [Emphasis added]
“Examples of recent significant adverse effects reported to U.S. poison control centers include the following:
- An adult drank an injectable ivermectin formulation intended for use in cattle in an attempt to prevent COVID-19 infection. This patient presented to a hospital with confusion, drowsiness, visual hallucinations, tachypnea, and tremors. The patient recovered after being hospitalized for nine days.
- An adult patient presented with altered mental status after taking ivermectin tablets of unknown strength purchased on the internet. The patient reportedly took five tablets a day for five days to treat COVID-19. The patient was disoriented and had difficulty answering questions and following commands. Symptoms improved with discontinuation of ivermectin after hospital admission.”
Quite naturally, the U.S. FDA was concerned:
Along with the tweet, the FDA issued this statement: “The FDA has not authorized or approved ivermectin for use in preventing or treating COVID-19 in humans or animals. Ivermectin is approved for human use to treat infections caused by some parasitic worms and head lice and skin conditions like rosacea. Currently available data do not show ivermectin is effective against COVID-19. Clinical trials assessing ivermectin tablets for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19 in people are ongoing.”
Even Merck, the manufacturer, reminded people that they believed there’s was no basis for recent claims about ivermectin and COVID:
The conservative movement then took aim at the efforts to vaccinate as many people as possible, conflating the need to bring the pandemic under control by halting its spread with totalitarianism and the denial of Constitutional rights.
Beyond the propaganda and the personal attacks on President Biden, Dr. Fauci, and others, there is an ongoing campaign to lie about the effectiveness of the vaccines, and an attempt to exaggerate the negative effects that some experience. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is one of those taking great liberties with what we’re learning from recent medical studies. His website makes these claims:
“CDC has announced (via the VAERS data base) that, as of June 23, it has received reports of over 1,000 cases of heart inflammation, known as myocarditis or pericarditis, in males between the ages of 16 and 24, following mRNA COVID-19 vaccinations.
“FDA recently included a warning about the risk of heart inflammation in the Moderna and Pfizer Vaccination fact sheets. The number of COVID 19-related vaccination injuries, including deaths, reported by CDC (VAERS) as of August 26, 2021 is 650,077. [Emphasis added]
These charts are remarkably misleading. You might assume the National Vaccine Information Center is a reputable clearinghouse for scientifically-based statistics. And that there have indeed been 13,911 deaths induced by the COVID vaccines. But these statistics are based on word searches on the CDC’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). And the real story is far more complicated than Kennedy and others who refer to VAERS statistics would like you to believe.
Here’s a fact check from Reuters: “Anyone can report events to VAERS and a disclaimer on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says: ‘The reports may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable’ When downloading the data, users are presented with a further disclaimer that the data does not include information from investigations into reported cases. The disclaimer also says “the inclusion of events in VAERS data does not imply causality.” [Emphasis added]
Reuters notes that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires vaccination providers to report any death after COVID-19 vaccination to VAERS. “Reports of death to VAERS following vaccination do not necessarily mean the vaccine caused the death” … To date, VAERS has not detected patterns in cause of death that would indicate a safety problem with COVID-19 vaccines.” [Emphasis added]
Kennedy and others have amplified the misleading use of VAERS data by the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC). NVIC declares it is “dedicated to preventing vaccine injuries and deaths through public education and advocating for informed consent protections in medical policies and public health laws. NVIC defends the human right to freedom of thought and conscience and supports the inclusion of flexible medical, religious and conscientious belief exemptions in vaccine policies and laws.”
The Washington Post notes that “The nation’s oldest anti-vaccine advocacy group often emphasizes that it is supported primarily by small donations and concerned parents, describing its founder as the leader of a ‘national, grass roots movement.’ But over the past decade a single donor has contributed more than $2.9 million to the National Vaccine Information Center, accounting for about 40 percent of the organization’s funding, according to the most recent available tax records. That donor, osteopathic physician Joseph Mercola, has amassed a fortune selling natural health products, court records show, including vitamin supplements, some of which he claims are alternatives to vaccines.”
It is incredibly important to check out the validity of the studies anti-vaccination organizations promote. They often neglect to inform readers that these studies are preliminary or published without thorough vetting and peer review.
Here’s a final example of how a shoddy study, incompetent journalism, and exploitation of both by a prominent public figure combine to mislead the public about a critically important issue.
First, the study: “SARS-CoV-2 mRNA Vaccination-Associated Myocarditis in Children Ages 12-17: A Stratified National Database Analysis” by Tracy Beth Høeg, Allison Krug, Josh Stevenson, John Mandrola. Their objectives: “Establishing the rate of post-vaccination cardiac myocarditis in the 12-15- and 16-17-year-old population in the context of their COVID-19 hospitalization risk is critical for developing a vaccination recommendation framework that balances harms with benefits for this patient demographic.” Which translates to me as comparing the risks to children 12-17 of cardiac myocarditis from getting the vaccine vs the risk of hospitalization with COVID-19.
In fact, this study, not peer-reviewed, was based on a search of the VAER database for words like cardiac myocarditis. And so, those occurrences of adverse effects from the vaccines are based on unverified and self-reported incidences reported to VAER. If these reports are mistaken or inaccurate, then their conclusions are likewise skewed and misleading.
Which is why the website publisher, medRxiv, a preprint server for the health sciences, appreciates that the studies they publish may prove to be inaccurate. MedRxiv, because they openly publish studies that have yet to peer-reviewed, makes a point to advise its readers that they should be “aware that articles on medRxiv have not been finalized by authors, might contain errors, and report information that has not yet been accepted or endorsed in any way by the scientific or medical community.
“We also urge journalists and other individuals who report on medical research to the general public to consider this when discussing work that appears on medRxiv preprints and emphasize it has yet to be evaluated by the medical community and the information presented may be erroneous.” [Emphasis added]
Nevertheless, here’s how the headline of the report in the September 10, 2021 edition of the UK Guardian presented the study: “Boys more at risk from Pfizer jab side-effect than Covid, suggests study. US researchers say teenagers are more likely to get vaccine-related myocarditis than end up in hospital with Covid.” And here’s how the first three paragraphs read: “Healthy boys may be more likely to be admitted to hospital with a rare side-effect of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid vaccine that causes inflammation of the heart than with Covid itself, US researchers claim.
“Their analysis of medical data suggests that boys aged 12 to 15, with no underlying medical conditions, are four to six times more likely to be diagnosed with vaccine-related myocarditis than ending up in hospital with Covid over a four-month period. Most children who experienced the rare side-effect had symptoms within days of the second shot of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, though a similar side-effect is seen with the Moderna jab. About 86% of the boys affected required some hospital care, the authors said.”
Sadly, with its easy to miss use of the word “claim” and its decision to wait until the sixth paragraph to acknowledge that the study hadn’t yet been peer reviewed, the Guardian had already misled its readers and done a great disservice to the public.
And, not surprisingly, here’s what Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene did with their story:
So, how about I leave you with some reliable information about the effectiveness of the COVID vaccines. Studies that specially address the charge that these vaccines have caused myocarditis at rates greater than coming down with COVID. The New England Journal of Medicine reported on a new study utilizing the database of Israel’s Clalit Health Services, encompassing nearly 2 million patients. The researchers compared outcomes of those vaccinated with the Pfizer/BioNTech BNT162b2 mRNA vaccine with both unvaccinated people infected with SARS-CoV-2 and unvaccinated non-infected people.
As reviewers of the study at the Harvard Medical School put it: “The study showed that few adverse events were associated with the vaccine. Myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart muscle, the most serious of them, was rare, with a rate of 2.7 excess cases per 100,000 vaccinated people. This means that for every 100,000 individuals, 2.7 more cases of myocarditis occurred than would be expected, the researchers said.
“By contrast, the risk of myocarditis was notably higher among infected but unvaccinated individuals, occurring at a rate of 11 excess cases per 100,000 people. Coronavirus infection — but not vaccination — was also associated with greatly increased risk of pericarditis (an inflammation of the area around the heart), heart arrhythmias, heart attacks, strokes, pulmonary embolism, deep-vein thrombosis, acute kidney damage, among others.” [Emphasis added]
Let that sink in. For every 100,000 people who have been vaccinated there were less than 3 unanticipated cases of inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis). But for 100,000 people who have not been vaccinated, there were 11 unanticipated cases of inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis).
Coronavirus, not the vaccine, is the problem.
Meanwhile, as people argue about the vaccine, the deaths mount. And the United States looks like two very different countries with a mostly north-south, vaccinated/non-vaccinated divide. From the Financial Times:
Lastly, the CDC just posted results from two other comprehensive studies. The first “Monitoring Incidence of COVID-19 Cases, Hospitalizations, and Deaths, by Vaccination Status — 13 U.S. Jurisdictions, April 4–July 17, 2021” The study found “In 13 U.S. jurisdictions, rates of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths were substantially higher in persons not fully vaccinated compared with those in fully vaccinated persons,” In addition: “Getting vaccinated protects against severe illness from COVID-19, including the Delta variant. Monitoring COVID-19 incidence by vaccination status might provide early signals of potential changes in vaccine effectiveness that can be confirmed through robust controlled studies … [And] The data might be helpful in communicating the real-time impact of vaccines (e.g., persons not fully vaccinated having >10 times higher COVID-19 mortality risk).” [Emphasis added]
The second study is entitled “Interim Estimates of COVID-19 Vaccine Effectiveness Against COVID-19–Associated Emergency Department or Urgent Care Clinic Encounters and Hospitalizations Among Adults During SARS-CoV-2 B.1.617.2 (Delta) Variant Predominance — Nine States, June–August 2021.” The CDC studied “medical encounters (32,867) from 187 hospitals and 221 emergency departments (EDs) and urgent care (UC) clinics across nine states during June–August 2021.” The authors concluded: “These findings reaffirm the high protection of COVID-19 vaccines against moderate and severe COVID-19 resulting in ED, UC, and hospital visits and underscore the importance of full COVID-19 vaccination and continued benefits of COVID-19 vaccination during Delta variant predominance.” [Emphasis added]
And if you don’t trust American scientists, there’s a study conducted across the border in Ontario, Canada, “Myocarditis and Pericarditis Following Vaccination with COVID-19 mRNA Vaccines in Ontario: December 13, 2020 to August 7, 2021” found that ‘Myocarditis/pericarditis following COVID-19 mRNA vaccines remains a rare AEFI (defined by the Canadian Immunization Guide as occurring at frequency of 0.01% to less than 0.1%), even among the age groups where the highest rates of this event have been observed.”
And concluded that “COVID-19 vaccines continue to be recommended and are highly effective at preventing symptomatic infection and severe outcomes from COVID-19 disease, which is also associated with a risk of myocarditis.”
This information could prove critical to those families wondering about vaccinations, especially useful to those young Americans who are just now realizing how much more they are at risk. Hospital data collected in July found that the hospitalization rate among unvaccinated teens was nearly 10 times higher than for fully vaccinated teens. And another set of data, collected last month, found that the rate of hospitalization for children was nearly four times higher in states with the lowest vaccination coverage.
Finally, I know about this from my good friend Mark, who still suffers today: “Although most people with COVID-19 get better within the weeks following illness, some people experience post-COVID conditions. A recent CDC study shows that adults who had COVID-19 may experience ongoing health problems that can last four or more weeks after COVID-19 infection. Health problems may include shortness of breath, fatigue, difficulty concentrating (‘brain-fog’), headache, fast-beating or pounding heart, cough, joint or muscle pain, dizziness/lightheadedness, or mood changes, among other symptoms. Even people who did not have significant COVID-19 symptoms in the days or weeks after they were infected can have post-COVID conditions.”
Please get vaccinated. Wear a mask indoors, or outdoors when you’re around a bunch of people who may not be vaccinated. Be careful. Stay safe. And if you’re tempted to take ivermectin, bear in mind that “You are not a horse.” Remember, it was Mr. Ed who taught us humans a thing or two about horses: “A horse is a horse. Of course. Of course.”