Back in February 24, in this blog, I warned about Covid-19 and disinformation. This was around the time when the World Health Organization identified misinformation and falsehoods being circulated about Covid-19 as an “infodemic.” As this pandemic raged, we witnessed simultaneous ruses in the form of many different disinformation campaigns aimed at the general public. Millions of people have become “unwitting actors” to these ruses by sharing false or misleading information on their personal social media accounts about the coronavirus.
Then, as the Coronavirus resurged in recent weeks, we’ve witnessed exciting news about FDA approval of vaccines (Pfizer’s was approved on Dec. 10, and OKed for distribution on Dec. 12) and now widespread shipment of the vaccines for immediate inoculation of those on the front lines of the battle against the virus: Health care workers, and nursing home staff and residents. Some of these people will receive vaccinations this week (Week of December 13-20).
Yet Disinformation Campaigns about the vaccine continue appearing in social media.
Recently, as I wrapped up grading final papers from my classes, I engaged in an email Q-and-Q session with two people in Northeast Ohio whom I most trust about vaccines and medications, Dr. Natalie Belle and Dr. Kyle Gustafson. Dr. Belle is a vascular surgeon in Westlake and also a professor at my higher education institution, Cuyahoga Community College. Dr. Gustafson teaches at NEOMED and is also the Critical Care Pharmacist at Southwest General Hospital. There he has been a team member caring and treating for hundreds of Covid-19 patients.
Below are excerpts from their answers. NB stands for Dr. Belle, and KG stands for Dr. Gustafson.
Q: These Covid-19 vaccines were developed so quickly. Are they safe Are they effective?
NB: Yes. These vaccines were developed using new development techniques that do not require years of work. We have had the sequence of this virus since January (sent to scientists as soon as it was worked out). We used to use animal serums for vaccine development, a technique that is not done today with modern powerful computing modeling techniques and international cooperation by scientists (virologists, immunologists, and pharmacology experts) worldwide. Pharmaceutical companies still went through Phase 1, Phase 2, and Phase 3 trials from which data was analyzed and shared in a very open manner. Scientists are simply more efficient and better in terms of vaccine and pharmaceutical development thanks to modern tools, modern research, and modern data sharing.
KG: Yes. The Pfizer study compared 21,823 people who got the vaccine to 21,828 people who got a placebo injection. They followed each patient for two months, assessing for new, symptomatic, cases of COVID as well as any reported side effects. The study did a good job of including “everyday” people: people with obesity, diabetes, HTN, and other common disease states. The study showed that patients who received two doses of the vaccine had a 95% reduction in their risk for developing a symptomatic COVID-19 infection.
Q: Some malicious people in social media posts are claiming that taking the vaccine will actually cause someone to get Covid-19. What do you say about that?
KG: This vaccine is an mRNA vaccine. Small pieces of genetic code are stored in fat globules, which eventually find their way into the cell. Once in the cell, the RNA causes the cell to produce a single COVID protein (the so called “spike protein”) which our body recognizes as foreign and therefore builds an immune response to it. It is physically impossible to get COVID from this vaccine because there is only a single protein, not an entire virus.
NB: No vaccine causes the disease it is designed to control. Vaccines allow the human body to make antibodies that protect against infection by building immunity to it.
Q: What about side effects? Some are saying the side effects are worse than the disease.
NB: No. It is true that we don’t know everything about the vaccines or even the disease, but no licensed physician in this country will recommend or administer any pharmaceutical that they know is harmful to their patients. There are many vaccines in development at various stages. Each vaccine is evaluated in terms of efficacy and safety by independent scientific review based on data submitted at all stages in the development process. In the USA, the FDA advisory committee and the CDC both evaluate data from clinical trials and are not affiliated with the pharmaceutical companies. Both agencies are charged with the review and regulation of pharmaceuticals and medical devices. Patient safety is always the top priority.
KG: No. Based on the two month’s worth of data currently available, the vaccine looks very safe. The common side effects of muscle pain, fever, and chills occurs with relative frequency…. These side effects also appear to be greater in patients under 55 and worse with the second dose. This makes a lot of sense, since these reactions are evidence of immune system activation- meaning more reaction the second time, and less reaction as we age. (See note below)
Q: Shouldn’t I wait for several months and see what happens to others who have been inoculated first?
NB: Medical care decisions should be made by individuals in consultation with their physician who knows their medical needs. Making decisions based on what is heard on the news or read on social media is not a sound practice and in terms of Covid-19, can result in death. The physician who knows you and your medical history can advise you on your needs based on the science that is available. Additionally, everyone should not try to rush to take this vaccine but who should wait and who should be first in line is a decision that will be made by physicians who are the top health experts on the healthcare team by virtue of their education and training.
KG: I am not a physician and I am not your physician. You should consult with your physician about what’s best for you. Personally, I will receive vaccination as soon as it is available to me. There is also more to consider. There has been a strong/vocal group that has said that the economic shutdown is worse than the COVID disease that it is attempting to control. There is another strong/vocal group that feels that the deaths and suffering from COVID are more important than the economy. Group #1 says: I’ll take my chances with the virus. Group #2 says: I’ll take my chances with the economy.
This vaccine IS the best middle ground. It allows us to protect people from death and harm. It also is the fastest, and easiest, path towards being able to fully open up the economy. It is both faster than waiting for herd immunity and is actually safer than getting the virus itself. For everyone who has felt that “the economy needs to be open, despite the risk” this vaccine appears to be the opportunity to both open the economy AND reduce the risk at the same time. The sooner we hit 80-90% exposure (through vaccine or natural exposure) the sooner everything gets better.
Dr. Gustafson also wrote a most informative post explaining many other aspects of Covid-19. It is linked here for those who are interested in more details:
My post in February is linked here: (https://disinformationcampaigns.com/2020/02/24/coronavirus-also-in-infodemic/)
NEXT: Evil actors who are conducting Disinformation Campaigns aimed at dissuading you from getting vaccinated.