As the nation appears to be approaching herd immunity, accompanied by a gradual return to normal economic and social activity, the role of vaccines in ridding the United States of COVID-19 is a hot topic.
A recent post on Instagram citing remarks by a prominent epidemiologist is a case in point.
The headline posted on Instagram in mid-April reads, “Yale public health professor suggests 60 percent of new COVID-19 patients have received vaccines.” The headline referred to an interview Yale University professor Harvey Risch, M.D., Ph.D. had given on the live streaming podcast “Steve Bannon’s War Room.”
“What clinicians are telling me is that more than half of the new COVID cases that they’re seeing to treat people who’ve been vaccinated. They’ve estimated that 60 percent of new patients they’ve been treating have been people who’ve been vaccinated,” Risch stated.
Facebook, which owns Instagram, flagged the post of Risch’s comment.
Facebook, Politifact Weigh In
Instagram got an assist from the self-proclaimed fact-checking website Politifact.
“No, vaccinated people don’t make up 60 percent of new COVID-19 cases,” the outlet stated on its website on April 29.
The article noted approvingly that the post “was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed.” Facebook has a controversial history of suppressing viewpoints with which it disagrees—on COVID-19 and other topics.
Citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Politifact points out that, as of April 20, more than 87 million Americans had been fully vaccinated. Of that number, 7,157 breakthrough cases, in which people become ill with a disease after vaccination, were reported.
“When these numbers are tallied up, the total number of breakthrough cases comes to only 0.008% of all vaccinated people,” stated Politifact.
Not shy about espousing contrarian views, Risch, who holds an M.D. and Ph. D. and has delivered expert testimony at Capitol Hill hearings, was an outspoken advocate for the use of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) to treat COVID patients, particularly in the early stages of the disease. HCQ was seen by its advocates in the summer of 2020 as an off-the-shelf treatment that could be deployed in the absence of vaccines, which were not approved until later in the year. Its use was criticized by many in the medical establishment because HCQ had not undergone randomized control trials for COVID patients and the drug was recommended by then-President Donald Trump. In his podcast comments, Risch may have done little more than pass on what he had heard from physicians, but the resulting kerfuffle shows vaccines’ potential to roil the waters.
Vaccine Side Effect Awareness
Among the inoculated, concerns have been raised about the shots’ side effects, including fatigue, headaches, muscle, and joint pain. Some people who were vaccinated and didn’t suffer from side effects fear they may not be fully protected.
The Wall Street Journal (May 18) reported that a small University of Pennsylvania study found that people who had more robust side effects after receiving either of the two leading vaccines in the U.S. – from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna – had slightly higher antibody levels than those who had less robust side effects. Both vaccines use RNA-based technology and were said to be at least 94 percent effective in protecting against COVID-19 in large clinical trials that started last year.
Emerging research shows that between 15 and 80 percent of people with certain conditions, such as specific blood cancers or who have had organ transplants, are generating few antibodies that could help resist the virus, the Washington Post reported (May 19).
Meanwhile, British rocker Eric Clapton blasted the AstraZeneca vaccine (widely used in Europe) after suffering a severe reaction from the two doses he had been given. Clapton, a vociferous critic of the COVID-19-related lockdowns, called his experience “disastrous” and cited “propaganda” for overstating vaccine safety in a letter to a fellow anti-lockdown activist.
In a statement to Rolling Stone, a spokesman for the UK government body overseeing the vaccine refused to comment on Clapton’s remarks but stated that “over 56 million doses of vaccine have been administered against COVID-19 in the UK, saving thousands of lives in the biggest vaccine program that have ever taken place in this country.”
Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D., (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.