Dr. Bow Tie
A Quick News Round-up: Triple-Demic, Died Suddenly, Blood Donation
As we enter the holiday season, I have a couple of posts ready, but I also need to touch base on some current events. Well, I don't need to, but I'm going to anyway.
As I stated in my RSV post, we are facing down three viruses this winter. The COVID-19 pandemic is not over. As much as people want to say "post-pandemic", we are not. However, now that masks, social distancing, and other mitigation measures have been dropped, and people are stubbornly returning to the capitalistic ideal of going to work or school even when sick, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are back in greater numbers than the past two years.
You can refer back to my RSV post and the resources I used to see why RSV is surging. Dr. Katelyn Jetelina (Your Local Epidemiologist) discussed in recent Substack posts and on the America Dissected podcast how the mitigation measures we had worked well against RSV, but now that they have been stopped, our immune systems - which did not maintain the same infection-mediated (temporary) immunity due to lack of exposure, are facing a new wave, and it is hitting a lot of patients in bigger numbers (especially children, who are often affected harder by it). There are vaccines on the horizon, but they are not here yet. RSV stays on surfaces longer than COVID, and while it is less contagious (R0 of 3), frequent hand-washing, cleaning of surfaces, and yes, masks, will be useful in preventing spread to other children or elderly or immunocompromised (or anyone). Also unlike COVID, RSV causes symptoms pretty quickly after infection, so if you start to develop symptoms, use caution and consider staying home/away from others.
Influenza is also surging once again this year (remember, I mean actual influenza, not the flu-like illness that people call "the flu" but does not approach the same potential severity). Similar to RSV, our anti-COVID measures such as masking and distancing worked really well to reduce flu infections, and it is seizing its opportunity now that we are dropping those. Unlike RSV, though, we do have an additional layer of protection against influenza - the vaccine! I know some of you are immediately about to protest, but the flu shot is actually working well this year, better than in years past. Scientists accurately predicted the strains/mutations we would need to defend against (which is hard to do, and not always successful), and the flu shot is providing solid protection this year. How do we know? The South American flu season (since their winter happens earlier in the year than ours) gave us a good indication and we saw success there (49% vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization, and that was a vaccination campaign AFTER the initial wave). So, especially now that we're in the holiday season and we're going to be around family and friends - protect them and get your flu shot!
Of course I have to talk about the third virus. SARS-CoV-2 is still very much around, and COVID-19 is still killing 200-300 Americans a day (I'm writing this on December 1st. There were 458 COVID deaths in America yesterday). There are multiple variants circulating. BA.4 and BA.5 are featured heavily, but there are multiple Omicron subvariants and relatives also around. Dr. Jetelina pointed out how these subvariants are demonstrating more direct evolution from Omicron, as opposed to the less predictable variation (like Delta coming after dealing with Alpha). As she states, "we do not want Pi for [Christmas] (the next Greek letter of variant)."
People are trying to say all kinds of things now about how terrible mask mandates were and how much of a toll lockdowns took. There are still myths being spread about vaccines and some people (including doctors who are trying to make money) are even still carrying water for ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, which is laughable at this point. The real answer is, while it is true that masks can be uncomfortable and lockdowns did present unique challenges, they still worked and we did save lives that otherwise might have been harmed or taken by the pandemic. I have shared multiple articles with both real data and projections about that. This is further confirmed in an article that examined the voluntary dropping of mask mandates in Massachusetts public school districts, which concluded with "Among school districts in the greater Boston area, the lifting of masking requirements was associated with an additional 44.9 Covid-19 cases per 1000 students and staff during the 15 weeks after the statewide masking policy was rescinded." That is too many students - even if they were mild cases, but you and I both know that some of them probably weren't, or that some of the folks who caught infections from those students had more severe cases.
Eric Topol shared this, from the COVID data tracker, as of September 2022 - a COVID vaccine and 2 boosters provided an 80% reduction in hospitalizations in senior citizens compared to unvaccinated seniors.
The Bivalent Booster currently available against COVID-19 has mRNA (creating images for your immune system) of the spike protein (not the actual virus, just this piece for recognition) of both the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and the Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5, and it appears to provide 4-7 times more protection than going without it - not as dramatic as vaccinated vs. unvaccinated back in 2020, but still important as new variants circulate and our immune system needs the update. Please go get your booster!
HERE WE GO WITH ANOTHER NEW DOCUMENTARY
Okay. There are a couple of other news stories circulating as consequences of disinformation and the money that can be found there. I don't get paid to do this blog or any of the posts I make on Instagram or TikTok, and most of my fellow scientific communicators who follow real evidence do not, either. Some make money from Substack subscriptions or similar means, but the sources are easy to follow. More sinister is the funding behind anti-vaccination campaigns. Even the licensed physicians who spread disinformation often are found to have monetary influences more than any kind of moral dilemma.
There is a new documentary in the vein of "Plandemic" (which others and I debunked long ago) making the rounds, called "Died Suddenly." It's produced by Stew Peters, who is a right-wing (pretty far to the right) radio host. Peters's last documentary was called "Watch the Water" which stipulated that coronavirus is a synthetic snake venom spread via COVID-19 vaccines and drinking water. That, if it was not obvious, is a completely false claim. Died Suddenly also has links to MyPillow CEO and Trump sycophant Mike Lindell.
People like to say things like "So just because it's from people you don't like, it's wrong?" No. It's wrong because it depicts multiple examples of people who apparently died suddenly after their COVID vaccines...but it lies about them. The trailer features basketball player Keyontae Johnson of the Florida Gators collapsing on the court and blames his death on the vaccine. Except that collapse happened BEFORE vaccines were available, and he was just named Big 12 Newcomer of the Week - because he's still alive!
Another clip is of video game streamer Lothar having a seizure on camera. Which did happen...in 2016. Long before COVID-19 was even a thing, let alone the vaccine.
They also discuss Jorga Halliday, a 15-year-old boxer who died of myocarditis...from COVID-19. She died the day she was supposed to get the vaccine, but had not actually received it.
I could go on. Twitter account @thereal_truther has, with threads debunking every claim made in Died Suddenly, and there are many. Also this, from Politifact:
"...the film also relies heavily on statements from one embalmer to promote its core claim that the vaccines are causing abnormal blood clots. That embalmer, Richard Hirschman, has promoted his baseless claims about clots and COVID-19 vaccines on shows like InfoWars, a conspiracy-oriented site run and hosted by Alex Jones." Other embalmers and funeral directors have stated that embalmers do not have any special training to identify "abnormal blood clots." In fact, without specialized testing, I'm pretty sure no one can identify "abnormal blood clots."
So there you have it. Died Suddenly is fake. Don't believe the lies it spreads. People like to try and say that those of us encouraging vaccination are part of some conspiracy or that we're lying to folks or hiding things. You can see repeatedly that that is projection. The vaccines are safe and effective, and no one pays me to say that.
REFUSING VACCINATED BLOOD
I wish, on the other hand, that that message had gotten out to the New Zealand couple who are currently in court because they are refusing life-saving surgery (for pulmonary valve stenosis) for their four-month-old baby because they "don’t want blood that is tainted by vaccination." I have discussed in previous posts how the vaccine does NOT remain in the blood, because mRNA is so fragile. There may be some remnants in the days immediately after, but like with breast milk, it's so tiny that it cannot make a difference, and won't last much longer. All that remains is the immunity. But because people have taken advantage of the fear and spread disinformation for clout, this couple and many others have fallen for the grift and believed the lies about vaccines, and have put their child in danger, and so NZ's health service has to sue for custody to be able to care for this baby instead of letting them die.
A LITTLE GOOD NEWS
Unrelated to the above viruses, but speaking of donated blood, the Food & Drug Administration has finally lifted the ban on gay blood! In the 1980s, the FDA instituted a ban on blood from homosexual men because they were viewed as higher-risk for AIDS and testing was not very sensitive then. In 2015 (ridiculous that it took that long) they lifted the universal ban, but still stated that men could not have sex with men for a year prior to donating...so basically not lifting the ban, because who wants to abstain from sex for a year?!
Finally now, they are changing the pre-donation questionnaire to be more individualized about high-risk sexual behavior, regardless of gender. I have donated blood numerous times. The questions are definitely biased against men who have sex with men. I will be glad to answer a more nuanced questionnaire if it means it is equal.
Lots of things going on in health news, so hopefully this summarizes and explains them well. TL;DR? Get your COVID-19 vaccine and/or booster and your flu shot. That is the best way to show your family and friends you love them this year, and to prevent new COVID variants from developing. Stay away from others when sick (and if you're an employer or school board, allow that!), wear masks in crowds (indoors/outdoors), and keep in mind who you'll be seeing this season.
As always, I welcome your questions.
Is it tacky to link my own post on RSV? https://www.managinghealthexpectations.com/post/what-s-up-with-rsv
CDC MMWR On Flu Season in South America (Chile, specifically): https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/71/wr/mm7143a1.htm
Effectiveness of vaccines vs. unvaccinated: https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#covidnet-hospitalizations-vaccination
Mask Mandates Dropped in Massachusetts: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2211029
Died Suddenly Debunks: https://twitter.com/thereal_truther/status/1586431003312107522
Refusing vaccinated blood: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/nov/30/new-zealand-parents-refuse-use-of-vaccinated-blood-in-life-saving-surgery-on-baby
FDA And Gay Blood: https://www.wsj.com/articles/fda-to-allow-more-gay-bisexual-men-to-donate-blood-11669816800