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  • Writer's pictureDr. Bow Tie


There are a couple of newer outrage touchpoints making the rounds on social media. Both are being propagated by the usual disinformation-mongers, including Fox News, and both are based in rewriting what actually happened as if we don't have receipts. Tucker Carlson just doubled down on the second question (in the title) even after getting called out on his misinterpretation.

There was a recent news segment in which they played a clip from a European Parliament session where Rob Roos, a Dutch politician and Member, asks Pfizer president of international developed markets Janine Small the following question:

RR: "Was the Pfizer COVID vaccine tested on stopping the transmission of the virus before it entered the market? Did we know about stopping immunization before it entered the market?"

JS: "No … You know, we had to … really move at the speed of science to know what is taking place in the market."

This sent Roos and other folks into a media frenzy, trying to rehash the idea that Pfizer lied about vaccines and that millions of people were "duped" into getting the vaccine.

Except that Pfizer and science communicators actually acknowledged that from the beginning. No one made the claim that the COVID-19 vaccine was tested for stopping transmission, because that was not the main goal of the trials. All vaccines work similarly, in that the main goal is to prevent severe disease by helping the body create immunity against a disease-causing agent. Many people tried to undermine vaccination efforts against COVID by posting oversimplified definitions of the word "vaccine." Someone actually tried to do this to me the other day when I was arguing with him on Facebook (I know, I'm not sure why I put myself through that, either), saying "Google says a vaccine is ___." The funny part was, I literally Googled "vaccine" and the first thing displayed was a more complex definition than he gave. So already that argument is incorrect (as were most of that dude's attempts to prove me wrong).

It is difficult to assess transmission in a trial setting because you're only looking at trial participants. You don't see who they interact with and in what way, and you certainly don't test those people to see if they caught the disease from those vaccinated. We know from decades of using vaccines that most of them do prevent transmission to some extent, but not completely (and it varies). The measles vaccine is excellent at reducing transmission to nearly 0, but the hepatitis B vaccine is less so. The most frequently seen example of a pre-2020 vaccine that does not reduce transmission without mass uptake is the pertussis vaccine. That's why we have seen small outbreaks in communities with low vaccination rates throughout the decades, as disinformation takes a hold and the disease spreads. The most prominent example right now is the polio vaccine - the outbreak that has literally dropped the United States below other countries in terms of infectious disease safety (on top of our terrible COVID response) is happening because not enough people are vaccinated against a disease that we had come close to eradicating.

The bottom line here is, we already knew the original vaccine trials did not test for reduction of transmission, but they did meet their goal of reducing severe illness. We know how vaccines work, which is why we encouraged people to get vaccinated for themselves and others. If your body is less affected by the virus and your immune system can fight it faster, you are less likely to spread it to others. There is no bombshell here and it is still so important to get vaccinated and boosted. Don't let anti-vaccine disinformation-mongerers rewrite history.

Speaking of reducing transmission, the fearmongering about vaccine mandates has returned (which again ignores historical precedent and the fact that vaccine mandates have been around for school and workplaces for decades). This time the unjustified fear is "for the children."

A physician I don't follow showed up on my Twitter feed with:

"Tomorrow [this was 10/18], the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) will vote on adding the COVID-19 vaccine to the schedule of childhood vaccines required of students in order to attend school.

I will be watching."

Now, I guess that was supposed to sound menacing, but it was false. Another physician named Kavita Patel pointed out that what was ACTUALLY happening was that ACIP met to discuss COVID-19 vaccines to the Vaccines For Children program - it's meant to provide and assure access to vaccines for parents or guardians who cannot afford them (which is becoming relevant as Congress has let anti-COVID-19 funding lapse and we may have to pay co-pays for the vaccines as early as next year). This is NOT a school mandate, because the ACIP and CDC cannot do that. That is up to the state governments and has been for our lifetimes. Those agencies RECOMMEND the addition of COVID-19 to school vaccines, but that's all they can do. Tucker Carlson, Megyn Kelly, and other conservative pundits ran with the outrage story of national vaccine requirements and the CDC pointed out the disinformation. Carlson, et al, then doubled down to stand by the lies they had spread. Kelly tried to say that "a scary # of kids are dying after taking the COVID vax" which is absolutely NOT true. There are a scary number dying from COVID infections, but not from the vaccines.

Yes, the COVID-19 vaccine is recommended in addition to all other childhood vaccines to be given before school (currently bivalent boosters are authorized for age 5 and up). States have final say over what is actually required for kinds in that state, so in states like Florida where Ron DeSantis proves over and over that he does not care about child lives, they will not add the COVID-19 vaccine to their required list.

Children's hospitals are strapped throughout North America. The other day a Toronto physician Tweeted about how children are being transferred into my city, Buffalo, because there are not enough beds/staff to account for the massive number of children in the ED and being admitted. Now that mask mandates have been dropped, COVID-19 as well as influenza and RSV are making a resurgence among both children and adults, especially the elderly and immunocompromised.

Vaccines are still important, as are indoor masking and staying home from work/school when sick, to avoid spreading disease. This is another example where old "normal" was not great. Why do we put so much stock in perfect attendance and "powering through" illness as we put others at risk? We have better technology to supplement learning in such situations. All that remains is for employers to accept that sometimes these situations happen and employees should not be punished for having to stay home to care for a sick child or themselves.

The same guy who tried to argue with me about the Pfizer "bombshell" also used the old anti-vax trope of "You can live in fear, but I won't." First off, COVID-19 is still killing up to 400 people (including children) a day in the United States multiple times a week. Still more are suffering long-term effects (10-20% of infections, even mild ones) such as brain, heart, and lung damage. That's certainly something to be wary of, if not feared. And in what way are masks "living in fear"? Is it living in fear to wear a seatbelt or a bicycle helmet? Hardly. I want to live my life, go out with friends and play shows with my band. Wearing a mask and getting vaccinated/boosted allows me to do that more safely (for myself and others) - they aren't perfect measures, but nothing is.

Recently I played a show and I started off wearing a mask. I took it off while I was behind the set because I was decently far back from the crowd. That's not really how airborne transmission works, but I did. And then later on I did not put the mask back on. I feel silly and actually a bit guilty for not doing so. I tested myself in the following days and am negative, thankfully, but I am not sure what pressure I caved to that made me leave it off. It's really not hard to wear it, especially for me. I tell you this to say that I am not perfect about masking, either, and peer pressure gets into one's head. I will keep trying to do better and set a good example. Do I plan to mask "forever"? No, but there is still a pandemic going on. Hell, I may mask indefinitely in the hospital if it means protecting myself and my patients. As for outside of the hospital...well, that's why we all need to mask and get vaccinated/boosted NOW, so that we can one day need less masking (for real, not just because Biden needs a political win) later.


A thread of people trying to pounce on this "scandal" alongside their previous Tweets in which they literally acknowledge the same points they are conveniently forgetting about:

A thread of studies which have found that the vaccines do reduce transmission by some amount:

The VFC program and what it is and is not:

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