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Correcting this week’s misinformation: week of March 21, 2024

Can living without modern medicine make you healthier?

The Claim:

An old claim is getting new life: that Amish people don’t vaccinate and their children are the healthiest people in the world.

The Facts:

While the Amish as a population might be under-vaccinated, they are by no means unvaccinated. In a 2011 study, of those who responded, only 14% said their children received no vaccines. This 2021 study indicates that about 25% of the Amish respondents would get vaccinated against COIVD.

But were the Amish protected from COVID? The “study” that claims that COVID death rates among Amish communities are an “incredible 90 times lower than the rest of fully-vaxxed and boostered, mask-wearing and locked-down America” was simply tech millionaire Steve Kirsch inserting himself into an Amish community and asking them to name people who died. He “did some calculations and thought there might have been a few, maybe five, Amish individuals who had died. . .  this implies that the Amish died at a rate 90 times lower than the infection fatality rate of the rest of the United States.”

Of course, having a discussion with one community and doing some back-of-napkin calculations isn’t a study. Both the information gathering and the math are inadequate to draw any conclusions. And we are left with nothing supporting Amish children being the world’s healthiest people.

Lastly, according to news sources, the Amish were actually hit hard by COVID.

Do COVID vaccines prove that vaccines cause autism?

The Claim:

Anti-vaxxers are trying to convert COVID vaccine hesitancy into all vaccine hesitancy by connecting the autism myth to their fears of COVID vaccines, claiming that vaccines cause brain inflammation leading to autism.

The Facts:

Plenty of evidence tells us that vaccines do not cause autism. Not only do the studies done to date show vaccines are not in any way linked to autism, but studies indicate disorganization of the prefrontal cortex in the brains of autistic people. This finding about brains links autism to development that takes place before birth.

Of all the risk factors for developing autism, we know genetics looks the most likely, and being vaccinated is not among them.

How many COVID boosters are too many?

The Claim:

RFK Jr. is attacking a political rival by claiming that people are receiving too many COVID vaccines to their own detriment.

The Facts:

RFK Jr. claims that many have had myocarditis, pericarditis, and brain inflammation from the COVID vaccine. Can the vaccine cause some of these adverse events? This global study of 99 million people tells us these are real but rare adverse events. The most commonly expressed concern about multiple boosters over a person’s lifetime is the risk of myocarditis and pericarditis.

However, we do not make decisions about vaccines based solely on a possible rare adverse event. We ask ourselves whether or not the benefits of vaccinating (avoiding the risks of disease) outweigh the risks of vaccinating.

The above study looked at 99 million people with a combined total of over 184 vaccine doses. They looked at how many adverse events happened and compared that to the usual number of such events in the general population. This usual number, or what they expected without vaccination, was figured out using information from before the COVID-19 vaccine came out, mostly from 2015 to 2019. To say that the COVID vaccine causes more problems than it solves, you need to compare the chances of having an adverse event to the vaccine with the dangers of COVID infection.

Studies show that getting COVID is much riskier than getting the vaccine when it comes to heart issues like myocarditis and pericarditis. Also, most of the time, if someone does get myocarditis from the vaccine, it happens within a few days, is pretty mild, and gets better on its own.

Importantly, findings from Israel suggest the risk of myocarditis after the third dose of some mRNA vaccines is much lower than after the second dose.

The brain inflammation he is referring to is Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM). It is an autoimmune disease wherein inflammation attacks the brain and spinal cord. It can occur after any bacterial or viral attack. ADEM is extremely rare, and more than half of ADEM cases occur after a viral or bacterial infection. Most cases occur 4-14 days following infection. The signals found in the study indicate the rates of ADEM, if caused by vaccines is about 1 case in 1.75 million people. With over 7 million people dead of COVID since the start of pandemic, we question RFK Jr’s understanding of risk analysis.

The brain inflammation being discussed is called Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), a very rare autoimmune condition where inflammation affects the brain and spinal cord. It usually happens after someone gets a bacterial or viral infection. The global study suggests that if vaccines do cause ADEM, it’s extremely rare—about 1 case in 1.75 million people.

A systematic literature review suggests that ADEM following COVID infection is more dangerous. While many ADEM patients generally recover well, those with COVID-associated ADEM had a mortality rate of about 10%. This suggests that COVID might lead to more severe forms of ADEM.

But are boosters really a good idea? We leave you with a Newsweek quote from our Scientific Advisory Board member, Dr. William Schaffner: “Look at influenza. The influenza vaccine is something that we use in millions upon millions of doses around the world on an annual basis. And we update that vaccine using the same process each year. And those updated vaccines are not tested in people, but their manufacture is under the very intense scrutiny of the FDA. We’re doing the same thing with [COVID] vaccines.”

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