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Correcting this week’s misinformation: week of September 14, 2023

Do COVID vaccines harm your immune system?

The Claim:

This computer guy seems to think so, tweeting a study that makes some claims about the vaccine hurting children’s immune systems.

The Facts:

Exploratory studies like this are done to collect facts and decide what questions to investigate in the future. It’s not meant to make firm statements about what causes something or to apply the results to everyone.

This study involves a very small group of participants: only 29 children. It offers no comparison group of unvaccinated children, and the study doesn’t mention whether the children experienced any illnesses or were exposed to other factors during the test period. Additionally, many of the study participants had a family history of allergies or atopic diseases. As a result, the findings cannot be applied to the general public. Therefore, it is not possible to conclude that the COVID vaccine harms a person’s immune system, as has been suggested..

In fact, a statement from the authors of the study from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute has further come out against such statements saying “Any suggestion that our exploratory study implies that COVID-19 vaccines cause a harmful suppression of children’s immune system is a naïve and misguided oversimplification of our findings, and ignores other studies that do not support this concept.”

Are lockdowns on their way back?

The Claim:

A recent editorial in a major paper and a video by a former president have both pushed the idea that lockdowns and mandates will be making their way back.

The Facts:

While talks of lockdowns and mandates aren’t our usual fare, they are important to address given that misinformation about them stems from the same place as vaccine misinformation.

When COVID first came on the scene in 2020, we didn’t have any tools for mitigation or prevention. We didn’t know exactly how the virus was transmitted, who was at risk, or how best to avoid it. We didn’t have vaccines or masks to help protect ourselves against this new threat. “Lockdowns” and social distancing were instituted as a way to help prevent the spread of COVID when we had nothing else to help.

The spread of infection at this point in the pandemic led healthcare to operate under crisis standards of care. New York City was forced to operate mobile morgues as the death rate soared to that not seen since the 1918 Flu Pandemic. The world stood aghast as some countries resorted to mass graves.

Today, we have masks (N95 and equivalent) and the ability to adapt ventilation systems to help prevent the spread of disease. Most importantly, we have vaccines to help prevent serious illness in the event of infection. So lockdowns are completely unnecessary and wouldn’t benefit our communities.

Many who are now warning against potential lockdowns have embraced an ideology that is not only a belief system but also part of how they define who they are. This ideology includes denying both how COVID spreads and how severe it can be. As an identity, these people often see their right to assert their desires as their primary freedom.  Both involve rejecting the idea that they have a responsibility, as part of the social contract, to take reasonable measures to help protect their community.

To some extent, some of these fears are reasonable. Lockdowns were difficult on everyone, and especially our children and the socially vulnerable. The best way to avoid drastic public health measures is to come together in our communities and employ the simple measures we have: mask when you are sick or in crowded places, test if you have symptoms, and get your updated COVID vaccine.

Are flu vaccines too ineffective for licensure?

The Claim:

An author of thrillers is scaring the public with a supposed quote from Dr. Anthony Fauci saying that flu vaccines are so ineffective that they never should have been licensed.

The Facts:

In general, to be approved, vaccines are required to have an efficacy of 50% or above. While some years the flu vaccine can have an effectiveness as high as 60%, it can often be much lower, around 40%. And in some bad years such as the 2004-2005 flu season, around 10%. Does that mean that the vaccine doesn’t work as claimed by the tweeter?

Low effectiveness doesn’t mean no effectiveness. From 2005-2014, over 40,000 lives were saved because of the flu vaccines, even when fewer than 50% of the people were vaccinated for influenza. With the risks of influenza being higher than the risks of the vaccine, vaccinating is a much safer bet than rolling the dice with disease.

Also, and not for nothing, Dr. Fauci never misses his flu shot.

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