Note that views expressed in this opinion article are the writer’s personal views and not necessarily those of TrialSite.
Joel S. Hirschhorn
Here is the critical question. How well does the artificial immunity provided by experimental COVID vaccines really work to protect people from getting infected? The answer is revealed by how many “breakthrough” infections develop two weeks or more after full vaccination. But can we trust the federal government to collect comprehensive data on them? Now, the answer is NO.
In early June, the CDC revealed that they stopped tracking all cases where experimental COVID vaccines failed to prevent infections. Rather than get systematic data on all breakthrough infections as it was doing originally, it announced that it would only attempt to get data on people who got very sick and were hospitalized or died.
The inadequacy of that is that the overwhelming number of American who have been infected have not gotten very sick or died. This means, therefore, that experimental COVID vaccines that are now seen only as having to be effective in preventing people from getting very sick or dying are not really necessary at all for all people. This is even more true for roughly half the population that has achieved natural immunity because they were previously infected and, again, were not likely to get very sick or die.
What seems a logical conclusion of the CDC action to greatly limit getting data on breakthrough infections is that the government does not really want to determine and reveal how effective the experimental COVID vaccines are.
Before the CDC decision there was a lot of data showing large numbers of vaccinated people coming down with COVID infection. Though they may be a small fraction of all vaccinated people, they are often of catastrophic consequences for those who are impacted.
How do you alleviate the suffering of a family that has lost a loved one to COVID even after being fully vaccinated?
Here are some relevant data. Some 10,262 of the 101 million people who were fully vaccinated as of April 30 caught the virus, according to a recent CDC report. This was from just 46 states and territories. At least 2,298 fully vaccinated people have been hospitalized, and at least 439 people have died from COVID-19, according to the CDC.
Under the new CDC system here are some recent data. As of May 10, 1,359 breakthrough cases that resulted in hospitalization or death have been reported to CDC. At that time, about 115 million people in the United States had been fully vaccinated.
As of June 8, the CDC reported around 3,300 hospitalizations amongst the 140 million people fully vaccinated, a rate of one hospitalization for every 42,000 people. They also report a rate of one death for every 230,000 people. That is about 1,000 more hospitalizations in about five weeks. This could be a significant undercount.
Several experts, including Dr. Harvey Risch of Yale, have said that 60 percent of new COVID cases are for fully vaccinated people.
Breakthrough infections and deaths are an issue in Europe. In a nursing home in Belgium, 55 residents tested positive and 12 died despite being fully vaccinated.
Data from the UK found that 0.00636 percent of fully vaccinated Brits known to have contracted the virus died, which was six times higher than the 0.000957 percent of unvaccinated people who died after testing positive for the virus. Additionally, hospitalizations for those carrying the Indian variant are higher among the vaccinated, with 2 percent of 4,087 COVID positive and fully vaccinated individuals being admitted to a hospital. This compares with 1.48 percent of 35,521 COVID-positive individuals who were unvaccinated being admitted to hospital.
Here is what one critic of the new CDC policy said: “Just looking at hospitalizations or cases from people who die is really keeping, I believe, blindfolds on your eyes and not fully understanding what’s happening with this virus,” said Rick Bright, a former federal health official who’s now with the Rockefeller Foundation. “It puts us at a disadvantage of better understanding this virus and how to end the pandemic. These variants are spreading, and if you’re just looking at the small percentage, then you’re really missing the big picture,” Bright said. “You’re missing the big story of where the virus is and how it’s changing.”
Here is another view. At the very least, the CDC should be regularly sequencing the genetic code of a random sample of virus from all types of breakthrough infections, according to Saad Omer, a vaccine researcher at Yale University.
Yet another critic said this. “To say that a breakthrough infection has no clinical consequence, it feels too early to say that,” said Kavita Patel, a primary care physician at the Brookings Institution. “I just feel like we’re just way too early in this pandemic to kind of write off the value of information at this point.”
Here is another critical view of the new system. “We are driving blind, and we will miss a lot of signals,” Ali Mokdad, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington and a former senior scientist at CDC, said.
And here is a wise view of the situation. “Asymptomatic, mild symptoms, hospitalized, passed away—all that information is important,” said Ryan McNamara, a virologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he and his colleagues are sequencing samples from breakthrough cases across the spectrum of severity. “If you’re asking what variant is driving worse clinical outcomes, you need both ends of the data,” he said.
Are states following the new CDC procedure? Not uniformly. Many have been tracking breakthroughs of all kinds for months, and are not sure they want to follow the CDC, according to an article in The Atlantic. “Previously, labs were sequencing all the breakthrough cases we could get our hands on,” Kelly Wroblewski, the director of infectious disease at the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL), said. ”Some states, such as Illinois and Tennessee, quickly followed the CDC’s lead. Others are hesitant.” For now, “we’re not changing what we’ll be sequencing,” Myra Kunas, the director of Minnesota’s state public-health laboratory, said. They want to keep getting data on COVID variants in infected people.
Experts aside, probably most Americans would probably vote to gather all possible data on breakthrough infections. But getting the most possible data would hurt the government’s efforts to compel all people to get vaccinated. Vaccine hesitancy and rejection would surely be reinforced by data in local media showing that experimental COVID vaccines are not fully protective. This is the inevitable result if more people get better informed about natural immunity and a number of cheap, proven, and safe treatments that work as prophylactics to prevent infection, mainly hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin.
And if they get better informed about a number of ugly side effects of the experimental vaccines. Smart people can weigh the risks of getting and not getting an experimental vaccine. They can and should follow the science.
A new commentary by two distinguished physicians have proclaimed important views about the experimental COVID vaccines that the public should take very seriously, especially in light of the cut in breakthrough data:
“Some scientists have raised concerns that the safety risks of Covid-19 vaccines have been underestimated. But the politics of vaccination has relegated their concerns to the outskirts of scientific thinking—for now. …the large clustering of certain adverse events immediately after vaccination is concerning, and the silence around these potential signals of harm reflects the politics surrounding Covid-19 vaccines. Stigmatizing such concerns is bad for scientific integrity and could harm patients. …The implication is that the risks of a Covid-19 vaccine may outweigh the benefits for certain low-risk populations, such as children, young adults and people who have recovered from Covid-19. …And while you would never know it from listening to public-health officials, not a single published study has demonstrated that patients with a prior infection benefit from Covid-19 vaccination. That this isn’t readily acknowledged by the CDC or Anthony Fauci is an indication of how deeply entangled pandemic politics is in science.”
Clearly, the CDC wanted to keep public data about breakthrough infections as low as possible. It does not want Americans to believe they have options besides experimental vaccines. But they do.
Dr. Joel S. Hirschhorn, author of Pandemic Blunder, worked on health issues for decades. As a full professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, he directed a medical research program between the colleges of engineering and medicine. As a senior official at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the National Governors Association, he directed major studies on health-related subjects; he testified at over 50 US Senate and House hearings and authored hundreds of articles and op-ed articles in major newspapers. He has served as an executive volunteer at a major hospital for more than 10 years. He is a member of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, and America’s Frontline Doctors.