Tomorrow morning I’m getting flu and COVID vaccinations at the Redding VA Clinic. I’ll admit to being slightly nervous. It’s not that I’m not a prime candidate for Pfizer’s latest bivalent vaccine. I am. I’ve never had COVID, so I’ve got no natural immunity. I’m over 60 and have a couple of underlying medical conditions. Even our vaccine-averse public health officer Dr. James Mu advises people like me to get the jab.
I’m nervous because anti-vax sentiment runs deep in Shasta County; so deep it creates its own reality, sucking you in like a tractor beam, even if you know better.
Hear it repeated enough times at various board meetings, and you start believing the debunked myth that hundreds of people have “died suddenly” because they received COVID vaccinations.
We can thank “Died Suddenly,” the anti-vax propaganda video produced by far-right radio host Stew Peters that went viral last year for the persistent claim that just about everyone who’s suddenly dropped dead since the COVID vaccine became available in December 2020 died from being vaccinated.
A QAnon enthusiast, an antisemite and a malicious anti-LGBTQ troll, Peters claims global elites are using COVID vaccines to depopulate the planet of his ilk, permanently infuriated white folk.
In fact, as pointed out by this easy-to-digest critique of “Died Suddenly” by the “Your Local Epidemiologist” Substack page, the increase in sudden deaths attributed to COVID vaccinations by Peters and his legion of wingnuts, including our very own right-wing whackos, was far more likely caused by COVID infections.
Using data on excess deaths in the UK and the USA, epidemiologist and data scientist Dr. Katelyn Jetelina and Yale Emergency Medicine physician Dr. Kristen Panthagani convincingly show that the increase in excess deaths from 2020 to 2022 mirrored deaths caused by COVID and plateaued after the full roll-out of vaccines.
“Underlying all these rumors is the belief that COVID-19 vaccines are seriously harmful, with some postulating that they are intended to depopulate the planet,” the doctors write. “If this fanciful rumor had any merit, we would expect those who are vaccinated for COVID to be more likely to die than those who are unvaccinated. In fact, we see the opposite. … And the story is clear: vaccines save lives.”
The doctors note that COVID vaccines have side effects, including myocarditis, inflammation of the heart, in people ages 18-39, which has led to false claims that COVID vaccines are causing sudden heart attacks in young celebrities and athletes. The data shows that heart attacks and other circulatory deaths among that age group increased after the pandemic began and flattened out with the advent of vaccines.
Vaccines save lives, that’s the message I’m taking with me to the VA in the morning. Yes, there’s a chance the jab could give me myocarditis—about 100 cases in 1 million doses. I’ve had four doses of Pfizer so far without any side effects whatsoever. The last dose was more than a year ago, so I’m in line with the planned annual COVID vaccine updates going forward.
According to the state’s COVID dashboard, I’ll soon be among the 6.9 percent of the state population up to date on their COVID vaccinations. That rate sinks to just 4.5 percent in Shasta County. In his new book “The Deadly Rise of Anti-Science,” Dr. Peter J. Hotez attributes much of this ongoing vaccine resistance to what he calls “anti-science aggression.”
Dr. Hotez’s credits speak for themselves: professor of pediatrics and molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital chair in tropical pediatrics, codirector of the Texas Children’s Center for Vaccine Development. Anti-science aggression goes beyond the mere promulgation of misinformation, he insists.
“Anti-science aggression is a more appropriate term,” Hotez writes. “In this book I call out its perpetrators—members of Congress, sitting governors, conservative news outlets, the federal courts, and a cadre of contrarian intellectuals and pseudointellectuals from universities and far-right think tanks.”
According to Hotez, who provides detailed data in the book to bolster his claims, 200,000 Americans, most of them from red counties throughout the South, the Midwest and the Mountain West, needlessly lost their lives to COVID because they believed the lies and misinformation anti-science aggressors spread about COVID vaccines.
In California, there have been 104,514 confirmed COVID deaths since the pandemic began nearly four years ago. That includes 673 confirmed deaths in Shasta County, where we are no strangers to anti-science aggression: witness the dismissal of former public health officer Dr. Karen Ramstrom last year by an anti-science board of supervisors majority that included one member who nearly died from COVID.
Shasta County ranks fourth out of 58 counties in confirmed COVID deaths per 100,000 people with 378 deaths per 100,000. Only Imperial, Tuolumne and San Bernardino counties had a higher death rate.
Even if the pandemic eventually ends, lives will be endangered if the disinformation about vaccines isn’t reigned in, Hotez says.
“Anti-science now threatens the future of childhood vaccination programs,” Hotez writes. “Declining vaccination rates and a new ‘low-vax’ future will ensure the widespread return of ancient childhood scourges such as measles or polio.”
The VA robocalled me the other day to remind me about my appointment and advise me to wear a mask when I entered the facility. I wasn’t surprised to hear the warning. Hospitals and nursing homes in southern California and the Bay Area have recently required masks in preparation for what they’re now calling “respiratory disease season,” which includes the flu, COVID and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
I’ll be getting the flu and COVID vaccines, but I’m under no illusions that I’ll be protected from COVID without taking additional measures, namely wearing a high-quality N-95 respirator in crowded indoor situations such as grocery stores and doctor’s offices and avoiding such situations whenever possible.
Except for a few months earlier this summer when I went maskless after the federal government called off the public health emergency for COVID, that’s what I’ve been doing the entire pandemic. That’s what I’ll be doing this holiday season: Masking up and staying away from crowded indoor situations if possible.
For whatever reasons, in September our anti-science majority on the board of supervisors, consisting of district 1 Supervisor Kevin Crye, district 2 supervisor (and former COVID patient) Tim Garman, district 4 supervisor Patrick Jones and district 5 supervisor Chris Kelstrom fixated on mask mandates when they passed a resolution to object to any state public health mandates in the future.
First and foremost, the supervisors vowed to object to any state mandate that “requires a person to wear a mask or any other face covering.”
Crye said he’d object to a mask mandate even if the COVID death rate was 50 percent. Assuming the 673 confirmed COVID deaths in Shasta County represent a 1 percent death rate—the number of COVID deaths divided by the number of COVID cases—Crye would apparently be OK if more than 30,000 people succumbed to COVID, one-sixth of the county.
The real problem for Crye, Garman, Jones and Kelstrom is that masks, and I’m talking about N-95 respirators or better, work. Anti-maskers went batshit crazy earlier year when the lead author of a Cochrane Library metanalysis of randomized controlled trials of masks erroneously claimed the study proved masks don’t work at all to prevent the transmission of airborne respiratory viruses such as COVID, the flu and RSV.
According to Scientific American, the editor-in-chief of the study issued a disclaimer saying the statement “was not a representation of what the review found.”
Scientific American asserted that randomized trials are not the right tool for measuring the efficacy of masks, which represent an engineering problem better solved by observational, lab and modeling studies.
“A well-understood technology, respiratory protection has been validated over decades, with standards (NIOSH in the U.S., CSA in Canada) that codify protection from viruses and bacteria,” Scientific American states. “Mining, biomedical research, chemical processing, pharmaceutical production and many more industries follow these laws and standards worldwide. Without exaggeration, millions of people trust their lives to the effective ‘real-world’ science of respirators, with no need for randomized trial evidence.”
Translation, masks, correctly fitted N-95 respirators and above, work. One of the most frustrating errors made by Dr. Anthony Fauci was his false claim at the very beginning of the pandemic in February 2020 that masks wouldn’t be necessary for the public. As was later revealed, by then scientists already knew COVID was aerosolized and capable of airborne infection.
Fauci claimed he was telling a noble lie necessary because personal protection equipment was in short supply for healthcare workers.
It’s incalculable how much public health errors like that put us in the predicament we’re in today in Shasta County, where instead of tackling the pandemic collectively, we’re left to fend for ourselves individually wild west style.
Going it alone requires the best COVID information available, and since Elon Musk destroyed Twitter, my go-to source has become Naked Capitalism, where you can track the celebrities who’ve caught COVID—Adele, Drake, Mick Jagger and all the band members of Guns N’ Roses and Dinosaur Jr. among more than 144 others—and speculate on their level of cognitive impairment before and after infection.
Dark humor aside, I did a considerable amount of research before making my decision to get the new COVID vaccine. Considering my age and condition, I think it’s the right decision for me. Maybe it’s the right choice for anybody over 50?
I don’t know. Do your own research. And pray the virus doesn’t mutate into some unstoppable monster with a 50 percent death rate.