DR. ROACH WRITES: I have written many columns on COVID-19, which has become a major cause of death and disability in all of North America and the world. I have consistently recommended the available vaccines, and tried to identify their (modest) risks and (dramatic) effectiveness. Recently, I have received many letters so full of misinformation that I wanted to devote today’s column to identifying some partial truths, myths and plain lies I hear over and over.
Myth: “The virus is not so dangerous, and 99.99% of people recover.”
The United States case fatality ratio is 1.8%, near the worldwide average of 2%. Given the large number of people infected, that has meant more than 600,000 reported deaths in the U.S. and 4 million worldwide. COVID illness means more than risk of death: Millions of people have long-term symptoms. To see this as anything other than a horrific tragedy shows an inhuman lack of compassion.
Myth: “The vaccine isn’t safe.”
People have pointed me towards VAERS data, which show that people have died following receipt of the vaccine. Unfortunately, the VAERS data are unable to provide any information on whether the vaccine caused the deaths. The studies that CAN provide this information have shown the vaccine is remarkably safe.
Myth: “The vaccine was rushed.”
No, the technology is decades old, and enormous resources were put into getting very large numbers of people studied quickly.
Myth: “The vaccines are experimental.”
It is true that the vaccines, as of this writing, are approved under an emergency use authorization, but full approval is pending and, in my opinion, likely forthcoming. The clinical trials have shown powerfully that the vaccines are very effective. Unlike an experiment, individuals have the choice of getting the vaccine or not. Recent data show that over 99% of hospitalizations and deaths for COVID in recent weeks have been among people who are unvaccinated.
Misleading: “There are effective treatments for COVID-19.”
This is true, but unfortunately, the treatments we have, including monoclonal antibodies, are only modestly effective. It is far better to prevent this disease than it is to treat it. Further, some proposed treatments have spectacularly failed in clinical trials: hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin have shown little or no benefit when subjected to rigorous scrutiny.
Misleading: “Getting COVID-19 gives long-term protection from getting it again.”
Sadly, this is not true for everyone. Getting COVID-19 provides partial immunity from the specific variant you were infected with, whereas the vaccine is effective in preventing disease in people who have had COVID as well as those who have not.
Misunderstanding: “Why should you care if I get vaccinated if the vaccine works?”
I care about people whether or not they believe me. I also care about the people who can’t get the vaccine, due to medical condition. I also know the vaccine isn’t perfect, and that the fewer people who could get and then spread the disease, the safer it is for everyone, and the lower the risk of dangerous new variants.
Lie: “Doctors hope to profit from all the disease and sickness.”
I don’t know any doctor who wouldn’t be delighted to never see a case of COVID-19 again. Too many of our patients, friends, colleagues and family have died.
Why is there misinformation? Some people pass it on in good faith, so check what you share on social media. Some people are trying to sell their own products. Some believe wild conspiracy theories. And a few people promote disinformation just because they want to create discord. Don’t let them.