PAUL BUTLER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: figuring out fact from fiction.
Many people have passionate viewpoints on vaccines, especially when it comes to COVID-19. Everyone has to make his or her own decision about whether to get one. And reasonable people fall on both sides of that choice.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: As we’ve reported on these issues over the last year, many of you suggested we look into information posted online by one particular group. They call themselves America’s Frontline Doctors—or AFLDS.
So WORLD’s editorial team asked our medical correspondent, Dr. Charles Horton, to research the group and its claims.
And he joins us now to tell us what he discovered. Doctor, good morning!
CHARLES HORTON, CORRESPONDENT: Good morning!
REICHARD: So, who is behind America’s Frontline Doctors? What can you tell us about the organization and its founders?
HORTON: It first showed up last July, and it seemed more political than medical – it was kinda theoretically there to promote the idea that hydroxychloroquine was a cure for COVID, but it kept coming back to politics. If you go to Internet Archive, the original version of their website warns that “the great American experiment of a Constitutional Republic with Representative Democracy, [sic] will cease.” unless we follow their suggestions.
So that’s its roots – it was a political group, arguing against things like masks and lockdowns, but focusing on this argument about hydroxychloroquine instead of on the economic fallout from anti-COVID measures. The group’s founder was a lady named Simone Gold, who was back in the headlines briefly after January 6, because she and AFLDS communications director John Strand were with the rioters illegally inside the Capitol Building that day . They’ve both been arrested for that. So again, Gold has been a very political figure.
REICHARD: Okay, well let’s talk about the group’s particular claims. It has questioned whether COVID-19 is really all that dangerous, given that a commensurate number of people die annually from other diseases, like heart disease is about 600K a year. What have you found there?
HORTON: Well, that argument, far from showing that COVID isn’t a threat. If we add to these leading scourges in American life something else that is able to kill thousands and thousands of people. That doesn’t say we shouldn’t take it seriously but rather that we should take it all the more seriously.
COVID-19 has killed over 600,000 people in America – that number speaks for itself, but AFLDS then essentially argues that the numbers are wrong, because last March’s HHS decision should be reported on death certificates when it appeared to be the cause of death. Keep in mind, that was when it was almost impossible to get a test. Tests were extremely scarce and we were trying to get the least bad data that we could about how this pandemic was proceeding.
And here’s a great example of where AFLDS tips its hand, in terms of its goal being to play the whole thing down. It cites very reassuring statistics about “overall survivability, counting all comers. You know, counting your healthy 20 year old marathon runner and so forth. And it’s writing really tries not to speak very much about what COVID means if you aren’t as healthy, if you aren’t as young. That is in fact where a lot of those 600,000 deaths came from.
REICHARD: Now, regarding COVID-19 vaccines, the group refers to them as “experimental vaccines,” is that correct? And also if you could address the point that these aren’t vaccines at all, they are shots, like flu shots?
HORTON: No, and this is where AFLDS goes from airing opinions – they don’t like masks, they think the economy should have stayed more open – to statements that are just out-and-out wrong. The vaccines are not experimental. They are sold under an Emergency Use Authorization, or EUA, which allows them to be sold without the full FDA approval.
REICHARD: What are the unvarnished facts about the safety and the effectiveness of the vaccines, particularly with regard to the delta variant?
HORTON: There’s great news here – we’d all held our breath about how they’d do against delta variant, but they ended up doing really well where it counts the most – which is in preventing severe illness and hospitalization. Data from Israel showed that Pfizer’s vaccine was 91% effective against severe illness and 88% effective against hospitalization. It didn’t do as well against simply getting sick – it was 39% effective for that – but turning a case that would have sent someone to the hospital, or even ended his life, into a week of feeling crummy in bed is still a win.
REICHARD: Final question: we’ve seen some instances of heart inflammation with the vaccines, what about that?
HORTON: Rare is the word—on the order of one per 100,000 in young men, who were the highest-risk group for it – and it’s almost always transient. It also seems to go with the mRNA vaccines, so folks who want to sidestep that question could also go with Johnson & Johnson. That’s not an mRNA vaccine.
REICHARD: Okay, Dr. Charles Horton is W ORLD’s medical correspondent. He lives and works and raises his family in Pennsylvania. Dr. Horton, always a pleasure!
HORTON: Likewise! Thanks so much.
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