I'm as ready for the pandemic to be over as anyone else, so I was particularly angered by two recent bits of misinformation — one from President Biden and the other from CNBC — that threaten to extend it.
In a pre–holiday-gathering speech, Biden tried to be cheery and comforting. "I know some Americans are wondering if you can safely celebrate the holidays with your family and friends," he reassured. "The answer is, yes, you can if you and those you celebrate with are vaccinated, particularly if you've gotten your booster shot."
But he left out significant bits of information.
First, a lot of people are not adequately protected by vaccinations, particularly the elderly, diabetics, or those who are immunocompromised.
Second, we now know that the immunity from the Pfizer boosters is short-lived and declines by 3 months. It's unlikely to be much different for Moderna. Breakthrough infections occur regularly (2.2% in New York City).
Showing a glimmer of understanding, Biden said, "We'll see some fully vaccinated people get COVID, potentially in large numbers." Does he forget how burdened local hospitals and urgent care centers already are and that healthcare workers are stretched beyond their limits? In addition, many people must delay diagnostic tests and elective surgery because the hospitals are cluttered and overburdened with mostly unvaccinated people who have COVID.
Because of the stress on healthcare workers, there has been an exodus of medical workers, with 18% having quit since the pandemic began. More are considering following suit.
Yes, Biden is correct that most vaccinated people will not die. How much risk for illness and subsequent debility are you willing to take? Biden nowhere mentions long COVID (PASC). This frankly scares me more than dying from COVID. We have no good handle on how many vaccinated people will become long-haulers. Estimates range from a low of 0.5% in a small study from Israel to 5% in a larger review of breakthrough infections. But we need much more data to define this risk.
Biden does not stress that rapid tests can reduce the risk for infection. Perhaps this was by design, not wanting to call attention to how the government has failed us on rapid tests and how shameful our response is to that of other countries. In most areas, test kits are unavailable and are still quite expensive, beyond affordability for many.
The administration's plan to have kits available for insured people, who would then have to submit forms for reimbursement from their insurer, is ludicrous in its complexity. It also leaves lower-income, uninsured people out in the cold.
It's a good start that 500 million free tests will be available come January. It's unfortunate that they didn't plan to have such tests available before the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
Biden also doesn't talk about the importance of masking at all, and CNBC blew it with this headline:
Experts are uniformly telling people not to use surgical masks; they are too loose-fitting and allow too much air in at the sides. Everyone knowledgeable says to use an N95, KN95, KF94, or similar tightly fitting and highly filtering mask. NPR had a recent show: "With Omicron, you need a mask that means business."
But if someone can't tolerate an N95, then a surgical mask with a more tightly fitting cloth mask over it is recommended by many. The nonprofit Project N95 (projectn95.org) has affordable, vetted masks and recommendations.
CNBC should issue a retraction and correction; their misinformation is dangerous.
I'm very concerned that in trying to bring reassurance and holiday cheer to the masses, both Biden and CNBC have done a tremendous disservice. I fully expect to see a surge in infections in the next 7-10 days. It makes me sad because some of this damage to public health was needless, even if we all wanted this to be true.
She survived 25 years in solo practice in rural Cumberland, Maryland, and now works part-time. She especially loves writing about ethical issues and advocating for social justice. Follow her at drjudystone.com or on Twitter @drjudystone.
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Any views expressed above are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of WebMD or Medscape.
Cite this: Judy Stone. COVID Misinformation From the Top Offers False Cheer and True Risk - Medscape - Dec 30, 2021.