Is COVID a Pandemic of the Unvaccinated? Not Quite


By Brian C.Joondeph, MD

Physicians spreading medical misinformation, particularly about COVID, “are risking disciplinary action by state medical boards” due to their “high degree of public trust” and their “powerful platform in society.” One could say this applies more so to the president of the United States, the CDC director, and to major newspapers and media organizations, all of whom have a far larger platform than any single doctor.

For example, will Rolling Stone face disciplinary action over their recent false story about Oklahoma hospitals and ivermectin?

Those supposedly in the know about “the science” may attribute misinformation to evolving science, meaning we are learning about COVID as we go along. Yet this is not the world’s first rodeo with a respiratory virus. The science behind public health measures including masks, distancing, and lockdowns have been known for decades. It seems that the only changes these days are political considerations, and that is not science.

A popular catchphrase this past summer is that COVID is, “a pandemic among the unvaccinated.” President Biden told this to America on August 18. Joe was late to the party as CDC Director Rochelle Walensky warned of this a month earlier. Big media parroted this catchy slogan with little question. Is it true? Is it based on science or simply a push to scare and shame the unvaccinated into taking the vaccine?

By simply perusing the news, one can draw a far different conclusion, that we are instead seeing a “pandemic of the vaccinated.” In Israel, “One of the most vaccinated countries in the world has this week seen its highest number of coronavirus cases ever.” And these cases are not mild. Instead, a majority of hospitalized patients are in serious condition with close to 15 percent on ventilators. In a country with over 80 percent of adults vaccinated, this is clearly not a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” Instead, it’s the opposite, going from the model of how to manage the coronavirus to the global hot spot.

It is not just Israel. The Washington Post asks, “Iceland has been a vaccination success. Why is it seeing a coronavirus surge?” And this phenomenon has not eluded America.

Cornell University, my alma mater, also has a “pandemic of the vaccinated.” The College Fix reports, “Despite 95% vaccination rate, Cornell today has five times more COVID cases than it did this time last year.” Which leads to obvious questions about vaccine efficacy.

This catchphrase may have originated with another statistic making the rounds in America, also with little scrutiny by the media or medical establishment. This is the assertion that, “95% of people currently hospitalized for COVID-19 are unvaccinated.”

This statement, or variations, or making the rounds in the media. State governors echo this statistic. This number is pushing us backward to last year, with indoor mask mandates and calls by the Washington Post to punish the unvaccinated.

As an aside, are there calls to “punish” smokers, the obese, alcoholics, drug users, or others who place an undue burden on our healthcare system and their fellow citizens? How about illegal immigrants, bringing poor health and perhaps diseases into America for us to manage and pay for?

About that 95 percent number, the fact-checkers say yes, it is true. Does anyone fact-check the fact-checkers? Let’s take a closer look at this figure.

Either missed or ignored by the “fact-checkers” is that this 95 percent number is not based on what is happening now or in the past few months, but includes data going back to January and ending months ago, a biased data set. The Kaiser Family Foundation published a chart, listing each state, reporting vaccination and hospitalization data beginning anywhere from mid-December or mid-January through anywhere from May through July. These are not “current” real-time numbers.

First vaccinations began in mid- to late-December, and those were few. I, as one of the few, receiving my first dose before Christmas. The CDC definition of fully vaccinated includes those at least two weeks beyond their recommended one or two doses, depending on which vaccine.

By this definition, less than 1 percent of individuals would be “fully vaccinated” by the end of January when states began tracking breakthrough infections. But the clock was already ticking and the only people hospitalized had to be unvaccinated, beginning to skew the data.

Why is this important? No one was fully vaccinated when reporting began and every hospitalization in January would be classified as “unvaccinated.”

Then coincidently, or not, the CDC stopped counting breakthrough cases among the vaccinated in mid-May, a time when only a third of Americans were fully vaccinated.

As reported by Politico,

The agency said in May that it would stop routinely tracking so-called breakthrough infections that didn’t lead to hospitalization or death. Several states then stopped tracking mild breakthrough cases, and at least two states told POLITICO they are having trouble reliably tracking infections in vaccinated people.

Mild cases can become severe. If not tracking them, such progression will be missed, and not recorded. A medical internship axiom is, “If you don’t check a temperature, you can’t find a fever.” The CDC version is if you don’t count hospitalizations of the vaccinated, you won’t find any cases.

The 95 percent metric is falsely high because when the data were collected, few were vaccinated and, by necessity, the majority of those hospitalized were unvaccinated. Then breakthrough cases were no longer counted, yet states continued to collect data for another month or two. If breakthrough cases were being ignored, then only unvaccinated cases were counted, falsely creating that 95 percent figure.

A Detroit newspaper headline screamed, “98% of Michigan COVID-19 cases are from unvaccinated” yet buried in the article is the measurement period, “between Jan 15 and July 21.” There is no discussion of the fact that during the measurement period, most Michiganders had not yet been vaccinated and most of those hospitalized during that time period were by default unvaccinated. Were they even recording breakthrough cases after mid-May when the CDC stopped counting?

This is not a criticism of the vaccines, which for the current Delta variant, prevent many, but not all, individuals, from becoming severely ill or worse, and are a sound recommendation for those at higher risk. Seatbelts and bicycle helmets don’t stop death and injury completely, but they mitigate it significantly, as do the vaccines, and for those at higher risk from COVID, there is a clear benefit.

The problem is when data are cherry-picked to present a pre-determined narrative. That is when science turns into propaganda. As the Seattle Times noted of the 95 percent figure, a “misguided and dangerous statement.” Going further saying, “But it’s not that simple and to oversimplify by calling it a ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated’ will only make the problem worse.”

Vaccine hesitancy does not lie along political divisions. Interestingly blacks, Hispanics, and those with Ph.D.s are among the most vaccine-hesitant. When people see the vaccinated getting sick and dying around the world, there is hesitancy. When we were told that vaccination is the path to a return to normalcy, and instead we are going back to last year, there is hesitancy.

Shaming people with inaccurate data won’t win converts. The government and medical establishment should be honest with what they know and also what they do not know, rather than saying one thing and reversing it a month later.

Political considerations should not be part of the calculation as the virus doesn’t discriminate between Democrats and Republicans. Creating a two-tiered society will neither make America great again nor build anything back better.

We are all in this together and will sink or swim collectively based on the actions of those charged with making reasoned and evidence-based decisions. Dishonestly presenting data will only dig us all into a deeper hole.

Brian C. Joondeph is a physician and writer.


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