Letter: COVID misinformation from Science Friday

By | August 20, 2023

To: scifri@sciencefriday.com
Subject: COVID misinformation

I was pretty appalled by the misinformation and gaps in your discussions about COVID in your most recent episode. For example:

Your program implied that only “high-risk” people need to be worried about contracting Long COVID. In fact, the odds of even the most healthy person ending up with Long COVID after an infection are higher than 10% (exactly how much higher is not clear), and for some populations the odds of contracting Long COVID after infection are close to 50%. The odds of long-term disability resulting from COVID infection are an order of magnitude higher than with the flu, which makes the analogy to the flu that was drawn in this episode completely misleading and inappropriate.

At no point did you mention or even imply that every time someone catches COVID is a new role of the dice vis a vis Long COVID. People don’t have a 10% or 20% or 50% chance of acquiring Long COVID overall, they have that chance each time they’re infected. Not only that, but the data suggests that the odds of permanent disability actually increase with each infection, which is not at all surprising given what we now know about the impacts that COVID has on the body.

You implied that being vaccinated is highly protective against Long COVID. The best data we have now indicates that at best being vaccinated reduces the odds of acquiring Long COVID by about 35%. And to be clear, the numbers I mentioned above, i.e., minimum 10% risk of Long COVID and maximum 50% risk, already take into account vaccination.

You implied that people with severe cases of COVID are more likely to end up with Long COVID. Not only is this not true, but there’s substantial evidence at this point that people who have only a mild infection are more likely to end up with Long COVID. The exact mechanism of this is not yet determined, but one likely theory is that people who resume normal activity too soon after an infection are more likely to suffer long-term effects, and the more mild a person’s infection is the more likely they are to do that.

Your guest’s CDC apologism when asked to explain why we’re only being allowed one vaccination per year was appalling and outrageous. COVID is not (one) seasonal. We know this. Your guest blamed winter holiday travel as one source of COVID spread; is she not aware that people travel in the summer too (has she not heard of summer vacation?)? She blamed people congregating indoors and said this summer’s heatwaves were a fluke; is she not aware that there are heat waves every summer, especially given climate change? She neglected to mention at all that dry air makes COVID infection more likely and air conditioning dries out indoor air. Absolutely ridiculous.

Furthermore, this whole “The CDC doesn’t want to recommend two shots per year because it’s too much to ask of people” is completely asinine and absurd. I wish everyone would do what’s best for them and get vaccinated twice per year, but given that the government has decided to let people fend for themselves (and people are happy to do that, thanks in no small part to the misinformation I’m discussing in this email!), I should be able to decide for myself to get two shots a year for myself and my family if I’m prepared to do that. The problem isn’t only that the CDC isn’t recommending two shots per year; the problem is that they aren’t allowing people to get two shots per year, even people who understand that it’s a good idea and are willing to do it. Leaving people to fend for themselves is one thing; then not actually allowing them to take the steps they need to do that is another thing entirely, and much worse. Why wasn’t this discussed?

The misleading and omitted information about COVID provided on this episode literally endangers people’s health. I expect better from a program with “science” in its name.

Maybe you should try having some experts on your show who have been actually sounding the alarm about COVID rather than downplaying and denying its severity and acting as apologists for our government’s inadequate response. People who have been right about COVID from the start rather than repeatedly underestimating its risks. Someone from the People’s CDC, perhaps. Or Eric Topol. Or Eric Feigl-Ding. Or Lucky Tran. Or Jeff Gilchrist. Or Anthony Leonardi. The list goes on and on. There are thousands of reputable scientists and physicians sounding the alarm about our response to COVID. They have the science and the data on their side. Why don’t you give THEM a voice on your program?

Jonathan Kamens

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