Letter from the Editor: Rogue Data

R.J. King
R.J. King

The rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, and potentially more, is good news for seniors, people with pre-existing medical conditions, and those on the front lines of health care, emergency response, and vital industries.

In researching the history of vaccine development, including the latest offerings, consider the following facts. Since the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act, along with the PREP Act, became law starting in 1986, vaccine makers have been immune from liability, even if they’re negligent. In other words, they can’t be sued if something goes wrong.

There’s also been a huge public relations campaign to encourage people to get a vaccine. The effort cites the high number of deaths due to COVID-19 as compared to other viruses. But the comparisons aren’t equal as it relates to past outbreaks of Ebola, the 1918 influenza, SARS, H1N1, and more.

Before COVID-19 came along, coronaviruses such as common colds were never reported as the primary cause of death when a person passed from an illness — but the federal government changed the rules last year. In addition, the CDC and WHO have issued new guidelines that state a person who dies and is suspected of having COVID-19, even though the virus was never confirmed, may be included in death counts. 

The vaccines generally last at least six months, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. No one knows what will happen after the medication wears off. Will there be a booster shot that prevents people from spreading the virus? Today, people, whether they’re vaccinated or not, can spread the pathogen.

According to Johns Hopkins University CSSE COVID-19 Data, the death rate for the virus is 2.97 percent (April 10), and close to 3 million people have died from the pathogen. By comparison, H1N1 had a mortality rate of 0.02 percent with 12,500 deaths, according to UT Health East Texas. Ebola caused 28,652 illnesses and led to 11,325 deaths, while SARS infected 8,100 people and 744 died. 

The current strain of coronavirus has largely infected older adults and people who have severe underlying medical conditions. Given each virus varies and impacts people in different ways, sharing consistent outcomes to glean important trends as a pandemic emerges allows medical officials and the general public to enact swifter countermeasures. 

In Michigan, with early data showing older people were highly susceptible to being infected, why did Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Dr. Joneigh S. Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, send sick senior residents who had been admitted to hospitals back to their nursing homes? Did their decision contribute to the nearly one-third of people who died from COVID-19 inside senior care facilities?

As we learned, the field hospitals set up soon after the crisis emerged handled just a few dozen patients, at a cost of millions of dollars. Given Whitmer and Khaldun had access to all of the data, which they refused to share publicly, were field hospitals considered as an alternative to housing infected seniors? How about all of the empty hotels and other hospitality facilities? 

We may never know. As a legislator who long called for public transparency of government operations, Whitmer has refused to share information that is vital to the health and welfare of every citizen. For someone who was elected to serve the people of Michigan, her actions prevent public scrutiny and honest debate on how to improve outcomes. What a “damn” shame.

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