A coronavirus vaccine is still months or years away, but groups that peddle misinformation about immunizations are already taking aim, potentially eroding confidence in what could be humanity’s best chance to defeat the virus.
In recent weeks, vaccine opponents have made several unsubstantiated claims, including allegations that vaccine trials will be dangerously rushed or that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States’ top infectious diseases expert, is blocking cures to enrich vaccine makers.
They’ve also falsely claimed that Microsoft founder Bill Gates wants to use a vaccine to inject microchips into people — or to cull 15% of the world’s population.
Vaccine opponents in the U.S. have been around for a long time. Their claims range from relatively modest safety concerns about specific vaccines or the risk of side effects to conspiracy theories that border on the bizarre.
The movement is receiving renewed attention, especially as it aligns itself with groups loudly protesting restrictions on daily life aimed at controlling the spread of the virus. Health professionals say vaccine misinformation could have lethal consequences if it leads people to opt for bogus cures instead.
“Only a coronavirus vaccine can truly protect us from future outbreaks,” said Dr. Scott Ratzan, a physician and medical misinformation expert at the City University of New York and Columbia University. “But what if the effort succeeds and large numbers of people decide not to vaccinate themselves or their children?”
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While vaccines for diseases such as polio, smallpox and measles have benefited millions, some skeptics reject the science, citing a distrust of modern medicine and government. Others say mandatory vaccine requirements violate their religious freedom.
Rita Palma, the leader of the anti-vaccine group in Long Island called My Kids, My Choice, is among those who say their families won’t get the coronavirus vaccine.
“Many of us are anxiety stricken at the thought of being forced to get a vaccine,” Palma said. “I will never choose to have a COVID-19 vaccine. I don’t want the government forcing it on my community or my family.”
From the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, vaccine skeptics have tailored several long-standing claims about vaccine safety to fit the current outbreak. When the first U.S. case was announced in January, some alleged the coronavirus was manufactured and that patents for it could be found online.
Thousands of deaths later, vaccine opponents are endorsing unapproved treatments, second-guessing medical experts and pushing fears about mandatory vaccinations. They’ve also latched onto protests against stay-at-home orders in the U.S.
“The coronavirus has created this perfect storm of misinformation,” remarked David A. Broniatowski, an associate professor at George Washington University’s school of engineering and applied science who has published several studies on vaccine misinformation.
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Last week, an anti-vaccine activist was arrested in Idaho after repeatedly refusing police orders to leave a playground closed because of the pandemic. The woman, who was there with other families, is affiliated with two groups that protested at the Idaho Statehouse against stay-at-home orders.
Facebook groups formed to organize the protests have been peppered with vaccine hoaxes and myths. Perhaps no one plays a bigger role in the conspiracy theories than Gates, who is funding vaccine research. The online movement has centered concerns around a COVID-19 vaccine on false claims that Gates is planning to microchip people with the vaccine or use it to reduce the world’s population.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a vaccine critic who helped popularize unsubstantiated claims that vaccines can cause autism, said Gates’ work gives him “dictatorial control of global health policy.” Roger Stone, a former adviser to President Donald Trump, went further on a New York City radio show, saying Gates “and other globalists” are using the coronavirus “for mandatory vaccinations and microchipping people.”
Such wild theories can have real-world effects. False rumors that Gates hoped to test an experimental vaccine in South Africa became mainstream after a news site erroneously reported the claim. One of the country’s political parties then sent a letter to President Cyril Rampahosa demanding answers about “deals” struck with Gates.
In fact, Gates and his wife are financing a vaccine trial in Philadelphia and Kansas City, Missouri, not South Africa. He also suggested creating a database of people immune to the virus, not implanting microchips.
On Monday, during remarks recognizing World Immunization Week, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus criticized vaccine skeptics for spreading misinformation at a time when many families are delaying or skipping routine childhood immunizations because they’re afraid of COVID-19 exposure in doctors’ offices.
“Myths and misinformation about vaccines are adding fuel to the fire,” he said.
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Health experts have repeatedly said there is no evidence the coronavirus was intentionally created or spread. They also insist that vaccines are not only safe, but essential to global health.
“Vaccine researchers and anyone who is a vaccine advocate cares deeply about vaccine safety,” said Dr. Paul Offit, a Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia physician and co-inventor of a vaccine for rotavirus, which kills hundreds of thousands of children annually.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. But it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death for some people, especially older adults and people with existing health problems.
The vaccine debate is fertile ground for groups looking to sow discord in the United States. Russia seized on it to create divisions before the 2016 U.S. election, and appears to be at it again.
A report from a European Union disinformation task force found numerous conspiracy theories in English-language Russian media, including state-run RT, claiming an eventual vaccine will be used to inject nanoparticles into people.
“When pro-Kremlin disinformation outlets spread anti-vaccine tropes, they become responsible for those who will hesitate to seek professional medical care,” the EU report said.
© 2020 The Canadian Press
The Lancet retracts hydroxychloroquine study following data concerns – Global News
One of the world’s most prestigious medical journals, The Lancet, has retracted an influential COVID-19 research paper after three of the paper’s authors said the patient data used for the study could not be independently verified.
The paper, published on May 22, sparked worldwide concern that using the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine on COVID-19 patients may not be safe.
“After publication of our Lancet article, several concerns were raised with respect to the veracity of the data and analysis conducted by Surgisphere Corporation and its founder and our co-author, Sapan Desai, in our publication,” authors Mandeep Mehra, Frank Ruschitzka and Amit Patel said in a statement published by The Lancet, Thursday.
“Our independent peer reviewers informed us that Surgisphere would not transfer the full dataset, client contracts, and the full ISO audit report to their servers for analysis as such transfer would violate client agreements and confidentiality requirements.
“As such, our reviewers were not able to conduct an independent and private peer review and therefore notified us of their withdrawal from the peer-review process.
“We deeply apologise to you, the editors, and the journal readership for any embarrassment or inconvenience that this may have caused.”
The observational study had found that after reviewing 96,000 COVID-19 patients across six continents, those treated with hydroxychloroquine had a higher risk of heart arrhythmia and death.
“It caused people to stop what they’re doing (and) delay the high quality science in order to sort out whether this initial paper was accurate or inaccurate” said Derek Exner, Associate Dean of Clinical Trials at the University of Calgary Cummings School of Medicine.
The World Health Organization immediately suspended the hydroxycholoroquine arm of its international Solidarity trial pending a safety review.
On Wednesday, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced that review was complete and that trial would be able to resume.
“The Data Safety and Monitoring Committee of the solidarity trial has been reviewing the data. On the basis of the available mortality data, the members of the committee recommended that there are no reasons to modify the trial protocol,” he said.
“The executive group received this recommendation and endorsed the continuation of all arms of solidarity trial, including hydroxychloroquine.”
Enrollment for The Alberta HOPE COVID-19 trial at the University of Calgary was suspended following The Lancet study publication as well.
“Our safety committee has reviewed everything and said that look, the trial looks totally safe and there’s no major adverse affects with hydroxychloroquine,” said Dr. Michael Hill, the trial’s co-lead.
WHO halts hydroxychloroquine clinical trials
Still, the delay has been costly for the project.
In the nearly two weeks since the Alberta research was suspended, COVID-19 cases in that province have dropped. A spokesperson for Alberta Health says the trial might not resume at all.
“We understand the trial will remain on hold for the next 10 days while the researchers determine whether to suspend for the summer pending (a) fall recurrence of cases or close the trial formally with a plan for data pooling with international collaborators,” said Tom McMillan in an email to Global News.
The coronavirus pandemic has put pressure on scientists to work faster than ever before, but some researchers worry if the cost of speedy science may be too high.
“Of course this pandemic is unfolding at a very rapid pace and the rate of new knowledge is unprecedented and the rate of data sharing is also unprecedented,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases physician at the University of Toronto.
“But it’s also important that you get it right and there’s clearly got to be a balance of speed with accuracy. You can’t compromise accuracy.
“(That would) erode public trust in science, in medicine and in public health and this is time more than ever before where we need public trust in science, medicine and in public health.”
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
2,000 COVID-19 cases missing from Toronto's map of hot spots – CBC.ca
More than 2,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases are missing from the map the City of Toronto released last week that shows infections by neighbourhood, CBC News has found.
The detailed geographic information about the spread of the novel coronavirus was released last week by Toronto Public Health, marking the first time such data has been made available in Ontario during the pandemic. It shows infections based on where patients live.
But in a review of published data, CBC News found the count on the map comes up short.
On Thursday morning, the map showed 9,623 positive COVID-19 cases distributed over 140 neighbourhoods. That’s 2,029 cases short of the official 11,652 total count for that day.
That means roughly one out of every five cases is missing in the city’s own geographic analysis. Similar proportions of missing data were found in the map and case counts from previous days.
The data gap was not mentioned in any of the local health authority’s statistics or on its webpage until CBC pointed it out.
An extra row identified as “Missing addresses/postal code,” totalling 2,029 cases, has been added to the city’s downloadable spreadsheet showing the number of cases assigned to each neighbourhood.
Toronto Public Health blames the missing data on reports sent by testing labs. The public health authority says some forms only have a name and an address, while others don’t have a patient’s postal code or phone number, leaving health authorities scrambling to fill in gaps.
“Sometimes, they are not putting enough contact details, and in the legislation it doesn’t specify that you must include XYZ details of the individual,” said Dr. Vinita Dubey, Toronto’s associate medical officer of health, referring to the provincial law that requires medical labs to report positive results of certain tests to local health authorities.
“It just requires that it be reported, so that’s where some of the missing information and gaps occur.”
Dubey said it’s “very unlikely” that the missing data had an impact on contact tracing, but that there could have been delays as her staff had to retrieve missing contact information before they could connect with a patient who tested positive.
Toronto Public Health said that so far, it has been able to complete contact tracing for a patient within 24 hours in 88 per cent of cases.
The issue of information transfer between laboratories and public health units was raised last Friday in a report to city council and the Toronto Board of Health by Toronto Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa.
“Laboratories’ reports are received all together in one large fax, sometimes containing hundreds of individual lab results, which must be taken apart for further processing,” de Villa wrote.
She called for changes in laboratory procedures and the provincial law.
Missing hot spots
Beyond potential delays in contact tracing, the missing geographic data might have another impact.
Toronto’s current map distribution suggests that some of the city’s poorest and most diverse neighbourhoods — predominantly in the northwest and northeast areas — have had the highest number of cases so far and might be most vulnerable to the novel coronavirus.
As Ontario is ramping up testing, resources like mobile testing clinics, staff and personal protection equipment will be focused on those hardest-hit areas of the city.
But with 2,000 cases missing, one researcher familiar with Toronto’s map data said health authorities could be missing out on other vulnerable communities.
Kate H. Choi, an associate professor in the department of sociology at Western University in London, Ont., said Toronto has been ahead of the curve in terms of COVID-19 data collection, so she was “really, really surprised” when she was told how many of the city’s confirmed cases were missing from its map.
She said part of the issue might also be that some populations are less likely to be able to provide a precise address or a postal code, including homeless people, migrant workers or nursing home residents.
“We may be missing COVID-19 hot spots or certain vulnerable populations may be missing from the narrative about COVID-19 in Toronto.”
Alternatively, some Torontonians might feel a false sense of security after assuming their neighbourhood is low-risk based on the map, said Choi. It’s also possible that resources and staff could fail to be deployed to hospitals in unknown hot spots, which could lead to more transmission of the virus.
“Those 2,029 individuals are someone’s loved one,” said Choi. “They are also 2,029 people who could be your neighbours. They could be residents in an area where there are a lot of asymptomatic carriers and unfortunately, that may mean they could bring COVID-19 to your doorsteps.”
WATCH | Toronto releases a map showing the city’s COVID-19 cases:
Choi stressed that more research on the age, gender and other characteristics of the missing 2,029 cases is needed to fully understand the impact and risks of this data gap.
Toronto Public Health has also repeatedly said that the map shows where patients infected with COVID-19 live and not where they acquired the infection.
Gap won’t be fixed for weeks
Toronto Public Health said it does not have the resources to go looking for the 2,029 missing postal codes at the moment.
“Some of them were early on in our outbreak and so it would require going back to some of these cases in February and March. That work won’t be done until we either have less cases or have reached the end of the first wave,” said Dubey.
This is the second data gap uncovered by CBC in less than a week. On Monday, it was revealed that Ontario hospitals had failed to flag 700 positive COVID-19 tests to public health officials because of a mixup.
In a statement to CBC, Ontario Health has said the impact of the error “may not be fully understood for some time.”
Safety officers heading to Manitoba beaches amid COVID-19, no new cases reported Thursday – Globalnews.ca
Health officials say safety officers are being deployed to three popular Manitoba beaches to make sure beach-goers are staying safe while enjoying the sun amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The safety officers will be patrolling the beaches in Birds Hill, Winnipeg Beach, and Grand Beach Provincial Parks starting Thursday, the province said in a release.
The news comes as health officials reported no new cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba Thursday, leaving the province’s total number of lab-confirmed positive and probable cases at 298.
While provincial parks and beaches are open to the public, health officials are warning those heading into the great outdoors physical distancing rules remain in place, and beach-goers should keep at least four metres of separation between each group’s towels and blanket on the beach.
They also recommend bringing your own life jackets and personal flotation devices as the province’s life-jacket loaner program has been suspended to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
The province says there are currently seven active cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba and no one is in hospital or intensive care because of the virus.
To date 284 people have recovered from COVID-19, the province says.
There have been 46,701 tests for the virus completed across the province since early February, health officials say, with 899 done on Wednesday.
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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus.
For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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