Last week we got the news that a little girl, under 10 years of age, died of COVID-19 in our state. Because of privacy concerns, all we know is that she had underlying conditions and was hospitalized. Kids her age are of course not being vaccinated as yet, one more reason we still need to be careful. This is not over, not by a long shot.
I started writing this post in early April, then ended up working on other matters and putting it off for an unconscionably long time. Many things about the pandemic have become clearer since then, while others have become muddier still.
At that time a few months ago, COVID-19 was doing its maximum damage in India, and Brazil was not far behind. There were still influential voices referring to the pandemic as a “panic,” implying that it is overblown and not really so bad. One of these voices belonged to someone I respect a great deal; you could actually hear the quotation marks when he said “panic,” and I was deeply disappointed to witness that. (Anyway, if you lived in India, wasn’t panic a pretty reasonable response?) That was what got me stirred up to write about the current state of play, and how things look from the perspective of a holistic health care provider.
That is, how things look from my own perspective. Quite a few people in my profession and other areas of “alternative” medicine have been caught up in conspirituality thinking. In general, these people are sincere, and they are promoting some empowering ideas: that the human body has the capability of fighting any disease on its own, and that what appears to be illness in the material world is not really what it seems and has causes quite different from the pathogens we (sort of) understand.
They’re not wrong.
However, I submit that they are impractical and that material-world measures still need to be taken at this point. Humanity as a whole is nowhere near a time when we can all throw off disease with a thought, and this pandemic is a very, very large field of reality-stuff, a huge mass to contend with. I note that some very aware and enlightened health-care gurus have themselves become infected, some with long-term consequences. Yes, I know that the material world isn’t what it seems*, but in consensus reality, if you jump off a cliff you are going to go splat. And in consensus reality, a pathogen your body has never learned to recognize has an excellent chance of making you very sick.
The V Word
I spend a lot of time somewhere other than consensus reality, myself, and don’t put a lot of stock in it for the most part. I’m so alternative that I often treat people from a distance, essentially by just thinking about them. Yet I am still saying that as things stand, our best chance of reducing transmission of this virus and the rise of worse variants is… the dreaded V word.
My best take on the whole situation is that whether we are infected ourselves, dealing with the illness or death of loved ones, affected by the biological challenges of vaccines, or “only” experiencing the heavy pall lowered over the planet by the pandemic and its economic fallout, we WILL be affected. To an extent you can choose your response, but you will necessarily respond in some way. You can’t isolate yourself from it.
As I write this, I’m doing something that until recently was a forbidden pleasure, sitting inside at Michael Thomas Coffee, nibbling a piece of spinach quiche and sipping some nice fair-trade light roast, with other humans in the same room. I owe this enjoyable hour first and foremost to the people who developed the Pfizer vaccine.
When I last wrote about pandemic issues and those who refuse to see reason, around Halloween 2020, COVID vaccines were still only theoretical. We did not expect the degree of efficacy that we’ve had, and for a while there was more room to debate about whether it was worthwhile for any given person to get their “Fauci ouchie.” Now there’s no more question. Cases among vaccinated Americans are practically nil, while among others the virus rages on at similar levels to what it was doing months ago.
A news story that went by as I was working on this concerned an outbreak with deaths and hospitalizations, all of unvaxxed folk, at a government office building in Florida. The vaccinated guy who was exposed didn’t get it.
The wife of one of the deceased said she and her husband had considered the vaccine, but “we just wasn’t ready yet.” The virus refused to wait for them. So sad, so frustrating, so unnecessary!
And meanwhile, more transmissible variants take over. At this moment, the winner in the evolutionary race is the delta variant, the one that’s given India so much grief. It has even caused an outbreak in Australia, where the virus had seemed to be beaten— and where only a few percent of the population are fully vaccinated.
I wasn’t totally crazy about being among the first wave of vaccinees myself, both because I might have liked to see more about how the side effects played out and because a lot of other people were at higher risk than I. But as a health care provider, I was given the opportunity early on, in January, and I felt that I’d better take it while I could, for my patients’ sake as well as mine.
After I received my first shot, I experienced a major psychological boost, a sense of greater safety and freedom— along with a very sore arm that felt heavy and was difficult to use for a day or so. Since then I’ve treated some pretty significant vaccine side effects among my patients. With my patient population being small, I must conclude that they are common. Most of my patients reported no ill effects at all, though, and most of those who did got over them very quickly. Two who already had skin issues had increased inflammation and itching, which also resolved, but more slowly. Two others who had longer-lasting effects appeared to have lurking underlying illnesses which were brought to the surface. That was uncomfortable but not necessarily a bad thing, as those conditions could then be treated.
What bothers me most is that the majority people who do have significant ill effects will be left without meaningful treatment on the energetic level or even the deeper physical levels, as mainstream medicine may only apply band-aids like steroids. It’s been heartening to see that mainstream medicine has taken the matter very seriously, especially in the rare but quite dangerous cases of odd blood clots associated with the Astra-Zeneca vaccine. (For those who pointed out that birth control pills are more likely to cause clots than these vaccines, meaning it’s no big deal: these are very unusual clots and in more dangerous locations.)
‘In the new study, his team found that 15 weeks after the first vaccination, immune cells in the body were still organizing — becoming increasingly sophisticated and learning to recognize a growing set of viral genetic sequences.
“The longer these cells have to practice, the more likely they are to thwart variants of the coronavirus that may emerge. The results suggest that the vast majority of vaccinated people will be protected over the long term — at least, against the existing coronavirus variants.”
An area of great interest is the interaction between immunity after infection and that after vaccination. It looks like people who have had both get the most robust and long-lasting immunity.
There has been a surprising and wonderful development in which COVID vaccination actually becomes a treatment. A significant percentage of people with “long COVID”— the ones who never get better— are improved or even cured after receiving a vaccine. And fascinatingly enough, the vaccine put a lymphoma patient into remission (which can also happen with a viral infection). I have seen reports of Lyme disease, lupus and other conditions improving as well.
At the same time, people with autoimmune conditions and others who are on immunosuppressant drugs may not mount a sufficient immune reaction to a vaccine. Giving an extra dose to those people is an option currently being studied, and it looks like it helps.
Myocarditis has been seen, rarely but enough to worry, in young men after vaccination. So far we have been seeing it resolve and not cause a long-term problem. Myocarditis is also caused by COVID itself, so the vaccine is not causing an increased risk of it as far as I know.
Note that this study concerned healthy college athletes, not a population whose health had already been compromised. Heart damage from the virus is a real risk.
It should go without saying that vaccines aren’t 100% safe for every person every single time. No effective form of medicine is without problems when applied to millions of people. My guiding star is always the risk/benefit ratio. In the case of COVID vaccines, for most people, the benefits far, far outweigh the risks. I would contrast this with the annual flu shot, which I usually avoid on the basis of: its relatively poor efficacy, the existence of at least some immunity to these viruses and the ability to treat the illness, the small but nonzero risk of Guillain-Barre syndrome, and the fact that it has to be given over and over, putting more toxic crap in the system each time. I’m not laughing off flu in the least— I’ve had some really nasty cases. From what I know, and that’s always changing, I simply want to limit vaccines to those that make a serious difference.
In any case, we can’t vaccinate our way out of every conceivable epidemic. New pathogens come along all the time, as their nature is to evolve quickly and to evolve toward more transmissibility. It’s still crucial to continue all our basic public health measures such as tracking and isolating cases of outbreaks; that was how Ebola was contained, well before a vaccine was developed. Vigilance is still needed, all around the world. And that’s why those who demonize or laugh at laboratories that study potentially devastating viruses, like the one in Wuhan (I’m talking to YOU, Jon Stewart!) are doing great damage.
Disinformation (and some honest confusion)
A British gentleman, Chris Woollams, who publishes a very useful website that aggregates current information about cancer treatments is among those who fell into the current fashion of vilifying these efforts and Dr. Anthony Fauci personally. He was easily taken in by the right-wing campaign that paints Dr. Fauci as a liar who is somehow responsible for all we’ve been through in the past year and a half, which nicely deflects attention from the failures of the administration that was in power at the time. He even quoted Rand Paul as a reliable source of information in his article about this. (I’ll wait while you finish laughing. Take your time.) When I attempted to inject some facts into the discussion, he email-yelled at me, “Dr. Fauci is endangering me and my family!” Sadly, I can no longer consider him to be a reliable source himself, as he’s shown that his BS detector is malfunctioning.
The other day Woollams also insinuated on his website that some new research on DNA repair in human cells means that the mRNA in vaccines can become part of your DNA. That’s extremely irresponsible at best. Here’s where he got the idea: https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/7/24/eabf1771
The human genome is full of sections derived from viral RNA anyway; HIV famously uses its reverse transcriptase to write itself into our DNA. That’s normal biology. The question being explored recently is whether this mechanism might help explain why some people continue to test positive for COVID after recovery. So far, no.
Some researchers thought they did see evidence of SARS-CoV-2 integrating into the human genome:
“Reverse-transcribed SARS-CoV-2 RNA can integrate into the genome of cultured human cells and can be expressed in patient-derived tissues”
However that appears to be incorrect: https://journals.asm.org/doi/abs/10.1128/JVI.00294-21
“Host-virus chimeric events in SARS-CoV-2 infected cells are infrequent and artifactual”
From this last article: ‘”If the virus was able to integrate its genetic material into the human genome, that could have meant that any other mRNA could do the same. But because we have shown that this is not supported by current data, this should allay any concerns about the safety of mRNA vaccines,” he said.
‘It is possible for the genetic material of some viruses to be incorporated into the DNA of humans and other animals, resulting in what scientists call “chimeric events.” Human DNA contains approximately 100,000 pieces of DNA from viruses that our species have accumulated over millions of years of evolution. In total, this lost-and-found DNA from viruses makes up a bit less than 10% of the genetic material in our cells.’
So although research continues, you don’t have to worry about the mRNA in vaccines becoming part of your DNA. (If you really want to keep worrying about that, just get a different type of vaccine.)
At least Woollams’ contention is based in some sort of reality, and the underlying biology is important and fascinating, as well as confusing to the non-virologist. That can’t be said of the wacked-out statements we’ve heard from some other internet pundits.
I don’t know if anyone will ever exceed the, um, whimsy of Dr. Sherri Tenpenny’s insistence that vaccines make you magnetic, nor if any anti-vaccine concept will ever be easier to disprove. (I’m sitting on a chair made of ferrous metal right now. Nothing.) Yet, this got as far as testimony before the Ohio state legislature. Think about that for a moment. Lord, I’m glad I don’t live in Ohio anymore.
Second prize goes to the person who dreamed up the idea that the viral spike protein in the vaccine penetrates the uterine wall, thus explaining increased menstrual bleeding. Just how big do they think viruses are?
Sadly, a lot of the worst misleading statements, aka lies, about vaccines are coming from real health care providers who used to be trustworthy sources of solid medical information. I grieve particularly to see Christiane Northrup, MD in this group; I used to recommend her women’s health books to my patients. Some of these were called out by the Center for Countering Digital Hate under the title “The Disinformation Dozen,” in a presentation calling for more policing of misinformation by social media corporations. Some might find CCDH a little strident, but a number of the memes they collected are truly eye-popping and nearly at the level of the “magnetic” claim. Tenpenny, a DO, is included.
There is not a hint here of sober consideration of potential side effects or of the risks of the disease itself. Instead there is idiocy like “masks make you get sick” and “vaccines have killed more people than the disease itself” and even “if you are getting tested you are part of the problem.” Huh? And if you sift through crap like this long enough, eventually you get to the hoary old “it’s the Rothschilds.”
I want to emphasize again that their claims are easily disprovable.
Some of these folks, like Sayer Ji, have promulgated solid information about nutrition and other aspects of health in the past, before they went so far off the deep end. On the other hand, the Bollingers, of “The Truth about Cancer” fame, not only put out statements about cancer that don’t hold water, but now they also promote Mr. 45’s election fraud lies. Anyone who believes T. won the 2020 election has some obvious issues with critical thinking, and “truth” is not their strong suit.
Still, a lot of people have been burned by the medical establishment in one way or another, and they have reasons to be leery. They have trouble trusting anybody who tries to advise them about their health. So I was heartened to see that one’s personal doctor does still get named as a trustworthy source:
And trust is slowly ticking up.
These graphics come from the Zoom updates the UNM infectious disease department holds every week. The kind and supportive community of doctors and other health care personnel helps me stay on top of the latest developments in COVID prevention and treatment— including aspects like nutrition and exercise— and answer the many questions my patients bring up. It also helps me keep some semblance of sanity. The presenters put in a lot of effort to do this on top of their very demanding jobs. It’s clear to me that all these providers are doing everything they can to understand and act upon the best information they can get. When people talk trash about doctors, these are the people I think of, and it hurts my heart.
Unnecessary Deaths and Long-Term Debility
Those who refuse to take the pandemic seriously, and there still are plenty of those, often state that “only” 1% of those who are infected die. Leaving aside the question of whether that percentage is accurate, who would they like to choose for those unnecessary deaths? For a thought experiment, let’s take Albuquerque Public Schools, which has about 4000 employees. That’s a population you can probably imagine, and an appropriate one since schools have always been great places to pass diseases around. Now imagine them as 4000 people who get COVID. Imagine that 40 will die— 40 moms, dads, sisters, brothers, friends. And they’ll die miserably.
Are you OK with that? I’m not, not if we can prevent it.
But while relatively few may die, a great many who contract COVID will have long-term consequences. You know about the devastation of “long COVID,” but you may not have heard that an increased incidence of a variety of health problems and even a greater likelihood of death are seen in the months after infection, even in those who appear to recover normally.
“We show that beyond the first 30 days of illness, people with COVID-19 exhibit a higher risk of death and use of health resources. Our high-dimensional approach identifies incident sequelae in the respiratory system, as well as several other sequelae that include nervous system and neurocognitive disorders, mental health disorders, metabolic disorders, cardiovascular disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, malaise, fatigue, musculoskeletal pain and anaemia. We show increased incident use of several therapeutic agents—including pain medications (opioids and non-opioids) as well as antidepressant, anxiolytic, antihypertensive and oral hypoglycaemic agents—as well as evidence of laboratory abnormalities in several organ systems. Our analysis of an array of prespecified outcomes reveals a risk gradient that increases according to the severity of the acute COVID-19 infection (that is, whether patients were not hospitalized, hospitalized or admitted to intensive care). Our findings show that a substantial burden of health loss that spans pulmonary and several extrapulmonary organ systems is experienced by patients who survive after the acute phase of COVID-19.”
Long COVID is something you do not want. It’s still poorly understood, it’s difficult to treat, and it can completely disable you. It often follows mild cases that had seemed to be of little consequence, and it happens even to young, athletic people with no previous health issues. Take it seriously!
The best article I have seen about long COVID is not from a medical journal, but in The Atlantic. I hope you can read it and not be paywalled away. (The Atlantic is superb and worth subscribing to in any case.) The gist is that long COVID involves a derangement of the autonomic nervous system that doesn’t fix itself, but that the brain and body can be retrained with measures as simple as breathing exercises. The cases described are terrifying, but the conclusion is hopeful. I am confident that studying long COVID is helping us to better understand other post-infection syndromes like chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalitis, something else you definitely do not want.
Panic may not be helpful, but a certain degree of alarm is still appropriate. This is no time for complacency. Though a lot of us in the more-vaxxed parts of the USA are sitting pretty right now, with transmission still so high in so much of the world, the virus has millions upon millions of chances to mutate, and we have literally no idea what may happen. At this writing, the delta variant is taking over and causing havoc in a number of countries. Reducing the rate of transmission is the only way to prevent the development of variants that could resist our best efforts and prevention and treatment. And we are a long, long way off from knocking transmission down to a low level in a lot of places. Even Australia has started lockdowns again. Until everyone is safe, no one is really safe.
*”How I Know the Material World Isn’t” https://elenedom.wordpress.com/2010/05/16/how-i-know-the-material-world
Related: “Sorting Medical Fact from Fiction, Part IV: Vaccination, Variolation, and What Doctors Do Tell You” https://elenedom.wordpress.com/2020/11/01/sorting-medical-fact-from-fiction-part-iv-vaccination-variolation-and-what-doctors-do-tell-you/