“This is exactly what anti-vaccine groups do,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, an infectious diseases specialist and author of “Preventing the Next Pandemic: Vaccine Diplomacy in a Time of Anti-Science.”
Now, the same groups are blaming patients’ coincidental medical problems on covid shots, even when it’s clear that age or underlying health conditions are to blame, Hotez said. “They will sensationalize anything that happens after someone gets a vaccine and attribute it to the vaccine,” Hotez said.
For example, in a group of 10 million people, nearly 800 people ages 55 to 64 typically die of heart attacks or coronary disease in one week, Osterholm said. Public health officials “are not ready” for the onslaught of news and social media stories to come, he cautioned.
Public health officials need to do a better job communicating the risks — real and imagined — from vaccines, said Osterholm, who served on President Joe Biden’s transition coronavirus advisory board.
“You get one chance to make a first impression,” Osterholm said. “Even if we come back later and say, “No, [the deaths] had nothing to do with vaccination, it was coronary artery disease,’ the damage has already been done.”
“Coincidence is turning out to be quite lethal to COVID vaccine recipients,” Kennedy wrote. Kennedy described the deaths as suspicious, accusing medical officials of following an “all-too-familiar vaccine propaganda playbook” and “strategic chicanery.”
“We’re going to see these events happen, and we have to follow up on every one of these cases,” Osterholm said. “I don’t want people to think that we’re sweeping them under the rug.”
A rare condition
“It shouldn’t give anyone pause about whether the vaccine is safe or not,” said Dr. James Zehnder, a hematologist and director of clinical pathology at Stanford Medicine.
Michael’s bleeding disorder could have been developing silently for some time, said Dr. Adam Cuker, director of the Penn Blood Disorders Center at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. It could be a coincidence that Michael started showing symptoms shortly after vaccination, he said. About 30 Americans are diagnosed with immune thrombocytopenia every day.
The timing of Michael’s illness suggests it had another cause, doctors said. According to his wife’s Facebook post, his bleeding problems began three days after his first covid shot. It takes the body 10 to 14 days after vaccination to generate antibodies, which would be needed to cause immune thrombocytopenia, said Dr. Cindy Neunert, a pediatric hematologist at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City.
In most cases, the cause of thrombocytopenia is never known, said Dr. Deepak Bhatt, executive director of interventional cardiovascular programs at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
Many patients with immune thrombocytopenia are now wondering if they should be vaccinated against covid, Cuker said. Cuker said he urges nervous patients to be vaccinated, noting that any problems could be managed by closely monitoring their platelet levels and adjusting medication if needed.
Even in patients with underlying bleeding conditions, “it’s still safer to get vaccinated than to get covid,” Zehnder said.
“If you give a vaccine to a large enough number of people, there are going to be rare adverse events but there are also going to be coincidental events unrelated to the vaccine,” Cuker said. “If an anti-vaccine group uses a single case, where no link has been proven, to discourage people from vaccination, that’s terrible.”
Barbara Loe Fisher, president of the National Vaccine Information Center, said her site provides balanced information from reputable news sources, including CNN, CBS and the Miami Herald, as well as Pfizer and the CDC.
In an interview with KHN, Kennedy said he questions why government officials have been so quick to dismiss connections between vaccinations and deaths. “How in the world do they know if it’s a vaccine injury or not?” he asked.
“We don’t discourage anybody from getting vaccinated,” Kennedy said. “All we’re doing is conveying the data, which is what the government should be doing. … We print the truth, which is what the medical agencies ought to do.”
“They have come out against every public health measure to control the pandemic,” Carpiano said. “They have said public health is public enemy No. 1.”
Recently, anti-vaccine activists have been so eager to discredit immunizations that they have blamed covid for the deaths of people who are very much alive.
Anti-vaccine activists are adept at manipulating video, Smith said.
“They are notorious for using videos and images purportedly showing the adverse effects of vaccines, such as autism in children and seizures in other vaccine recipients,” Smith said. “The more emotive and graphic the videos and images — irrespective of whether it’s actually linked at all to vaccines or not — the better.”
Anti-vaccine groups often build fables around “a tiny, tiny grain of truth,” Smith said. “This is why misinformation, specifically vaccine misinformation, can be so convincing. … But this information is almost always taken completely out of context, creating claims that are either misleading or outright false.”
Distorting facts to discourage vaccination, Cuker said, is “very irresponsible and damaging to public health.”