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Outrage of the Month: Deadly Politicization of COVID Vaccines

Health Letter, March 2023

By Michael Carome, M.D.


If you’re not outraged,
you’re not paying attention!

Read what Public Citizen has to say about the biggest blunders and outrageous offenses in the world of public health, published monthly in Health Letter.

Image: Phil Pasquini/Shutterstock.com

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been more than 100 million confirmed cases of COVID and more than 1.1 million COVID-related deaths in the United States since the onset of the pandemic in early 2020.

Numerous studies have shown that the number of hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID would have been much higher without the remarkably rapid development and deployment of safe and effective COVID vaccines — particularly those developed by Pfizer and BioNTech and by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health that rely on mRNA technology.

Disturbingly, some elected officials in the United States have chosen to ignore the scientific evidence and spread misinformation or disinformation or taken other actions that will discourage COVID vaccination in order to score political points.

For example, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in December 2022 announced the filing of a petition with the Florida Supreme Court to impanel a statewide grand jury “to investigate crimes and wrongdoing committed against Floridians related to the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Then, at a Jan. 17, 2023, news conference, Governor DeSantis falsely claimed, “Almost every study now has said that with these new [COVID] boosters, you’re more likely to get infected with the bivalent booster.” Among the evidence cited by the governor’s press office in support of his claim was a study conducted by researchers at the Cleveland Clinic.

But the Cleveland Clinic study actually showed the opposite of what DeSantis stated: among more than 51,000 working-aged Cleveland Clinic employees, the bivalent COVID booster vaccine was 30% effective in preventing infection. Dr. Nabin Shrestha, an infectious disease physician and the lead author for the study, told PolitiFact that the data did not show a link between bivalent COVID booster vaccination and an increased risk of contracting COVID.

Even more appalling are efforts by some politicians to criminalize administration of certain COVID vaccines. For example, last month, two members of the Idaho state legislature — State Senator Tammy Nichols and State Representative Judy Boyle — cosponsored legislation that would make administration of a COVID or any other mRNA vaccine to an individual (or any other mammal) a criminal misdemeanor.

Such efforts by elected officials to seek political advantage by discouraging or attacking COVID vaccinations ultimately will have deadly consequences.

To save lives and protect public health, public health agencies and experts throughout the United States must aggressively engage in thoughtful and broadly targeted public education campaigns to counter the misinformation and disinformation about COVID vaccines that are permeating the country. As part of this effort, they must aggressively rebut politicians who spread misinformation about or seek to criminalize the use of COVID vaccines and thereby directly undermine public confidence in these life-saving medical products.