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week of September 22, 2022

GBS deaths in South Africa

The claim:

Anti-vaxxers find much ado over media reports of two deaths associated with Guillain-Barré Syndrome following COVID vaccination.

The facts:

Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) is a rare neurological disorder that can occur after some vaccines (such as the influenza vaccine) but is more likely to happen after an infection.

There have been over 20 million people vaccinated in South Africa. On average, 1 to 2 people out of every 100,000 people develop GBS every year with a case fatality rate of about 10%.

With over 60 million people in South Africa, that means you would expect to see between 600 and 1200 cases of GBS each year in South Africa, with 60-120 deaths. While every death is tragic, these two deaths do not indicate that the vaccine is generally dangerous; especially since GBS is much more common after COVID itself than it is after the vaccine.

Pandemic of the (un)vaccinated

The claim:

One viral tweet claims that 92% of all COVID deaths have been in those who were vaccinated. Does vaccination make you more susceptible to dying from COVID?

The facts:

This claim comes from a doctor who is trying to manipulate data. Taking important factors into consideration clarifies exactly who is at risk for the worst COVID outcomes.

In March of 2022, only 14% of COVID cases occurred in the unvaccinated population, when we adjust for age, the unvaccinated are more than twice as likely to get COVID and almost four times as likely to be hospitalized than their vaccinated counterparts.

Adjusting for age is essential, as older people are much more likely to be hospitalized and die from COVID than younger people, whether to not they are vaccinated. To get a true view about whether or not these deaths are related to the vaccine, we need to compare outcomes of people by age, not just throw everyone into one big bucket. Check out the real, age-adjusted data yourself.

Kids and Enterovirus D-68

The claim:

A new CDC alert about EV-D68 reminds us to review the myths and truths about this terrible, non-vaccine-preventable virus.

The facts:

In 2018, reports that Acute Flaccid Myelitis was happening mysteriously in children led to anti-vaccine claims that vaccination was to blame. While we were not certain at the time what was causing AFM, we knew that the seasonal nature of the outbreaks suggested that vaccines are not the cause. The most common risk factor appeared to be a preceding viral infection.

One theory promoted at the time that AFM is misdiagnosed transverse myelitis (TM) caused by vaccines. Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM) is distinct from Transverse Myelitis (TM) and requires an MRI to diagnose. And while tingling or numbness is a hallmark of TM, it is rare with AFM. Furthermore, many studies answered the question about TM and vaccines, only to find that the two are not connected.

Why go into this background? The new outbreaks will likely bring up the same myths, with the COVID vaccine becoming the main bogeyman. 

So here's what we know in 2022 about AFM outbreaks in children:
  • The most frequent culprit is enterovirus D68 (EV-D68), which most often cause cold-like symptoms that self-resolve
  • AFM is not a case of missed polio--testing is done for polio
  • AFM occurs in both vaccinated and unvaccinated children
  • AFM outbreaks occur every other year, unrelated to the timing of COVID vaccination and pre-dating COVID vaccines or even COVID

More VFV, just on less PSL

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