“The past was alterable. The past never had been altered. Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia.” ― George Orwell, 1984
Releasing new pandemic guidelines last week, the CDC epidemiologist Greta Massetti divulged to reporters what many experts have long been saying: there is no difference between a COVID-19 vaccine and prior infection.
“Both prior infection and vaccination confer some protection against severe illness,” Massetti told reporters. “And so it really makes the most sense to not differentiate with our guidance or our recommendations based on vaccination status at this time.”
Major media outlets such as NPR, CNN, Washington Post, and the New York Times, dutifully repeated back new statements from CDC officials, without noting they had reported the complete opposite last year: COVID-19 vaccines provided much better protection than prior infection. See this CNN interview last August, for example, where Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy allegedly shot down an “antivaxxer’s claim” about natural immunity.
“We are seeing more and more data that tells us, that while you get some protection from natural protection, it’s not nearly as strong as what you get from the vaccine,” Dr. Murthy told CNN at the time.
While the natural immunity versus vaccination debate has been controversial over the last year, what is not debatable is that midterm elections are coming this November. And with a majority of Americans unhappy with the President’s pandemic policies, perhaps the CDC is relying on “midterm science” to guide their new appreciation for natural immunity?
The media’s forgetfulness of what they reported just last year on vaccines and prior infection is part of the pandemic’s Great Misremembering, a collective amnesia where we march in step to government messaging, while failing to recall prior statements and moments of glaring contradiction. For example when the media reported that the NIH’s Anthony Fauci was fully vaccinated and still got COVID-19, and then they misremembered to report his prior statement, “When people are vaccinated, they can feel safe that they are not going to get infected.”
“CDC’s COVID-19 prevention recommendations no longer differentiate based on a person’s vaccination status because breakthrough infections occur, though they are generally mild,” the agency now says in new guidelines. To help everyone join the Great Misremembering, here are some incidents you must fail to recall.
Mother Jones early out the gate
In the first few confusing months of the pandemic, when researchers were still trying to understand the outbreak, Mother Jones crack reporter Kiera Butler already figured out the greatest threat to pandemic science: the ubiquitous “antivaxxers” pushing a dangerous “theory” called natural immunity. Note the scare quotes in the title around natural immunity.
According to Butler, this “dangerous theory” just might go mainstream. She ended her article quoting an expert who warned that if the natural immunity idea takes hold, it could persist even after the coronavirus pandemic dies down. “Those of us in this field will be cleaning up these messes for years to come,” Butler’s expert told her.
This “mess” now includes the CDC’s latest guidance.
John Snow Memorandum
Late in the pandemic’s first year, a group of researchers released a statement called the “John Snow Memorandum” that helped to shape American policy, as many of the signers had large social media followings. Among the signatories was Rochelle Walensky, then a Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and now the Director of the CDC. “Any pandemic management strategy relying upon immunity from natural infections for COVID-19 is flawed,” reads the statement signed by the current CDC Director.
Yes, the very same person who runs the CDC that now tells us to not differentiate between vaccine and natural infection warned us early in the pandemic that any pandemic policy that relies on natural infection is flawed.
As you read the CDC’s new guidance, please remember to misremember the memorandum previously signed by the current CDC Director.
CNN’s Maggie Fox: reliable press release journalism
Few reporters worked harder on behalf of vaccine manufacturers and the federal government to give full throated support to vaccines than CNN’s Maggie Fox. As I previously reported, CDC Director Walensky divulged earlier this year that she had been overly optimistic about the efficacy of Pfizer’s vaccine after she saw a report on CNN. When I tracked down CNN’s article, I found that it had been written by Maggie Fox and was little more than a regurgitation of Pfizer’s own press release that had gone out earlier on the same day of her story.
In short, Pfizer’s press release became CNN’s headline, eventually becoming the CDC’s optimistic vaccine pandemic policy.
Shortly after the COVID-19 vaccines became available, Science Magazine published a study that found lasting immunity after recovery from infection. “Several months ago, our studies showed that natural infection induced a strong response, and this study now shows that the responses last,” the study’s lead author told the National Institutes of Health. “We are hopeful that a similar pattern of responses lasting over time will also emerge for the vaccine-induced responses.”
Further evidence accumulated in May when researchers published a study in Nature that concluded, “Overall, our results indicate that mild infection with SARS-CoV-2 induces robust antigen-specific, long-lived humoral immune memory in humans.”
Proceeding with little caution, CNN’s Maggie Fox tweeted the following July, “No valid scientific study has found that natural immunity protects better than vaccination does.” She then went on to write several stories throughout 2021 that continued to promote the notion that vaccination was superior to natural immunity.
Fox left CNN sometime around the end of the year, and wrote this January on her personal website:
But vaccinated people have more protection against severe disease than people who are unvaccinated – including those who have been infected once or more already. That’s because vaccines boost the immune system better than natural infection does.
With CDC guidelines that “no longer differentiate based on a person’s vaccination status” I tweeted to Fox asking if she wanted to update her previous opinion that seemed to ignore relevant science on natural immunity.
Finding some disparity in the meaning between “difference” and “differentiate”—the first is a noun, the second a verb—Fox tweeted back that I was trolling and attacking her, and that the CDC did not state what it stated.
COVID fact checks, of course
No aspect of the Great Misremembering would be complete without being careful to forget all the amazing fact checks out there. They function, of course, by carefully choosing the most extreme statement to carefully pick apart, and then implying that anyone even remotely associated with such thinking is a complete nutter.
So it’s not surprising to find some nutpicking at both LeadStories and Health Feedback.
LeadStories is funded by both Facebook and a Chinese company cited by the U.S. government for national security concerns. Writers at the website recently falsely attacked researchers for using a database on vaccine safety that they didn’t actually use.
Last August, LeadStories posted one of their typical fact checks that is difficult to follow and cherry picks information to come out in support of vaccines.
Since the CDC now says to not differentiate between prior infections and vaccination, one wonders if LeadStories is going to now fact check the federal government.
Health Feedback is a Facebook fact-checking service run by Emmanuel Vincent, who has been hiding throughout Paris to avoid appearing in court for possibly colluding with the US federal government to ban people from social media and deny them their First Amendment rights. This fact check appeared just a few months ago, in April, and one wonders if they are going to update it to reflect the CDC’s new guidance.
Don’t hold your breath!
How will we forget the Twitter experts?
Ryan Marino is a medical toxicologist and assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University, who has been making a name for himself as a “pro science” communicator when reporters need an expert to quote in some pointless, nutty story like Lyme Disease is not an “intergalactic substance.”
After making a name for himself debunking Gwyneth Paltrow and Goop, Canada-famous law professor Timothy Caulfield pivoted to position himself as a COVID-19 expert, and quickly dismissed as a “conspiracy” the idea that the pandemic could have started from a lab. Caulfield almost never upsets powerful corporations in biomedicine, and managed to do so again by promoting vaccines.
And of course, Twitter’s very online resident gynecologist, Jen Gunter, who rarely misses an opportunity to jump into the middle of a controversy—any controversy. With typical lack of self-restraint, Gunter slapped down a critic who pointed to the importance to natural immunity some months back.
“Vaccine induced immunity is superior,” the gynecologist tweeted. “So yeah, maybe come at me with a different argument.”
That different argument would be the new CDC guidelines, of course. But let us all forget.
Reprinted from the author’s Substack.
Published under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
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