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Tucker Carlson’s Big Vaccine Lie Could Kill Thousands

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

On May 5, Fox News and Tucker Carlson added another entry to their laundry list of reckless and incendiary claims regarding COVID-19: "Official government data" indicates dozens of people a day are dying after receiving COVID-19 vaccinations.


Carlson inaccurately asserted that thousands of people have died after receiving the COVID-19 vaccination, claiming that "between late December of 2020 and last month, a total of 3,362 people apparently died after getting the COVID vaccine in the United States" and that even though the data was "not quite up to date," we "can assume that another 360 people at that rate have died in the 12 days since. You put it all together, and that is a total of 3,722 deaths. That's almost 4,000 people who died after getting the COVID vaccines. The actual number is almost certainly higher than that, perhaps vastly higher than that."

His monologue continued and included claims from an unnamed physician that we're currently living through the "single deadliest mass vaccination event in modern history":

In just the first four months of this year, the U.S. government has recorded more deaths after COVID vaccinations than from all other vaccines administered in the United States between mid-1997 and the end of 2013. That is a period of 15 and a half years. Again, more people, according to VAERS, have died after getting the shot in four months during a single vaccination campaign than from all other vaccines combined over more than a decade and a half. Chart that out. It's a stunning picture. Now, the debate is over what it means. Again, there is a lot of criticism of the reporting system. Some people say, well, it's just a coincidence if someone gets a shot and then dies, possibly from other causes. No one really knows, is the truth. We spoke to one physician today who actively treats COVID patients. He described what we are seeing now as the single deadliest mass vaccination event in modern history. Whatever is causing it, it is happening as we speak.

The sensational claims Carlson is parroting regarding a mass of unaddressed potentially COVID-19 vaccine-related deaths have been circulating online and on social media for months, and they are based on deeply unreliable data from the U.S. Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). VAERS allows the public open access to report incidents of adverse reactions to vaccinations. As PolitiFact explained:

It's designed so that anyone — parents, patients and health care professionals — can freely report any health effects that occur after a vaccination, according to the CDC, whether or not those effects are believed to be caused by the vaccine. The reports are not verified before they're entered into the database. But anyone with a computer can search the data, download it, sort through the numbers and interpret them as they wish.
That makes VAERS fertile ground for vaccine misinformation that spreads widely on social media and elsewhere. Even though VAERS warns its users that reports should not be used on their own to determine whether a vaccine caused or contributed to a particular illness, many who tap into the system do that anyway, citing these government statistics to justify broader conclusions about what they consider the dangers of vaccines.

What Carlson brushed off as "criticism of the reporting system" actually relates to fundamental methodological decisions that are key to understanding what VAERS data actually measures, and they completely undercut Carlson's argument.

As radiologist Pradheep J. Shanker (incidentally, a contributor to the right-wing National Review) explained in a lengthy tweet thread, VAERS is intended to serve as a "catch all" system that allows for minor complications to be identified while also dealing with a significant amount of statistical "noise." VAERS' own data guide states that "a report to VAERS," including reports of death, "generally does not prove that the identified vaccine(s) caused the adverse event described. It only confirms that the reported event occurred sometime after vaccine was given. No proof that the event was caused by the vaccine is required in order for VAERS to accept the report."

A longer disclaimer on the VAERS website explicitly states that the data relies on self-reporting and should not be regarded as complete or authoritative: "While very important in monitoring vaccine safety, VAERS reports alone cannot be used to determine if a vaccine caused or contributed to an adverse event or illness. The reports may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable. In large part, reports to VAERS are voluntary, which means they are subject to biases. This creates specific limitations on how the data can be used scientifically. Data from VAERS reports should always be interpreted with these limitations in mind."

VAERS screenshot disclaimer

VAERS disclaimer

VAERS requires people interested in exploring the dataset to acknowledge two separate disclaimers explaining the limitations of the data. When a person downloads VAERS data, they receive yet another disclaimer, stating that "the inclusion of events in VAERS data does not infer causality."

VAERS disclaimer warning

VAERS disclaimer warning

VAERS download disclaimer

In this instance, either Fox News, Carlson, and his team failed to even attempt to verify the numbers they were presenting viewers, or they knew of the VAERS methodological shortcomings, which users are required to acknowledge twice, and chose to brush them off in favor of a monologue designed to terrify their audience. And despite these clear limitations, Carlson repeated arguments, made by vaccine skeptic Toby Rogers no less, that the perceived under-reporting of adverse vaccine reactions to VAERS actually means that we have no way of knowing the true number of incidents, and that they're likely much higher. "Nobody [knows] and we are not going to speculate about it on the show," Carlson declared.

But that data does exist. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention oversees VAERS, it also runs the CDC's Vaccine Safety Datalink, which documents reports of adverse vaccine reactions through health care professionals and requires more rigorous standards of documentation and reporting. Despite Carlson's claims that "you are not allowed to" mention the nearly 4,000 deaths reported to VAERS for fear of being "pulled off the internet" if you do, the CDC itself addresses the reports on its website.

CDC VAERS

The CDC's comments about reports sent to VAERS were notably absent from Fox's broadcast. Carlson's assertion that the government won't "acknowledge" or investigate this alleged avalanche of mass death is even more starkly contradicted by the recent temporary removal of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine from circulation while the CDC investigated a half-dozen reports of blood clots in recipients.

What's clear is that Carlson has become the network's nexus of vaccine skepticism, spending months denouncing the effort to get the public vaccinated and insinuating that the drugs may not be safe or effective and that scientists who say otherwise are lying.

Fox News has abandoned all pretext of being a news and information channel in favor of unrestrained reactionary politics with Carlson as the centerpiece. Nearly half of Republicans now say they don't want a COVID-19 vaccine, and there is no doubt that Carlson and Fox played a part in creating that number. Advertisers and cable companies supporting Fox are propping up the nation's most prominent vaccine skeptic -- and they bear just as much responsibility for the consequences as the Murdochs and Carlson's enablers at Fox.

Meanwhile, Pfizer, which of course makes one of the COVID-19 vaccines that Carlson is scaremongering about, is currently one of Fox News' leading advertisers-- meaning that the company is essentially subsidizing baseless accusations against its wildly successful product.

Update (5/6/21 10 p.m. EDT): On his show the following evening, Carlson doubled down on his inaccurate segment, without engaging with any of the myriad criticisms that has been aimed at him in the ensuing 24 hours.

Carlson repeated his claim that "more deaths have been connected to the new COVID vaccines over the past four months and to all previous vaccines combined." Carlson again blatantly misinterpreted VAERS data, instead blaming the entire episode on the Biden administration (even as people across the political spectrum try to correct his lies), and finally sarcastically declaring that "anyone who asks" about the potential harms of the vaccine "is immoral."


Carlson blamed "partisans" for widespread criticism of his remarks, backlash comes from people across the political spectrum as well as fact-checkers. Prominent conservative figures, including Carlson's own colleagues, criticized the segment, notably off the air.

Dr. Nicole Saphier, Fox News medical contributor:

Jonah Goldberg, Fox News contributor:

How America Can Achieve Herd Immunity Despite Republican Stupidity

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

This is the good news: COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective, and lasting. The vaccines already looked good in their phase 3 trials before release, but since they've gone into widespread use, they've actually exceeded expectations. Since the vaccines first went into use, there are now additional months' worth of data showing that those who participated in the trials for these vaccines are still enjoying a powerful immune response to the SARS-CoV-2 virus more than six months later. Odds are very good that the real duration of these vaccines will exceed a year.

This is the bad news: The United States is unlikely to reach herd immunity. That doesn't mean that COVID-19 will continue to burn through the population, producing thousands of new cases and hundreds of deaths each day. The number of people already vaccinated, and those who say they still intend to be vaccinated, is enough that the rate of transmission will be impacted significantly. However, not enough people are getting vaccinated to truly end community transmission. So it's extremely likely that COVID-19 will become an endemic disease, flaring up from time to time in communities where vaccination rates are too low, and constantly threatening to toss off a new variant that puts everything back at square one.

The reason for this hasn't changed. It's Republican resistance to vaccination. Despite everything, including the evidence of hundreds of millions of people who have been vaccinated and not either burst into flames or fallen on their knees before Bill Gates, 46 percent of Republicans still say they will not take the COVID-19 vaccine. Because of that, even if everyone who currently says they will get vaccinated gets their jab, and everyone who says they're still uncertain decides to join in, it's still only going to be about 60 percent of the population. That's not enough.

But there's a reason to hope this isn't permanent.

If the numbers from Civiqs vaccination data are totaled up, it actually comes to 76 percent. The number of people who have been vaccinated has corresponded closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data on vaccination since the start of the year, with the Civiqs response "I have already been vaccinated" consistently falling just a percentage point or two behind the CDC value for the percent of the population over 18 that has received at least one shot.

If 76 percent of the population were to be vaccinated, it might actually be enough to reach, or at least approximate, herd immunity. It's unclear what the magic number really is for COVID-19. Somewhere in the 70 percent range was likely sufficient for the variants that first swept the United States. However, more recent variants are contagious enough that they might need something like 90 percent — the kind of numbers usually associated with extremely contagious diseases like measles.

But the reason that the Civiqs 76 percent isn't really 76 percent of the population is a paragraph back in the definition of the matching CDC number: "of the population over 18." The Civiqs data, like the CDC data, has so far been limited to adults. (Note: There's actually a bit of a gap in the existing data as the Pfizer vaccine is actually authorized for those over 16 rather than 18.)

Since children under 18 make up over 20 percent of the U.S. population, it's nearly impossible to reach real herd immunity until some of the vaccine goes to younger people. Fortunately, that's going to happen soon. The FDA is preparing to authorize the use of Pfizer's vaccine in children as young as 12.

This follows a report from Pfizer at the end of March in which they indicated a vaccine efficacy of 100 percent in a trial of over 2,000 volunteers between the ages of 12 and 15. Based on that data, Pfizer is expected to ask the FDA to modify the existing emergency use authorization to extend the use of their vaccine down to children as young as 12 right away. Pfizer is also conducting trials on children as young as 6 months old, and expectations are that they will submit an emergency use authorization for vaccine use down to the age of 2 sometime later in the year.

Pfizer isn't alone. Moderna is also engaged in a phase 2/3 trial for kids down to 6 months old and should be reporting results from its trial of 12 to 17 year olds in the next few weeks. Johnson & Johnson is also in the midst of a clinical trial on children 12 to 17, but hasn't yet made an announcement concerning children below 12.

All of this suggests that when school starts again next August, it's highly likely that most middle schools and high schools will require children to be vaccinated. There will, of course, be protests from the same Republicans who are refusing to be vaccinated themselves, and any number of local school boards and administrators who join in the anti-vax screeds. Even so, it's likely that the rate of vaccination among younger people will exceed that among adults. Which might be enough to, finally, tick the overall rate of vaccination to the point where community transmission of COVID-19 starts to falter.

VACCINES DISTRIBUTED TO STATES WITH HIGHER DEMAND

Across the United States, Civiqs shows just 15 percent of adults who have yet to be vaccinated but say they still want the COVID-19 vaccine. Breaking that down along party lines, 20 percent of Democrats are still in the "haven't be vaccinated, but want to be" category, while just ten percent of Republicans give the same answer.

With Republicans twice as likely to be resistant to get vaccinated, and vaccine being distributed by population, it's not surprising that many states are seeing vaccine surpluses. In fact, all across the Southeast is a band of states where vaccination rates are low and likely to remain that way as the remaining Republican population shows little interest in being vaccinated. Georgia has shut down all mass vaccination sites, and Arkansas is just one of several states to suspend vaccine orders after being left with a surplus.

Rate of vaccination by state

There are certainly some surprises on this map, like South Dakota achieving an 80 percent vaccination rate … But then, maybe that's what happens when you're near the top of the charts in cases per population. However, in general, there's a remarkably close match between the rate of vaccination and the percentage of population on either side of the red/blue line. That's because Republican vaccine resistance has been remarkably consistent from the outset. Rather than declining as more information became available, that resistance has actually increased slightly over the last two months.

If you're wondering, four percent of Democrats are saying "no" to the vaccine and three percent still respond that they are "unsure." However, over time both those numbers have been steadily declining.

IT'S NOT JUST INDIA

The situation in India continues to be nothing less than terrible. On Tuesday, India became only the second nation to record 20 million cases of COVID-19, joining the United States in this club no one wants to join. Indian scientists are pleading for the government to be more transparent with the data in order to best address the threat, and there are good reasons to believe the government is vastly undercounting both cases and deaths.

Over the last three days, the number of cases reported each day has dropped from over 400,000 to just over 350,000. That may seem like things are trending in the right direction, but just like in the United States, COVID-19 data tends to have a drop in reporting on Sunday and Monday. (The fact that daily reported deaths are down, despite the sharply increasing case count over the last two weeks, is a very good indicator that this data is incomplete.) It won't be until the final tally comes in from the next two days that it becomes clear whether or not India may have flattened what was a rocketing-upward curve.

However, there are more nations to add to the list of sites where COVID-19 is seeing a massive resurgence. Asian nations like Cambodia, which had done an amazing job of controlling the outbreak there to this point, are seeing thousands of new cases, many of them associated with variants first seen in India. A smaller—for now—spike is still growing in Laos. Thailand, which fought back a wave at the end of 2020, is having an even bigger outbreak now.

COVID-19 is not over. In the short term, what India needs is oxygen, ventilators, personal protective equipment, and medical personnel. Multiple countries, including the United States, are airlifting supplies into the nation, trying to head off the enormous disaster that could result from still-rising case counts and a medical system that's completely overwhelmed.

In the longer term, what India—and every developing nation—needs is to get the vaccine into the arms of their citizens. Which is why the U.S. needs to dispatch more of what's obviously going to be a vaccine surplus their way. And every other nation with vaccine to spare should do the same.

Attacking Obama Over Vaccine Ad, Carlson Hit With #CreepyTucker Backlash

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

When Fox News' Tucker Carlson leveled an attack on former President Barack Obama following his public service announcement about the COVID-19 vaccine, social media users were quick to turn the tables on him.

According to The HuffPost, the former president took to TikTok to encourage his followers to consider taking the COVID vaccine. In response to Obama's PSA, Carlson attempted to spread doubt about the COVID vaccine as he has done on multiple previous occasions. He also described Obama as "creepy" for releasing the video to encourage younger Americans to consider getting vaccinated.

In the quick TikTok video, Obama said, "The vaccine is safe, it's effective, it's free. It's the only way we're going to get back to all the things we love from safely spending time with grandparents to going to concerts and watching live sports."

@yahoonews

Obama to the youth in new PSA: Get your COVID-19 vaccine. #news #politics #obama #covid19 #vaccine #psa #health #covidvaccine #yahoonews

During his primetime broadcast on Monday evening, Carlson attempted to stoke fears about Obama's announcement. "Some creepy old guy telling your children, your little kids to take medicine whose effects we do not fully understand," Carlson said. It's totally normal, yeah, that happens every day. Don't ask questions, just do it."

Some Twitter users noted that there is only a 8-year age gap between Carlson and Obama.

However, Carlson did not stop there. He went on to stoke more fears about authorities being able to "control" intimate healthcare decisions.

"What next? And anything is the answer to that question. If the authorities are permitted to control a health care decision this intimate, if they can force you and your children to take a vaccine you don't want and are afraid of, then what can't they do? Nothing. They will have total power over your body and your mind forever. What's the limit to their power? There isn't one."

It didn't take long for social media users to fire back in Obama's defense. Shortly after Carlson's show aired, the hashtag #CreepyTucker began circulating on Twitter as users criticized him for the destructive rhetoric he spews.

"#CreepyTucker needs to be held accountable for the death and destruction he promotes," one Twitter user wrote.

How To Survive A Global Pandemic

Well before Joe Biden marked the end of his first hundred days as president, his administration doubled the goal of 100 million vaccinations he set at the beginning. His government's performance suggests that we can eventually temper the hesitancy among certain populations — notably white males who watch too much Fox News — on our way to herd immunity.

After the United States manages to inoculate the great majority of those who live here, however, we will still have to face a greater threat — and a lesson about life on this planet that we ought to have learned decades ago.

The rich nations, including ours, must vaccinate the poor nations, all of them, or we will never escape the shadow of the pandemic. This is an obvious moral imperative, since billions of lives are at stake. But if that doesn't work for you, try this: Every unvaccinated human being on Earth is a potential breeder of virus mutations that could evade current vaccines and decimate our population.

That's the merciless science of viruses — and yet, to date, we and our allies have done far too little to ensure that the miraculous vaccines will find every arm that requires one.

Biden seemed to acknowledge the necessity of a global vaccination campaign within weeks of taking office, when he promised to deliver $4 billion for Covax, a multilateral effort promoted by the World Health Organization to finance vaccination in poorer countries. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is trying to raise another $2 billion.

Unfortunately, those well-meaning pledges won't mean much in the developing world now, as a recent report from scientists at Duke University points out, because wealthy nations have cornered the vaccine market. With a population of just over a billion, those nations have acquired nearly 5 billion doses, locking up production capacity for months ahead.

By July 4, when the president hopes we can all enjoy barbecues with friends and family, the United States will have over 300 million extra doses on ice — enough to immunize the entire populations of many smaller countries that have almost none. Neither the United States nor its allies have announced any plan to donate the hundreds of millions of extra vaccines to the needier nations. Which means that another two years or more may pass before people in those countries can be vaccinated; many, many innocent people will die; and the danger of vaccine-proof mutant viruses will grow exponentially.

The intractable inequities are made worse by bad policies that have somehow survived the pandemic, including the insistence on protecting vaccine patents by the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union. Those powerful states stymied a petition to the World Trade Organization from nearly a hundred developing countries to set aside patent protections on vaccines during the pandemic. They asked for a temporary waiver, but in fact, it should be permanent.

And that is only the first step in recognition of our global mutuality. Despite the xenophobic barking that got so loud during the era of former President Trump, the truth is that none of us will be safe until all of us are safe — and that will remain true for our children and their children. The strutting nationalists who denounce "globalism" have no viable answers to the problems we confront, from pandemics to climate change; instead, they pretend those crises aren't real.

Such denialism remains the "nationalist" attitude toward the pandemic even now. After burying more than 570,000 of our fellow Americans, we know how that blind approach has worked out. Hostility, ignorance and selfishness equal death.

Whether we like it or not, we live on a globalizing world with billions of other people, and at the moment, we have nowhere else to go. After all this misery, we must grow up and act as if we understand that most basic fact — lifting up humanity together, the only way we will save ourselves.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com