Personal Health

Ex-head of Trump’s COVID response team says 40 percent fewer Americans would have died if he’d supported basic protocals

Trump White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx told congressional investigators behind closed doors between 30 percent and 40 percent fewer Americans would have died from COVID-19 if then-president Donald Trump and the Trump administration had supported just the basic coronavirus preventative protocols like mask wearing.

According to Birx's statement, up to 295,000 Americans would not have died if Trump and his administration had supported the basic protocols.

On April 3, 2020 Trump chose to make the announcement to the American people that CDC was advising mask-wearing, and during that same press briefing he immediately announced he would not wear a mask.

"It's voluntary and you don't have to do it," Trump declared on national television. Repeatedly stressing the word "voluntary," Trump added, "I don't think I'm going to be doing it."

The New York Times reports Dr. Birx, who is an expert in immunology, vaccine research, and global health, told investigators, "I believe if we had fully implemented the mask mandates, the reduction in indoor dining, the getting friends and family to understand the risk of gathering in private homes, and we had increased testing, that we probably could have decreased fatalities into the 30 percent less to 40 percent less range."

Asked whether Mr. Trump did everything he should have to counter the pandemic, she said: "No. And I've said that to the White House in general, and I believe I was very clear to the president in specifics of what I needed him to do."

The Times separately today reports 737,526 Americans have died from COVID-19, and more than 45.5 million Americans have been infected.

Not just Sinema: This Democratic senator took $1M from pharma — and shoots down bill to lower drug costs

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., one of the top recipients of campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry, said last week that he won't support a House plan to allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug costs as part of President Biden's Build Back Better plan.

Menendez told NBC News' Sahil Kapur last week that he is a "no" on H.R. 3, a longtime Democratic priority that was advanced earlier this year by the House Ways and Means Committee. The bill would save $456 billion over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office, which Democrats hope to use to pay for other priorities in the bill like expanding Medicare coverage and health care access.

Menendez told Salon on Friday that the House bill "does not currently have a pathway to pass the House of Representatives," where Democrats hold a razor-thin majority. He did not rule out supporting legislation to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices and is waiting to see the plan being drafted by Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who announced that he was working on a compromise solution earlier this year amid pushback from lawmakers in states with a heavy pharmaceutical industry presence. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, told Politico that the legislation had already been "eviscerated" in negotiations under pressure from Big Pharma-aligned Democrats.

"Sen. Wyden is working on the Senate proposal, the principles of which he laid out earlier this summer and they are not H.R. 3," Menendez said in a statement to Salon. "I continue to wait to see what proposal comes out of the Senate Finance Committee, which I expect will include language to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices. I continue to believe the focus must be lowering patient costs, and that will drive my analysis of any proposal."

Menendez told NJ Advance Media earlier this week that allowing Medicare to negotiate prices would not guarantee that consumers would pay lower costs, saying that his goal was to "ensure that the consumer at the counter gets relief and not just simply the government."

The House proposal was introduced by Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J. In an official statement, the committee pushed back against Menendez's argument that the bill does not provide relief for consumers.

"H.R. 3 would lower prescription drug prices for both seniors on Medicare and Americans with private health insurance," a committee spokesperson told Salon. "It empowers the federal government to negotiate fair prices for Medicare and makes those prices available to private health insurance plans. As a result, consumers would finally pay lower prices at the pharmacy counter."

As the committee statement later emphasized, the CBO has estimated that H.R. 3 would lower both prescription drug prices and health insurance premiums, and that prices would decrease by nearly 55% for the first group of drugs negotiated by the federal government. "It's clear that negotiation is the most meaningful way to rein in out of control prescription drug prices in the United States," the statement concluded.

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., a leading proponent of the drug pricing bill and chief deputy whip for the Democratic House majority, told Salon in an interview that the legislation would in all likelihood ultimately include private health plans, thanks to pressure from employers who shoulder a "significant burden" from the cost of prescription drugs. His goal, he said, was to "make certain that employers get premium reductions," but added that applying Medicare costs to private plans could run afoul of budgetary rules.

"I definitely want consumers to get relief, as well as taxpayers and employers," Welch said. "The goal that Sen. Menendez is outlining is one I share."

Welch said H.R. 3 would accomplish that goal but acknowledged that as things stand the bill did not have enough votes to pass both chambers of Congress.

"We're going to have to make some modifications and we're in the process," he said adding that the goal of "having this benefit consumers" was the most important ingredient.

The Senate framework for the final bill is expected to include some Medicare negotiation and a cap on out-of-pocket costs, David Mitchell, the founder of the patient advocacy group Patients for Affordable Drugs Now, told Salon.

But Politico reported last Friday that pressure from pharma-backed lawmakers, including Menendez, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., and Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., is likely to force Democrats to make major concessions on the number of drugs that could be negotiated.

Welch told Salon that negotiators are trying to address concerns about innovation raised by lawmakers from districts with a large pharmaceutical presence, like Peters, who represents San Diego and some of its affluent suburbs.

Mitchell, however, dismissed those concerns as a Big Pharma talking point. "Pharma itself reports that it expects to spend $300 billion on marketing and advertising," he said. Of the $500 billion in corporate profits that even the most aggressive bill, H.R. 3, might have taken in revenue, pharmaceutical companies "could cover $300 billion of that by reducing marketing and advertising expenditures" and deploying them to research and development.

Lawmakers like Peters and Schrader have lobbied to exclude drugs from being negotiated during their period of exclusivity, which can last as long as 12 years, and to limit the negotiations to drugs listed in Medicare part while excluding Part D, which purchases four times as many drugs.

"This provision would not fulfill the Democrats' promise to help patients and all Americans by allowing Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices," Audrey Baker, a spokesperson for Patients for Affordable Drugs Now, told Salon. "It would rob Medicare-negotiation legislation of its impact and would leave patients continuing to suffer from high drug prices.

"To be abundantly clear, a bill that does not allow negotiation on drugs covered by both Medicare parts B and D and on drugs still in their period of exclusivity is not a negotiation bill, and will not deliver the relief patients need."

The final legislation is also likely to drop a proposed excise tax on pharmaceutical companies that refuse to negotiate, according to Politico. Schrader told the outlet that the bill is expected to keep "just a little bit of negotiation."

Menendez and Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., previously introduced their own drug pricing plan. While H.R. 3 would cap seniors' out-of-pocket costs at $2,000, Menendez's bill would set a cap at $3,100, but would not allow Medicare to negotiate prices.

The pharmaceutical industry has supported legislation that would cap out-of-pocket costs but would not allow for any price negotiation, which Mitchell called the "pharma scam."

"Pharma and the Menendez-Cassidy bill both aim to do this thing where pharma wants to be able to charge whatever it wants, don't lower prices [and] someone else pays for it," he said. As a result, Mitchell said, consumers would never see how high the prices are, but "the fact is, I will wind up paying for them as a patient, either through higher premiums, higher taxes or less money in our paychecks."

Menendez, whose state is home to headquarters for 14 of the 20 largest pharmaceutical companies and more than 300,000 industry jobs, has been one of the top beneficiaries of Big Pharma's tsunami of campaign contributions over the last two years as the drug bill has moved closer to passing. Menendez has raised more than $1.1 million from the pharmaceutical industry over his career, and leads all senators in campaign contributions from the industry this election cycle, with more than $50,000 — even though he's not up for re-election until 2024.

This spring, as the bill made its way through Congress, Menendez received contributions of at least $1,000 each from the CEOs of eight top drug companies, including more than $5,000 from the heads of Pfizer and Merck, Stat News reported earlier this year. The pharmaceutical industry also spent more than $170 million on lobbying in the first six months of the year, more than any other industry, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

"While it might be true that the Senator has received donations from the pharmaceutical industry, as many other Senators have, it's no secret that New Jersey is considered the 'Medicine Chest of the World,'" a spokesman for Menendez said in a statement to Salon.

"The work the pharmaceutical industry does in the state is vital for the innovation of lifesaving therapies in general and specifically for New Jersey's economy, employing over 300,000 people. In spite of this, the Senator's focus is clear and has repeatedly urged the pharmaceutical companies publicly and privately to be part of the solution when it comes to tackling the high cost of prescription drugs."

Menendez has joined Sinema in opposing the House bill, but while he has left open the possibility of supporting a provision for Medicare negotiation, other Democrats have said that Sinema does not yet favor "any proposal to deal with prescription drugs." Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., one of the driving forces in seeking to slash Biden's $3.5 trillion proposal, has said he supports the Medicare negotiation legislation, telling reporters earlier this month that it "makes no sense at all" that Medicare is not allowed to negotiate drug costs.

Peters and Schrader, two of the biggest recipients of Big Pharma cash in the House, voted against the bill in committee and are pushing their own alternative to drastically cut the number of drugs that Medicare could negotiate and the amount it could save. Sinema, who has raised over $750,000 from the pharmaceutical and medical device industries, has opposed that proposal as well, even though she campaigned for her seat in 2018 on a promise to lower prescription drug costs. "I'm trying to get her to come my way because I think frankly, I think it would just be good to put this issue to rest," Peters recently told Politico.

A spokesperson for Menendez sought to distance him from the other Democrats who are endangering Biden's proposal.

"Senator Menendez has never once said he will oppose allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices in the reconciliation package," the spokesperson told Salon. "Throughout this process he's been clear on his priorities to address this issue in a way that benefits consumers at the pharmacy counter, not just providing savings for the government. He's certainly not one of the Democrats in the Senate threatening to derail the President's agenda and continues to work closely with his colleagues to advance multiple priorities in the reconciliation package to deliver results for New Jerseyans. He remains laser-focused on ensuring this package benefits all of New Jersey."

But pressure from Menendez and others to change the drug-pricing proposal likely means that Democrats will be unable to raise as much revenue as they had hoped to pay for other top priorities.

Doggett, who chairs a Ways and Means health subcommittee, questioned this week whether it was worth passing the legislation at all "if it's going to be some meaningless thing."

Welch said the final bill is also likely to cut revenue significantly for other Democratic priorities.

"The less savings we have, the more difficult it is for us to increase access to health care through lowering premiums and the ACA, expanding Medicaid in states that don't have it, expanding Medicare to include hearing, dental and vision," he told Salon. "The money we save by getting fair pricing in pharma would be immensely beneficial to our prospects of expanding health care."

'Jurisdictional' questions raised after public officials 'harassed' Montana doctors who refused to treat COVID patient with ivermectin

At St. Peter's Health in Helena, Montana, a COVID-19 patient recently asked to be treated with ivermectin — a deworming drug that is typically used for cattle but is being pushed by far-right Trumpistas and conspiracy theorists as an anti-COVID drug. But hospital workers refused and said they were "harassed" by three Montana officials because of that refusal. Now, Montana officials are debating the role that law enforcement should have played in that incident and are addressing jurisdictional questions.

According to Helena Independent Record reporters Seaborn Larson and Holly Michels, "The Lewis and Clark County sheriff raised questions (on October 20) about whether State Attorney General Austin Knudsen overstepped his Department of Justice's jurisdiction when dispatching a Montana Highway Patrol trooper to St. Peter's Health in Helena last week. The question of jurisdiction stems from an incident in which the hospital said its doctors were threatened and harassed by three public officials over the care of a COVID-19 patient who had requested ivermectin, a drug not approved for treatment of the virus."

Larson and Michels continue, "Knudsen's office, after hearing from the patient's family, sent a trooper to the hospital to take statements, and Knudsen later called hospital leaders."

On October 20, according to the journalists, Knudsen's office said it has the power to use its Medicaid Fraud Control Unit to investigate "patient abuse or patient neglect."

"The office has also defended the attorney general's actions and has disputed the hospital's description of events," Larson and Michels note. "In an interview Wednesday, Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton said he does not believe Montana Highway Patrol had the jurisdiction to send the trooper to St. Peter's Health to investigate the dispute."

Dutton told the Independent Record that he is "hoping to visit with" Knudsen to discuss "jurisdictional issues."

What is a breakthrough infection? Here are 6 questions answered about catching COVID-19 after vaccination

Sanjay Mishra, PhD, Vanderbilt University

If you've been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, maybe you figured you no longer need to worry about contracting the coronavirus. But along with the rising number of new COVID-19 cases globally and growing concern about highly transmissible strains like the delta variant come reports of fully vaccinated people testing positive for COVID-19.

Members of the New York Yankees, U.S. Olympic gymnast Kara Eaker and U.K. health secretary Sajid Javid are some of those diagnosed with what is called a “breakthrough infection."

As scary as the term may sound, the bottom line is that the existing COVID-19 vaccines are still very good at preventing symptomatic infections, and breakthrough infections happen very rarely. But just how common and how dangerous are they? Here's a guide to what you need to know.

What is 'breakthrough infection?'

No vaccine is 100% effective. Dr. Jonas Salk's polio vaccine was 80%-90% effective in preventing paralytic disease. Even for the gold standard measles vaccine, the efficacy was 94% among a highly vaccinated population during large outbreaks.

Comparably, clinical trials found the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna were 94%–95% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 – much more protective than initially hoped.

A quick reminder: A vaccine efficacy of 95% does not mean that the shot protects 95% of people while the other 5% will contract the virus. Vaccine efficacy is a measure of relative risk – you need to compare a group of vaccinated people to a group of unvaccinated people under the same exposure conditions. So consider a three-month study period during which 100 out of 10,000 unvaccinated people got COVID-19. You'd expect five vaccinated people to get sick during that same time. That's 5% of the 100 unvaccinated people who fell ill, not 5% of the whole group of 10,000.

When people get infected after vaccination, scientists call these cases “breakthrough" infections because the virus broke through the protective barrier the vaccine provides.

How common is COVID-19 infection in the fully vaccinated?

Breakthrough infections are a little more frequent than previously expected and are probably increasing because of growing dominance of the delta variant. But infections in vaccinated people are still very rare and usually cause mild or no symptoms.

For instance, 46 U.S. states and territories voluntarily reported 10,262 breakthrough infections to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between Jan. 1 and April 30, 2021. By comparison, there were 11.8 million COVID-19 diagnoses in total during the same period.

Beginning May 1, 2021, the CDC stopped monitoring vaccine breakthrough cases unless they resulted in hospitalization or death. Through July 19, 2021, there were 5,914 patients with COVID-19 vaccine breakthrough infections who were hospitalized or died in the U.S., out of more than 159 million people fully vaccinated nationwide.

One study between Dec. 15, 2020, and March 31, 2021, that included 258,716 veterans who received two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, counted 410 who got breakthrough infections – that's 0.16% of the total. Similarly, a study in New York noted 86 cases of COVID-19 breakthrough infections between Feb. 1 and April 30, 2021, among 126,367 people who were fully vaccinated, mostly with mRNA vaccines. This accounts for 1.2% of total COVID-19 cases and 0.07% of the fully vaccinated population.

How serious is a COVID-19 breakthrough infection?

The CDC defines a vaccine breakthrough infection as one in which a nasal swab can detect the SARS-CoV-2 RNA or protein more than 14 days after a person has completed the full recommended doses of an FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine.

Note that a breakthrough infection doesn't necessarily mean the person feels sick – and in fact, 27% of breakthrough cases reported to the CDC were asymptomatic. Only 10% of the breakthrough-infected people were known to be hospitalized (some for reasons other than COVID-19), and 2% died. For comparison, during the spring of 2020 when vaccines were not yet available, over 6% of confirmed infections were fatal.

In a study at U.S. military treatment facilities, none of the breakthrough infections led to hospitalization. In another study, after just one dose of Pfizer vaccine the vaccinated people who tested positive for COVID-19 had a quarter less virus in their bodies than those who were unvaccinated and tested positive.

What makes a breakthrough infection more likely?

Nationwide, on average more than 5% of COVID-19 tests are coming back positive; in Alabama, Mississippi and Oklahoma, the positivity rate is above 30%. Lots of coronavirus circulating in a community pushes the chance of breakthrough infections higher.

The likelihood is greater in situations of close contact, such as in a cramped working space, party, restaurant or stadium. Breakthrough infections are also more likely among health care workers who are in frequent contact with infected patients.

For reasons that are unclear, nationwide CDC data found that women account for 63% of breakthrough infections. Some smaller studies identified women as the majority of breakthrough cases as well.

Vaccines trigger a less robust immune response among older people, and the chances of a breakthrough infection get higher with increasing age. Among the breakthrough cases tracked by the CDC, 75% occurred in patients age 65 and older.

Being immunocompromised or having underlying conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, chronic kidney and lung diseases and cancer increase the chances of breakthrough infections and can lead to severe COVID-19. For example, fully vaccinated organ transplant recipients were 82 times more likely to get a breakthrough infection and had a 485-fold higher risk of hospitalization and death after a breakthrough infection compared with the vaccinated general population in one study.

How do variants like delta change things?

Researchers developed today's vaccines to ward off earlier strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Since then new variants have emerged, many of which are better at dodging the antibodies produced by the currently authorized vaccines. While existing vaccines are still very effective against these variants for preventing hospitalization, they are less effective than against previous variants.

Two doses of the mRNA vaccines were only 79% effective at preventing symptomatic disease with delta, compared with 89% effective in the case of the earlier alpha variant, according to Public Health England. A single dose was only 35% protective against delta.

About 12.5% of the 229,218 delta variant cases across England through July 19 were among fully vaccinated people.

Israel, with high vaccination rates, has reported that full vaccination with the Pfizer vaccine might be only 39%-40.5% effective at preventing delta variant infections of any severity, down from early estimates of 90%. Israel's findings suggest that within six months, COVID-19 vaccines' efficacy at preventing infection and symptomatic disease declines. The good news, though, is that the vaccine is still highly effective at protecting against hospitalization (88%) and severe illness (91.4%) caused by the now-dominant delta variant.

So how well are vaccines holding up?

As of the end of July 2021, 49.1% of the U.S. population, or just over 163 million people, are fully vaccinated. Nearly 90% of Americans over the age of 65 have received at least one dose of a vaccine.

Scientists' models suggest that vaccination may have saved approximately 279,000 lives in the U.S. and prevented up to 1.25 million hospitalizations by the end of June 2021. Similarly, in England about 30,300 deaths, 46,300 hospitalizations and 8.15 million infections may have been prevented by COVID-19 vaccines. In Israel, the high vaccination rate is thought to have caused a 77% drop in cases and a 68% drop in hospitalizations from that nation's pandemic peak.

Across the U.S., only 150 out of more than 18,000 deaths due to COVID-19 in May were of people who had been fully vaccinated. That means nearly all COVID-19 deaths in U.S. are among those who remain unvaccinated.

The U.S. is becoming “almost like two Americas," as Anthony Fauci put it, divided between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. Those who have not been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 remain at risk from the coronavirus that has so far killed more than 600,000 people in the U.S.

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Sanjay Mishra, PhD, Project Coordinator & Staff Scientist, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Vanderbilt University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

'I know where you live': Hospital workers face daily threats and violence

At one point, health care workers here and abroad were receiving standing ovations and loud cheers for helping to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. Now, these same health care workers and professionals on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 are facing consistent harassment and threats from imbittered COVID-19 deniers.

Across the country, doctors, nurses, and other health care staff are dealing with violence and threats from patients over rules designed to keep the virus at bay, and worse, for not administering unapproved treatments that some patients demand.

"A year ago, we're health care heroes, and everybody's clapping for us," Dr. Stu Coffman, a Dallas-based emergency room physician, told the Associated Press. "And now we're being in some areas harassed and disbelieved and ridiculed for what we're trying to do, which is just depressing and frustrating."

Coffman isn't alone. Thousands of health care workers nationwide have reported abuse. Due to pandemic stress, burnout, and constant violence, some are even leaving their jobs—resulting in widespread hospital staff shortages nationwide.

According to data compiled by the CDC, nearly a quarter of public health workers said they felt bullied, threatened, or harassed because of their work since the pandemic began. Additionally, of the 26,174 public health workers surveyed across the U.S., 23.4% said they'd been threatened or harassed, and 11.8% said they'd received job-related threats.

"I get threatened every day at work," Tom Kelsch, an emergency department nurse, told the Michigan Advance. "They say, 'I know where you live; I'll be visiting you.' They say they're going to come and kill me; they say, 'I know where you park and what you drive.' It's pretty awful what we deal with. I've been spit on."

While Kelsh shared that such incidents are not new to him and that even patients facing extreme and life-threatening pain can lash out, he noted that the violence has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I started working in the [emergency room] 11 years ago, and every year it was slightly getting worse with patients verbally assaulting us, physically assaulting us — but since the pandemic started, it has gone up tenfold," he said.

While assaults on health care workers are not a new phenomenon and have been a concern for years, hospitals nationwide have reported higher rates of violence since the start of the pandemic. Some hospitals have even resorted to supplying staff members with panic buttons in light of the situation. A Missouri hospital provided its employees with panic buttons that immediately alert hospital security after assaults on health care workers increased drastically, the Associated Press reported.

According to a February report by the Geneva-based Insecurity Insight and the University of California, Berkeley's Human Rights Center, more than 1,100 threats or acts of violence against health care workers or facilities were reported in 2020. Almost half of those attacks were related to COVID-19, researchers found.

Health care workers are attributing the rise to misinformation about the pandemic and its "miracle" cures.

"When our staff experiences cursing, screaming, physical abuse, 'I am going to get my gun,' a knife pulled on them—it is terrifying," Jane McCurley, chief nurse executive for Methodist Healthcare System, told local CBS affiliate KENS 5. McCurley noted that hostility mainly came from guidelines for masking, visitation policies, or wait times.

The situation is even worse for Asian American health care workers, who face hate not only because of their profession but also for their race, thanks to heightened xenophobia and racist messaging attributed to the pandemic in conservative circles. One Filipino American registered nurse and a specialist in nursing informatics in Floral Park, New York, told CNN that the rise in crimes against both health care workers and Asian Americans made her feel unsafe, prompting her to stop taking public transportation and begin carrying pepper spray.

While Kathleen Begonia shared that she's experienced racism her whole life, she said it is disheartening that those she treats could be her perpetrators. "I actually signed up to take self-defense classes because I still carry my childhood experiences of racism with me," Begonia said. "I don't trust that anyone else can take care of me, not even police, so I make sure that I can defend myself. I run every day and keep fit in case I need to defend myself."

"Thinking about how we are nurses taking care of anyone who comes into the hospital—it can be infuriating. The very people who insult us in public can also become vulnerable themselves and require our care," Begonia said. "So, when I see people hurting the Asian American community, it saddens me because we are also your health care providers."

Health care professionals outside of the hospital are also facing hate and threats with anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers threatening and attacking them just for encouraging children to wear masks in schools. Health care workers should not have to face violence for saving individuals and helping to stop the spread of a pandemic.

Alaska’s hospitals, overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, are having to 'ration care': report

In the U.S., red states tend to have lower COVID-19 vaccination rates than blue states — and in undervaccinated Alaska, according to Guardian reporter Melody Schreiber, hospitals that are being overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients are having to ration care.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that 75% of U.S.-based adults have been at least partially vaccinated for the COVID-19 coronavirus. But vaccination rates can vary considerably from state to state in the United States. According to the Mayo Clinic, 57% of Alaska adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine — compared to 78% in Vermont and 77% in Massachusetts. Vermont and Massachusetts are deep blue states with moderate Republican governors; Alaska, where the far-right Sarah Palin once served as governor, is very much a red state.

Schreiber, in an article published by The Guardian on October 7, explains, "Rural areas across the United States are in crisis as COVID-19 overwhelms some hospitals, but the situation is especially dire in Alaska, which has the highest U.S. rate of COVID cases and recently turned to emergency measures to allow the rationing of healthcare at 20 medical centers across the state. Alaska's health system, stretched by enormous distances and limited resources, was precarious before the pandemic hit — and now, remote communities are worried they will have nowhere to send their sickest patients."

The journalist adds, "One in 84 people in Alaska was diagnosed with COVID-19 in the last week of September alone. On Monday, (October 4), the state reported 2290 cases and one death over the course of three days. Less than two-thirds of eligible Alaskans are fully vaccinated, and the entire state is on high alert for significant spread of the coronavirus."

COVID-19 was first reported in Wuhan, China in December 2019. And according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, it has killed more than 4.8 million people worldwide — including over 707,000 in the United States, which has the world's highest COVID-19 death count.

Carol Austerman, chief executive officer of Alaska's Kodiak Community Health Center, told The Guardian that Kodiak has had to send some patients "all the way to Seattle" and that her worst fear is "to lose a patient because we can't find a place to send them."

Schreiber notes that in Anchorage, a doctor "had to choose between several patients vying for the same open bed in the intensive care unit, including the resident of a rural community who would have flown in for emergency surgery."

"After careful deliberation," Schreiber reports, "the medical team decided one of the other patients would be more likely to survive — and the rural resident died."

These '3 key actions' could end the pandemic and make COVID-19 'manageable': medical expert

In an op-ed published by the Washington Post on October 6, former Baltimore Health Commissioner Leana S. Wen delivers some good news and some bad news about the COVID-19 pandemic. The bad news: the COVID-19 coronavirus, according to Dr. Wen, is "here to stay for the foreseeable future." The good news: COVID-19 can be turned into a "manageable problem" — and she lays out "three key actions" that could help bring that about.

COVID-19, the world's deadliest health crisis since the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918/1919, has — according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore — killed more than 4.8 million people worldwide, including over 707,700 in the United States and more than 599,000 in Brazil. At this point, those who are most likely to die from COVID-19 are the unvaccinated. And 75% of U.S.-based adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are at least partially vaccinated for COVID-19.

"To start," Wen explains, "we must first accept that COVID-19 is here to stay for the foreseeable future…. We should also acknowledge two realities. First, it's unlikely we will see the virus suddenly become less lethal. In fact, new mutations could result in more contagious and more virulent variants. Even worse would be if such variants evade the protection of existing vaccines."

Wen, a visiting professor at George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health, continues, "Second, while we should continue to try to achieve population immunity through widespread vaccination, we will likely not be able to suppress infections to very low levels any time soon…. Here's the good news: Despite these realities, I believe we can turn COVID-19 from an existential crisis into a manageable problem with three key actions."

According to Wen, the "key actions" that need to be taken are: (1) "We must have vaccines available for younger children," (2) "We need oral, outpatient treatment for COVID-19," and (3) "We must have free, readily available rapid tests."

Wen notes that "one in four" new COVID-19 infections are in children and that "hundreds of kids have died from COVID-19," adding that "thankfully…. the Food and Drug Administration has scheduled a meeting of its advisory committee to review Pfizer's vaccine for 5-to-11-year-olds for October 26.

Also "on the horizon in the not-too-distant future," Wes writes, is "an antiviral pill" from Merck "called Molnupiravir that it says can cut hospitalization or death by about 50%."

"To be clear, antiviral pills would not be a 'cure' for COVID-19, and it's obviously much better to be vaccinated and not contract the virus in the first place," Wen emphasizes. "However, there are about 70 million Americans who have so far chosen to remain unvaccinated. If taking a pill means that infected patients are half as likely to require a hospital bed, that can help relieve the stress on our health care system and save countless lives."

Wen laments that testing for COVID-19 "remains a hugely underutilized infection-control strategy in the United States" compared to Canada, the U.K. or Japan.

"We need as big a push for testing as we had around vaccines, with the aim to produce enough tests for every American to be tested at least twice a week," Wen recommends. "With the addition of free, accessible testing, we could reach a point within the next several months when COVID-19 is no longer a major consideration when making decisions around work, school, social engagements and travel."

Wen adds, "The end of the pandemic is not an elusive concept. Barring the terrible circumstance of a much worse variant developing, I believe that we have already passed the darkest days of COVID-19. The virus may be here to stay, but if we are armed with the right tools, it no longer needs to dominate our lives."

'Dead right': Florida resident’s letter to the editor brutally mocks DeSantis’ new Surgeon General

Florida residents are deeply criticizing the state's new surgeon general Dr. Joseph Ladapo for his deadly, anti-scientific advice on COVID-19. In a letter to The Tampa Bay Times with the title, "Dead Right," Charles Chamberlain, an 81-year-old Florida resident, delivered a stinging rebuke of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' newly appointed official.

Chamberlain pushed back against Ladapo's recent remarks seeming to dismiss the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine.

He's "spot on," Chamberlain wrote.

"I am aware that he is correct because of a recent experience with a member of my family," Chamberlain added. "He had a severe infection from COVID-19. He is past that now, and is completely immune — not only from COVID-19, but flu and other respiratory infections as well."

Chamberlain added a verbal jab as he offered clarity about his family member's condition. He wrote, "Of course, we are burying this family member next write,

Chamberlain's letter follows numerous remarks that Ladapo has made discrediting science, mask-wearing, lockdowns and the COVID-19 vaccine. Ladapo has even downplayed the importance of quarantining after COVID exposure. According to HuffPost, last week, he said, "that students don't have to quarantine and can continue going to school if they've been exposed to COVID-19. He is also leaving it up to parents on whether their children wear masks at school."

In response to Ladapo's claim about COVID-19 and immunity, Chamberlain noted the one problem with that. "Well yeah, that's a way of curing people, but the problem is fatalities," he wrote.

Shortly after The Tampa Bay Times published Chamberlain's letter it began circulating on social media prompting more criticism of Ladapo.

One Twitter user wrote, "Harsh, sadly accurate. Hope it makes some people think(?) The abstinence-only crowd does seem to be moving to a death-only option for covid, tragically. No longer better dead than red, now it's better dead than vaccinate."

Given the tone of the letter, Chamberlain appeared surprised that it was published. "I thought it was pretty snarky," he said.

Can healthy people who eat right and exercise skip the COVID-19 vaccine? A research scientist explains

I'm a fitness enthusiast. I also adhere to a nutrient-dense, “clean" eating program, which means I minimize my sugar intake and eat a lot of whole foods for the purpose of optimizing my health.

You might wonder how effective such a diet and exercise plan would be in the fight against COVID-19, since some have suggested – without supporting evidence – that vaccination may be unnecessary if a detailed wellness lifestyle is closely followed.

As a research scientist who has studied nutrition for close to 20 years, I have watched the wellness community's response to the COVID-19 vaccines with great interest. While eating right can favorably impact the immune system, it is not reasonable to expect that nutrition alone will defend against a potentially life-threatening virus.

My experience with nutrition science

My lab group at the University of Memphis studies the effect of food and isolated nutrients on human health. In January 2009, we conducted an initial study of a stringent vegan diet. We enrolled 43 men and women who were allowed to eat as much plant-based food as desired, but drank only water, for 21 days.

The results demonstrated improvements in many variables related to cardio-metabolic health, such as blood cholesterol, blood pressure, insulin and C-reactive protein – a protein that increases in response to inflammation. We have since completed multiple human and animal nutrition studies using this dietary program.

My lab's research has resulted in some 200 peer-reviewed scientific manuscripts and book chapters specific to nutrients and exercise, and the interaction between these two variables. The results of our work, as well as that of other scientists, clearly demonstrate the power of food to favorably impact health.

For many individuals, a positive change in eating habits results in such an improvement in clinically relevant measures like blood cholesterol and glucose that doctors can sometimes reduce or eliminate certain medications used to treat high cholesterol and diabetes. In other cases, these measures improve but the patient still requires the use of medications to control their disease. This tells us that in some situations, a great nutrition program is simply not enough to overcome the body's challenges.

Nutrition and other wellness approaches do matter

Although certain natural products have been discussed as treatments for COVID-19, little emphasis has been placed on whole food nutrition as a protective measure. I think this is unfortunate, and I believe strengthening our immune system with the goal of battling COVID-19 and other viral infections is of great importance. And the evidence tells us that a nutrient dense diet, regular exercise and adequate sleep can all contribute to optimal immune function.

Regarding nutritional intake, a recently published study using a sample of health care workers who contracted COVID-19 noted that those who followed a plant-based or pescatarian diet had 73% and 59% lower odds of moderate to severe COVID-19, respectively, compared to those who did not follow those diets. Although interesting, it's important to remember that these findings represent an association rather than a causal effect.

While people can use nutrition to help shore up their immune system against COVID-19, diet is only one important consideration. Other variables matter a great deal too, including stress management, nutritional supplements and physical distancing and mask-wearing.

But to be clear, all of those elements should be considered tools in the toolbox to help combat COVID-19 – not a replacement for potentially life-saving vaccines.

Vaccines are not perfect, but they save lives

I find it interesting that nearly all parents understand the importance of having their kids vaccinated against serious illnesses like mumps, measles and varicella. They do not expect that certain foods, or a nurturing environment, will do the job of a vaccine.

Yet, when it comes to COVID-19, this thought process is abandoned by some who believe that a healthy lifestyle will substitute for the vaccine, without seriously considering what the vaccine actually does to provide protection against the virus – something that a healthy lifestyle alone simply cannot do.

When contemplating whether to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, consider the following: All medications have risks, including things as seemingly benign as aspirin. Hormonal contraception – something used by millions of women every month – is thought to cause an estimated 300-400 deaths annually in the U.S. The same is true for cosmetic surgery, Botox injections and other elective procedures.

Many people are willing to accept the low risks in those cases, but not with those involving the COVID-19 vaccines – despite the fact that the risk of serious complications or death from COVID-19 far outweighs the low risk of serious adverse events from the vaccines.

No lifestyle approach, including strict adherence to a holistic, nutrient-dense diet – vegan, plant-forward or otherwise – will confer total protection against COVID-19. The vaccines aren't perfect either; breakthrough infections do occur in some cases, though the vaccines continue to provide robust protection against severe illness and death.

I encourage people to do all they can to improve the health and functioning of their immune system, naturally. Then, seriously consider what additional protection would be gained from vaccination against COVID-19. When people make decisions based on the latest science – which is always evolving – rather than on emotions and misinformation, the decision should become much clearer.The Conversation

Richard Bloomer, Dean of the College of Health Sciences, University of Memphis

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Hacker reveals right-wing health care network made millions off ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine

Instead of getting vaccinated and following the very simple social distancing and mask requirements public health officials at every level are suggesting, millions of (mostly) conservative Americans continue to put their faith in unproven drugs to free them from the anxieties produced by our global coronavirus pandemic. The tortured lengths to which some people will go to get access to ivermectin, an antiparasitic drug most frequently used as a horse dewormer, would be laughable if the results weren't so tragic. But ivermectin—and its predecessor in this area, hydroxychloroquine—have both been proven to not do much of anything for people suffering from COVID-19.

The United States spent a boatload during the Trump administration to collect millions of doses of hydroxychloroquine. Florida's anti-science nightmare of a governor, Ron DeSantis, used taxpayer money to end up sitting on a pile of around 980,000 doses of the anti-malaria drug that can treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, but not COVID-19. Florida continues to see rising deaths and hospitalizations even though vaccinations and public distancing have been proven, in other states of the union, to prevent these terrible outcomes. But don't you worry: According to a new report, the people making money are on the exact same team as the people pushing the wrong medicine.

According to The Intercept, there's a nice "network" of health care providers who have made millions on ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine during the pandemic. Do you remember the right-wing conspiracy theory-laden group of white medical uniform-wearing folks who called themselves America's Frontline Doctors (AFLDS)? They promoted hydroxychloroquine as a miracle answer to COVID-19, and were able to get Republicans like Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine to reverse course on hydroxychloroquine bans. Guess what The Intercept found?

America's Frontline Doctors, a right-wing group founded last year to promote pro-Trump doctors during the coronavirus pandemic, is working in tandem with a small network of health care companies to sow distrust in the Covid-19 vaccine, dupe tens of thousands of people into seeking ineffective treatments for the disease, and then sell consultations and millions of dollars' worth of those medications. The data indicate patients spent at least $15 million — and potentially much more — on consultations and medications combined.

The AFLDS got its foothold after disgraced person Donald Trump retweeted a batshit ridiculous video of one doctor, Stella Immanuel, saying things like, "You don't need masks, there is a cure … You don't need people to be locked down. All you fake doctors out there that tell me, 'Yeah. I want a double blinded study.' I just tell you, quit sounding like a computer, double blinded, double blinded. I don't know whether your chips are malfunctioning, but I'm a real doctor … we have neurosurgeons, like Sanjay Gupta saying, 'Yeah, it doesn't work and it causes heart disease.' Let me ask you Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Hear me. Have you ever seen a COVID patient?"

Another prominent AFLDS person you might recognize is its founder, Simone Gold. The doctor and lawyer who helped get AFLDS off the ground was also known for telling the world in a May 2020 video: "We're all acting as though there's a huge medical crisis. I'm not sure that it's front-page news." Instead, Gold told viewers that "constitutional rights" being "trampled on" were the real issue. Now, Gold is better known for her more recent appearance as an insurrectionist on Jan. 6, 2021. Gold—who spoke into a bullhorn after trespassing into the Capitol building rotunda—is now facing five counts for her part in the insurrection.

But as The Intercept discovered, the AFLDS wasn't just saying awfully misleading and incorrect things into microphones, they were the propaganda wing of a nice money-making medical network. The network included telemedicine company, medical consultation platform, and online pharmacy Ravkoo. They way it works is that AFLDS refers its followers to, which uses the Cadence Health and Ravkoo platforms to offer up $90 phone "consultations" with doctors who have supposedly been trained by the AFLDS to prescribe you drugs like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin.

But besides profiting off of misinformation and bad science and putting millions of people's lives at risk, these scammers couldn't even find the decency to go through with the farce they were creating. TIME reported on how people like "Mike," seemingly suffering from COVID-19 and too frightened to go to the hospital, spent his $90 and got … zilch.

A week later, he was still anxiously waiting for the consultation. Calls and emails to AFLD went unreturned, he says. Finally, he called his bank to report a fraudulent charge. "Not even an apology," Mike, whom TIME is referring to using a pseudonym because of his concerns about his job, told TIME in an interview. "This is absolutely nuts. This organization is not helping anyone but their pocketbooks."

Reportedly, Mike's story is one of many that have made the community that has been following quack doctors and self-appointed pseudoscientists wonder if they've been had. (Spoiler alert: They have been had.) TIME did an investigation that showed many of these poor folks find themselves ponying up $90 bucks with nothing to show for it. Others—having been told how the government doesn't want you to know about ivermectin and COVID-19 because it's so cheap compared to a free vaccine—were referred to online pharmacies "that quoted excessive prices of up to $700 for the cheap medication."

"My mom has now been admitted to the hospital with Covid," one user wrote Aug. 12 on the group's channel on the messaging app Telegram. "AFLDS has not returned a call or message to her and they've taken over $500 out of her account!"

And if you do get that consultation, a lot of times you get the opportunity to pony up another $59.99 for a follow-up consultation. At The Intercept, some of the files they obtained came from "hackers" who easily got into the online platforms. The files they obtained show that between July 16 and Sept. 12, 2021 alone, Cadence Health got at least 281,000 patients signed up—"90 percent of whom were referred from America's Frontline Doctors." Guess how much "phone consultation" money was pulled in over those 62 days? About $6.7 million. When they confronted Cadence Health's Roque Espinal-Valdez, he told The Intercept he was "flabbergasted," and that he and his family were vaccinated and were shutting the platform down because he didn't want to profit off of "quackery." According to Espinal-Valdez, when he found out what was happening, he ended up attending an "emergency meeting" via Zoom that included SpeakWithAnMD's parent company, Encore Telemedicine, and its 16 lawyers. He says he told them he was ending the contract and he signed off.

As for online pharmacy Ravkoo, which TIME describes as "a digital pharmacy in Auburndale, Florida, whose address listed online appears to be a dilapidated white structure by a strip mall," The Intercept was able to see records for 340,000 prescriptions between November 2020 and September of this year. The results include "an estimated $8.5 million in drug costs." And to be clear, in this context, this is snake-oil money. "Forty-six percent of the prescriptions are for hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin, and another 30 percent are for zinc or azithromycin, two other ineffective medications that the SpeakWithAnMD physicians, who America's Frontline Doctors claims it trains, prescribe in their Covid-19 consultations."

Ravkoo says they don't know nothing about nothing and have cut ties with AFLDS, though it seems the tie-cutting took place super duper recently—like right after they found out hacked files had been given to reporters detailing their business making money off of misery.

And let's be crystal on this point: They know what they're doing.

At least one of the prescribers is aware that medical experts recommend against using these drugs to prevent or treat Covid-19 but prescribed them anyway, according to patient records. One physician included this disclaimer in their consultation notes with several patients: "I, [physician's name], have a complete understanding of the recent release from the WHO, FDA, CDC, and NIH on March 5th, 2021 as it pertains to the use and prescribing of Hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin. I understand that these two medications have been deemed 'Highly Not Recommended' by the for-mentioned [sic] medical governing bodies but are not illegal to prescribe. … I have explained that I will not be held legally or medically responsible for an adverse reaction by this patient should they choose to take them and have explained they will not be able to hold me medically neglectful, pursue any form of malpractice, nor any criminal and civilly [sic] suits."

That's a lot of digital snake oil.

Virginia GOP candidate's new ads feature 'anti-vaccine and anti-mask' stars

Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin has unveiled new ads starring Virginians who have embraced anti-vaccine and anti-mask rhetoric, even as Youngkin tries to push back on Democratic criticism of his "Trumpian" pandemic policy.

Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe, a former Virginia governor — thanks to the state's peculiar one-term limit — has focused his statements and ads this month on attacking Youngkin for opposing vaccine requirements for health workers and mask mandates in schools. The issue came to a head during their first debate last week, when McAuliffe accused Youngkin, who is vaccinated and has personally encouraged people to get vaccinated, of being anti-vaccine. McAuliffe vowed to support vaccine mandates for health workers, educators and employees who would be covered by President Joe Biden's federal mandate.

Youngkin, a former private equity CEO who is using his wealth to fund his campaign, has helped bankroll anti-vaccine Republican candidates and urged "everyone who does not want to get the vaccine for whatever reason" to seek an exemption from mandates. He drew criticism earlier this month from Virginia doctors after opposing vaccine requirements and vowing to reverse Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam's policy requiring schools to follow guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But Youngkin, who has been endorsed by Donald Trump, has tried to walk a fine line in appealing to Republican base voters, who largely oppose vaccine and mask requirements, while attempting not to alienate independent and suburban voters he needs to win an increasingly blue state. Though polls currently show the two candidates neck and neck, a recent survey found that nearly 70% of Virginia voters support vaccine requirements for teachers and staff and mask requirements in schools and 55% support businesses requiring vaccines for employees. Nearly 80% of the state's voting-age population has already received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Youngkin has tried to push back on McAuliffe's criticism over his vaccine position, airing a new ad featuring three doctors who accuse the Democrat of waging a "smear campaign" and putting politics over science.

One of the doctors, Peter Zedler, has echoed anti-mask rhetoric on his Facebook page, writing last year that "'Controlling the virus' is just nonsense." In another post, he criticized Biden for not pursuing herd immunity through uncontrolled infection, a strategy that medical experts have warned could kill millions. Earlier this year, Zedler was also $300 by the Virginia Republican Party for "vote tabulations" after the party nominated Youngkin in May.

Another one of the doctors in Youngkin's ad, Georgeanne Long, was among the hosts for a Youngkin fundraiser featuring former Attorney General Bill Barr on Thursday, meaning she and her husband would have had to donate at least $25,000. Her husband previously donated more than $3,000 to Youngkin's campaign.

Another new Youngkin ad features Loudoun County teacher Paul Troth, who has repeatedly pushed anti-vaccine talking points on his Facebook page. Troth has railed against "sheep" who support vaccine requirements while repeatedly posting the slogan "My body, my choice." In other posts he compared the vaccines to dangerous discontinued drugs that were approved by the Food and Drug Administration decades earlier, calling vaccine requirements "forced vaccinations." Troth has also praised Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., for refusing the vaccine, described Biden as the "epitome of tyranny," and posted a meme claiming that "Trump was right" about hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial medication that has no proven benefit against Covid and has been found to cause heart problems, blood and lymph system disorders, kidney injuries and liver problems, according to the FDA. Troth has also complained about new protections for transgender students in his school district, calling it a "disgrace" and a "clown show."

"Glenn Youngkin's track record consists of sowing doubt about the vaccine, emboldening anti-vaccine extremists, and advancing reckless policies that would prolong the pandemic," Manuel Bonder, a spokesman for the Virginia Democratic Party, said in a statement to Salon. "His decision to put anti-vaccine and anti-mask actors on television is nothing if not consistent with his dangerous, Trumpian agenda."

Youngkin, on the other hand, has criticized McAullife for refusing to appear in a pro-vaccine PSA with him.

"These dishonest smears from Terry McAuliffe are just a sign of how desperate he is. Glenn Youngkin is the only candidate in the race with a TV ad encouraging Virginians to join him in getting vaccinated," a spokesperson for Youngkin said in a statement to Salon. "Terry McAuliffe's record consists of appointing a top anti-vax activist who called vaccines a 'holocaust of poison' to a state board because she donated to his campaign, failing to comply with federal law by violating President Biden's Amtrak mask mandate this year, and refusing to put politics aside and film a joint pro-vaccine PSA with Youngkin that could save lives."

McAuliffe pushed back on the criticism during last week's debate.

"He is not requiring vaccinations. That is the difference between the two of us. Asking to do a PSA is a political stunt," he said. "Who cares about PSAs? Half the people wouldn't know who you are on TV."

While Youngkin has run pro-vaccine PSAs alongside the ad with doctors criticizing McAuliffe, his vaccine-themed ads made up just 11% of his total TV advertising over the last week and a half, according to Politico. Youngkin's campaign has largely focused on his sheriff endorsements and his proposal to eliminate the state's grocery tax. By comparison, more than 60% of McAuliffe's ads have focused on vaccines.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom likewise focused on his pandemic response to easily beat back a Republican recall attempt and Democrats increasingly believe that pointing to the clear contrast between Democratic and Republican positions on COVID policy is a winning strategy. More than 60% of voters in the California recall backed vaccine requirements and more than 70% supported school mask mandates, according to exit polls.

"His Day 1 plan would be to unleash COVID," McAuliffe said before calling his opponent a "Trump wannabe" at the debate. "I think that's life-threatening. And I think that's disqualifying as governor."

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