I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I spent three years at the University of Chicago in the late 1990s, which is why I’m familiar with The Chicago Reader. It’s one of those free alternative weekly newspapers that most large cities have. (In Detroit it’s the Metro Times.) Of course, things change, and I haven’t lived in Chicago for over 20 years. I do, however, frequently visit because I have family there and Chicago is a popular site for medical meetings; so I have read the Reader from time to time, although not recently. (Thanks to the pandemic, I haven’t visited Chicago since the summer of 2019, and I don’t often read the Reader online.) Even so, I never would have expected what a reader sent me, an article by a criminal defense attorney named Leonard C. Goodman entitled Vaxxing our kids. Let’s just say that if Mr. Goodman claims not to be “antivax,” he sure does have a funny way of showing it, given that he credulously parrots a lot of COVID-19 antivaccine tropes, producing a very high density of antivaccine misinformation for a relatively short article.
It starts with the photo used for the article, an editorial choice for which the Reader really should be ashamed:
Note that that appears to be a 10 cc syringe. Most vaccine syringes are no more than 1 cc, with some being only 0.5 cc. That needle looks like a 20G or 21 G syringe, not the usual much smaller 23G or 25G needles used for most vaccines, particularly childhood vaccines. This is the sort of image that is one of my hugest pet peeves, as it presents an intentional image of a terrified child facing a monstrously large syringe. It’s antivax porn, basically.
The article is no better. Just look at how it starts:
As a father of a young child, I am pressured to get my daughter vaccinated for COVID-19. And like many Americans, I have concerns about giving my six-year-old a new vaccine that was not tested on humans until last year, and that has been approved only for “emergency use” in kids. The feverish hype by government officials, mainstream media outlets, and Big Pharma, and the systematic demonization and censorship of public figures who raise questions about the campaign, provide further cause for concern.
In the very first paragraph, Mr. Goodman has laid down a lot of very common antivax tropes. While it is not unreasonable to be concerned about such a new vaccine, Mr. Goodman takes it beyond that into antivax territory with his references to the “feverish hype” by governments (and, of course, big pharma) and the claims of “demonization” and “censorship of public figures who raise questions about the campaign.” No, Mr. Goodman, the criticism is not directed at people who “raise questions.” Rather, it’s directed at people who couch their “questions” with antivaccine misinformation and conspiracy theories—come to think of it, people rather like Mr. Goodman.
This year, Pfizer has banked on selling 115 million pediatric doses to the U.S. government and expects to earn $36 billion in vaccine revenue. Congress is so in the pocket of Big Pharma that it’s against the law for our government to negotiate bulk pricing for drugs, meaning taxpayers must pay retail. Corporate news and entertainment programs are routinely sponsored by Pfizer, which spent $55 million on social media advertising in 2020. Even late night comedians like Jimmy Kimmel, who has called for denying ICU beds to unvaccinated people, have been paid by Big Pharma to promote the COVID-19 vaccine.
It is thus not surprising that most of the information reported in the press about vaccine safety and efficacy appears to come directly from Pfizer press releases. This recent headline from NBC News is typical: “Pfizer says its Covid vaccine is safe and effective for children ages 5 to 11.” Moreover, by not advertising their vaccines by name, Pfizer-BioNTech and other drugmakers are not obliged, under current FDA regulations, to list the risks and side effects of the vaccine.
Notice the cleverness. Yes, it is true that Congress refuses to change the law to let Medicare and Medicaid negotiate bulk pricing for drugs, and it’s true that pharmaceutical companies have a lot of influence and have been on occasion caught in nefarious practices. The odd thing is this. Contrary to Mr. Goodman’s poisoning the well and however awful pharmaceutical companies have been, Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson have actually been surprisingly good during the pandemic. At least, I didn’t expect they’d do this well. As for the potential side effects and risks, they are listed prominently when you go to get the vaccine, and there’s been a lot of news coverage of risks and side effects, both real and exaggerated (and sometimes nonexistent). In addition, what Mr. Goodman neglects to mention is that if a vaccine is not FDA-approved and only released under an emergency use authorization (EUA), the drug company can’t advertise it at all!
Mr. Goodman is not above parroting outright lies, either:
Most Americans are vaguely aware that COVID vaccines carry some potential risks, such as heart inflammation, known as myocarditis, seen most often in young males. But no actual data from the vaccine trials has been provided to the public. After promising “full transparency” with regard to COVID-19 vaccines, the FDA recently went to court to resist a FOIA request seeking the data it relied on to license the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, declaring that it would not release the data in full until the year 2076—not exactly a confidence-building measure.
“No actual data”? What does Mr. Goodman think all that data presented at various FDA and CDC meetings leading to the EUAs for the vaccines was? What does he think this paper in the New England Journal of Medicine did? Or, as Jonathan Howard put it:
Seriously, Mr. Goodman isn’t even good at convincingly spreading antivax disinformation.
Also troubling is a recent report in the British Medical Journal, a peer-reviewed medical publication, which found that the research company used by Pfizer falsified data, unblinded patients, employed inadequately trained vaccinators, and was slow to follow up on adverse events reported in Pfizer’s pivotal phase III trial. The whistleblower, Brook Jackson, repeatedly notified her bosses of these problems, then e-mailed a complaint to the FDA and was fired that same day. If this scandal was ever mentioned in the corporate press, it was with a headline like this from CBS News: “Report questioning Pfizer trial shouldn’t undermine confidence in vaccines.”
This was, of course, that execrably awful “news report” published in The BMJ that Mr. Goodman is citing. It’s by Paul Thacker, a conspiracy theorist with a penchant for harassing scientists with abusive Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Basically, it’s full of innuendo based on insinuations based on a questionable report from this “whistleblower” and a couple of other Ventavia employees that do not actually show that the Pfizer clinical trial of its vaccine was fatally flawed. I discussed how bad it was just a couple of weeks ago; so if you want the details just read it.
Mr. Goodman goes on to parrot the standard antivax tropes about how children are supposedly at such low risk for serious complications and death from COVID-19 that it’s really not necessary to vaccinate them, even citing Mexico’s health minister, Jorge Alcocer Varela, who apparently claimed that warning that COVID-19 vaccines could inhibit the development of children’s immune systems, which is utter nonsense and a claim that antivaxxers have been making about vaccines since, well, I started paying attention to antivaccine pseudoscience and likely long before. He’s really off-base, too:
“Children have a wonderful immune system compared to the later phases . . . of their life,” he explained, warning that “hindering” the “learning” of a child’s immune system—the “cells that defend us our whole lives”—with a “completely inorganic structure” such as a vaccine runs counter to public health.
A “completely inorganic structure”? Does Varela (or Mr. Goodman) even know how the COVID-19 vaccines are made? Other than the salts in the buffers for the vaccines, they’re nothing but “organic structures.” Seriously, Mr. Goodman: Show me that you’ve never studied chemistry or biochemistry without actually saying you haven’t studied chemistry or biochemistry. (He did just that, in fact, by credulously parroting such an unscientific take on vaccines.)
A recent Harvard study provides further evidence that while vaccines protect us against serious COVID illness and deaths, they alone are not very good at stopping the spread of the disease. The study looked at COVID numbers in 68 countries and 2,947 counties in the United States during late August and early September. It found that the countries and counties with the highest vaccination rates had higher rates of new COVID-19 cases per one million people. And suggested other measures, like mask wearing and social distancing, in addition to vaccination.
That “Harvard study”? It was some truly, epically bad science that did not show that vaccines don’t work, as I described. That it came from a Harvard faculty member doesn’t make its design and execution any less biased or bad.
Mr. Goodman also cites Dr. Robert Malone:
I was also surprised to learn that there are reputable scientists opposed to mass vaccination, such as Dr. Robert Malone, an original inventor of the mRNA vaccine technology behind the COVID vaccines. As Malone explains, the mRNA vaccine contains a spike protein, similar to the virus, that stimulates your immune system to produce antibodies to fight COVID. He describes the vaccine as “leaky,” meaning it is only about 50 percent effective in preventing infection and spread.
Malone warns that overuse of a leaky vaccine during an outbreak risks generating mutant viruses that will overwhelm the vaccine, making it less effective for those who really need it. “The more people you vaccinate, the more vaccine-resistant mutations you get, and in the vaccine ‘arms race,’ the more need for ever more potent boosters.” Thus, Malone recommends vaccinating only the most vulnerable—primarily the elderly and individuals with significant comorbidities such as lung and heart disease or diabetes—and not healthy children.
Oddly enough, I hadn’t known that apparently Dr. Malone had jumped on the “vaccines are selecting for more lethal SARS-CoV-2 variants” grift train, but I guess he has. That was a bit of COVID-19 misinformation that I had most associated with Geert Vanden Bossche, who started it with a viral open letter this spring and then doubled down on it in August. Mr. Goodman didn’t provide any links, and I had associated Dr. Malone with claim to be the “inventor of mRNA vaccines” based on early work that he did as a graduate student over 30 years ago to get cells to take up mRNA and use it to make protein. More importantly, I had associated him with his conspiracy theory that Wikipedia is “erasing him.” In actuality, Wikipedia had busted Dr. Malone’s wife (and fans) editing its article on mRNA vaccines to proclaim her husband (and hero) the “inventor of mRNA vaccines,” as I wrote about a while back. That Mr. Goodman would accept the hysterical claims of conspiracy theorists like Malone and Vanden Bossche.
Finally, Mr. Goodman is apparently all-in for ivermectin:
Why indeed is CNN and much of the mainstream press lying about ivermectin, a drug that has been used by literally billions of people to treat tropical diseases, and has been shown to be safe and effective in treating COVID in countries such as Mexico, India, Japan, and Peru? First, in order for there to be an emergency use authorization for the vaccines, there has to be no treatment for a disease. Thus, any potential treatments must be disparaged. That is, of course, until Pfizer releases its antiviral drug, PF-07321332.
Second, ivermectin is off patent, meaning Big Pharma can’t make a profit on it. It has been made available to poor people around the world at pennies a dose. In contrast, Pfizer’s COVID pill will be priced at more than $500 per course.
Sorry, Mr. Goodman, but, given that nearly the only “positive” studies of ivermectin to treat COVID-19 are fraudulent or highly dubious, ivermectin almost certainly doesn’t work against COVID-19, and, despite the conspiracy theory you cited, Pfizer’s new protease inhibitor to treat coronavirus and COVID-19 is not “Pfizermectin.” However, the fact that you would buy into this conspiracy theory that relies an an igornance of chemistry and pharmacology tells me that you are at least antivaccine-sympathetic or outright antivaccine.
But do go on to finish with a flourish about how you are a “brave truth teller”:
We have been kept in the dark about vaccine safety and efficacy by our government and its partners in Big Pharma, who tell us they have looked at the science and it supports vaccinating our children against a virus that presents them with only the most miniscule risk of serious illness. As a parent, I will demand more answers before simply taking their word.
Whatever the past sins of big pharma, lack of transparency when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines has not been one of them. I was half expecting Mr. Goodman to start going on and on about how vaccines are killing tens of thousands of people, but surprisingly he restrained himself. That’s coming, I suppose. In any event, Mr. Goodman should really look at some more nuanced takes by Dr. Jonathan Howard about how to discuss the true risk/benefit ratio of COVID-19 vaccines in healthy children versus those with underlying health conditions and an honest discussion of how bad the virus can be in children—or this article by a real expert, Dr. Paul Offit. I doubt that he will, though.
And then there’s this:
I take that back. Mr. Goodman is antivaccine. There were no effective therapeutics for COVID-19 other than steroids and experimental cocktails of monoclonal antibodies unavailable to most people (except maybe President Donald Trump) a year ago. Certainly hydroxychloroquine was never effective, and ivermectin is just the new hydroxychloroquine. Mr. Goodman is now also the “co-owner of the for-profit arm of the Reader, which tells me that The Chicago Reader is no longer a reliable source for information on COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines, if ever it was. I fear that it will become a source of anti-COVID-19 vaccine fear mongering of the sort exemplified by Mr. Goodman’s credulous parroting of all manner of antivaccine conspiracy theories in his op-ed.