Archives for category: Science

Where did COVID-19 start? Was there a lab leak in Wuhan in China, where deadly pathogens are studied? Did it originate in an animal market in Wuhan, then jump from animals to humans? Was there a different cause?

NPR explores the debate here.

Federal agencies do not agree. Scientists do not agree.

The story begins:

Since the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic began three years ago, its origin has been a topic of much scientific — and political — debate. Two main theories exist: The virus spilled over from an animal into people, most likely in a market in Wuhan, China, or the virus came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology and spread due to some type of laboratory accident.

The Wall Street Journal added to that debate this week when they reported that the U.S. Department of Energy has shifted its stance on the origin of COVID. It now concludes, with “low confidence,” that the pandemic most likely arose from a laboratory leak in Wuhan, China.

The agency based their conclusion on classified evidence that isn’t available to the public. According to the federal government, “low confidence” means “the information used in the analysis is scant, questionable, fragmented, or that solid analytical conclusions cannot be inferred from the information.”

And at this point, the U.S. intelligence community still has no consensus about the origin of SARS-CoV-2. Four of the eight intelligence agencies lean toward a natural origin for the virus, with “low confidence,” while two of them – the DOE and the Federal Bureau of Information – support a lab origin, with the latter having “moderate confidence” about their conclusion.

But at the end of the day, the origin of the pandemic is also a scientific question. Virologists, who study pandemic origins, are much less divided than the U.S. intelligence community. They say there is “very convincing” data and “overwhelming evidence” pointing to an animal origin.

In particular, scientists published two extensive, peer-reviewed papers in Science in July 2022, offering the strongest evidence to date that the COVID-19 pandemic originated in animals at a market in Wuhan, China. Specifically, they conclude that the coronavirus most likely jumped from a caged wild animal into people at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, where a huge COVID-19 outbreak began in December 2019.

Virologist Angela Rasmussen, who contributed to one of the Science papers, says the DOE’s “low confident” conclusion doesn’t “negate the affirmative evidence for zoonotic [or animal] origin nor do they add any new information in support of lab origin.”

“Many other [news] outlets are presenting this as new conclusive proof that the lab origin hypothesis is equally as plausible as the zoonotic origin hypothesis,” Rasmussen wrote in an email to NPR, “and that is a misrepresentation of the evidence for either.”

So just what is the scientific evidence that the pandemic began at the seafood market?

Neither of the Science papers provide the smoking gun — that is, an animal infected with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus at a market.

But they come close. They provide photographic evidence of wild animals such as raccoon dogs and a red fox, which can be infected with and shed SARS-CoV-2, sitting in cages in the market in late 2019. What’s more, the caged animals are shown in or near a stall where scientists found SARS-CoV-2 virus on a number of surfaces, including on cages, carts and machines that process animals after they are slaughtered at the market.

Please open the link to read the rest of the story.

Writing in VICE, Anna Merlin describes the internal squabbling in the anti-vaccine world. Vaccine skeptics are denouncing one another, suing one another, accusing the others of lying.

The pro-vax blogger “Misinformation Kills” says “The Cranks Are Fighting! Grab your popcorn” and watch the anti-vax leaders destroy each other.

Full disclosure: I am fully vaccinated and boosted.

From June 27, 2021, to March 26, 2022, the US would have averted 122 304 deaths if COVID-19 mortality matched that of the 10 most-vaccinated states and 266 700 deaths if US excess all-cause mortality rate matched that of the 10 most-vaccinated states. If the US matched the rates of other peer countries, averted deaths would have been substantially higher in most cases (range, 154 622-357 899 for COVID-19 mortality; 209 924-465 747 for all-cause mortality).

An article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association estimated the number of people who died of COVID, unnecessarily.

The JAMA article was summarized by Faye Flam in Bloomberg News, as “The Tragedy of Avoidable COVID Deaths.”

She writes:

As early as the fall of 2020, statisticians were looking at all-cause mortality to try to figure out whether official Covid-19 deaths were overcounted or undercounted. But today, the death data are more complete, and cover enough time to make revealing comparisons between different periods and regions. While researchers are still figuring out which factors swayed these death statistics, a few conclusions are becoming clear: First, that Covid has been a global tragedy, causing millions of deaths. Second, that vaccines have saved countless lives. And third, that during the omicron and delta waves, the value of any non-pharmaceutical mitigation measures — masking, distancing, closing businesses and schools — was probably not nothing, but vaccination rates mattered far, far more.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis wants to stake his claim to be the leader of the libertarian anti-vaxxers. He has banned any mandates by schools or businesses to require masking or getting vaccinated. The legislature went along with him, on a temporary basis, but now he wants the legislators to mandate non-compliance with CDC public health protocols. (Because he opposes mandates!). In short, he is mandating that no one can require a mandate to wear a mask or get vaccinated.

Is he stupid, clever, craven, cunning or what? If nothing else, he’s getting attention.

The Miami Herald reports:

Despite facing pushback from medical professionals and businesses, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced legislation Tuesday that would make permanent a law to penalize companies that require employees to wear masks or be vaccinated for COVID-19 and added a new ban on medical boards reprimanding doctors for spreading COVID misinformation.

“This is just nuts that we’re still doing this,’’ DeSantis said to cheering supporters in Panama City Beach. “We need to be leading on this by making all of these protections permanent in Florida statute as we need to do in the upcoming legislative session.”

The proposal will attempt to make permanent a series of laws passed by legislators in November 2021 after DeSantis called a special session aimed at restricting Florida businesses that were following a federal law requiring mask mandates or requiring employees to be vaccinated. If approved by Florida legislators, the measure would continue to prohibit COVID-19 vaccine and mask requirements in schools and government, and prohibit COVID-19 vaccine requirements for employment or travel.

Those laws are set to expire in June. DeSantis wants them re-enacted and made tougher to be sure that no one feels compelled to wear a mask or get vaccinated.

This year, DeSantis wants to expand the sanctions on businesses by prohibiting employers from hiring or firing based on vaccine status or wearing a mask, and he wants to revive a failed proposal from last year’s legislative session that would make it more difficult for a medical licensing board to reprimand or sanction a doctor for views expressed by the medical professional — including on social media.

Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo also spoke at the news conference Tuesday and repeated his claim that masks are not effective in preventing the spread of the virus and dismissed the effectiveness of vaccines. “This is the first time in history where we are using this technology widely in human beings,’’ he said, referring to the mRNA vaccines.

“You’re telling people to put it in children, and you’ve never even shown the children to gain from it in terms of an actual help. That’s the land of crazy. Florida is the land of sanity.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website lists several studies that have shown masking to be helpful in curbing the spread of the virus. In January 2022, a CDC report found vaccinated Americans were far less likely both to contract the virus and die from it.


House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell of Tampa called the governor and his administration “the No. 1 peddler of misinformation from the anti-vax establishment.”

“It is a fake ideology with real consequences,’’ she said, noting that less than one-third of Florida’s nursing home residents, the most vulnerable age group, are up to date on their vaccines, even though the state Department of Health recommends it.

Driskell emphasized that “no one ever promised total immunity, but those vaccines do lessen the chance of infection and they increase the likelihood of a milder case if you do get sick.” She accused the governor of “rewriting history” after promoting the vaccines when they were first available.

Since former President Donald Trump lost his reelection bid, DeSantis sought to become the face of the opposition to the Biden administration’s COVID policies which the governor said were overreaching. He called lawmakers into special session in November 2021 to punish companies that followed the federal law.

DeSantis wanted the legislature to punish businesses that required their employees to get vaccinated, but more than 100 corporations objected to the state’s interference in their operations, and the legislature did not adopt DeSantis’ most punitive measures. However, after his sweeping re-election, the legislature is likely to give him what he wants…

“The Free State of Florida did not happen by accident,” DeSantis said at the news conference Tuesday in which he took no questions. “It required us over these last few years to stand against major institutions in our society — the bureaucracy, the medical establishment, legacy media and even the President of the United States — who together were working to impose a bio medical security state on society.”

Read more at:

John Thompson is a historian and a retired teacher in Oklahoma. He is also a meticulous researcher. Emily Oster is an economist at Brown University who said early in the pandemic that it was safe to open schools.

Thompson writes:

New post on Network for Public Education.

John Thompson: COVID and Schools

John Thompson takes a look at Emily Oster’s crusade to get school buildings open.

He writes:

When I started following Emily Oster’s links and critiquing her analyses of COVID in schools, I first worried about her simplistic conclusions such as, “The evidence is pointing in one direction. Schools do not, in fact, appear to be major spreaders of COVID-19.” Since Diane Ravitch posted on epidemiologists Abigail Cartus’ and Justin Feldman’s research, I better understand where Oster was coming from, and how “Oster’s emphasis on individualism and personal choice ring sweetly in the ears of the rightwing philanthropists.”

Oster went “viral” when arguing that educators’ fears were “overblown,” and that kids are “simply very unlikely to be infected.” But, as she made those claims, Oster ignored evidence that schools were significant spreaders, such as the CDC’s summaryof Wisconsin infections from Sept 3 to Nov16, 2020. That state’s schools were the 4th largest source of infections, following long term care and corrections facilities, and colleges; an estimated 14% of infections were linked to schools.

On the eves of Thanksgivings, when common sense said that holiday surges through Christmas and the New Year would be inevitable, Oster would double down on attacks on educators for not immediately reopening classrooms.As Rachel Cohenexplained, Oster’s 2020 data “reflected an extremely small and unrepresentative sample of schools.” There was not a single urban traditional public school reporting data across 27 states in her dataset, including from Florida [and] Texas…” Then, in November, Texas became the first state to have a million infections.

Worse, Cohen reported, “Rebekah Jones, a former Florida Department of Health data scientist who says she was fired in May over a refusal to manipulate her state’s COVID-19 stats, has publicly pushed back on Oster’s claims.” Jones “offered Oster full and free access to their data. ‘But she [Oster] basically decided to just pick what data she wanted, not what’s available.’” Jones added, “‘It’s offensive to researchers, when you see something so unabashedly unscientific, and when the opportunity to do something scientific was there.’”

Before long, I worried that Oster, an economist, was following in the path of economists who didn’t know what they didn’t about public schools and didn’t listen to educators regarding the flaws in their data-driven corporate school reforms. For instance, Oster seemed to disregard about 20% of the U.S. population [who] lived in homes with at least two adult generations or grandparents and grandchildren under 25 in 2016, according to an analysis of census data by the Pew Research Center. And the dangers of spreading COVID from students to older family members was greater in low-income Black and Brown households.

Also, Oster ignored qualifications made by researchers, such as the Duke University study finding that masks can minimize the spread in schools. Inresponse to my questions on methodology, co-author Daniel Benjamin volunteered what it takes to safely reopen schools:

Is that there is 99% mask compliance for every person in the mainstream curriculum that steps on school property. It’s the mitigation strategies—distancing, masking, hand hygiene that are crucially important. If a school district does not do these things, they will likely make the pandemic worse by being open. This is why we don’t advise “you should open” or “you should go remote”…. It’s all about the public health measures.

At that time, I worried about Gov. Ron DeSantis and Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt citing Oster while pressuring schools to open up and drop protections. Neither did I understand why more journalists were not challenging her misuse of sources, and her repeated attacks on teachers unions, especially in publications funded by the Billionaires Boys Club. I sensed Oster’s methodology would cost lives. But, I didn’t want to prejudge researchers at a time when lives were on the line, so I didn’t connect the dots.

But Cartus and Feldman connect the dots and write about Oster’s important role in making:

The “data-driven” case for peeling away successive layers of COVID mitigations: first ending remote instruction in favor of hybrid learning, then ending hybrid learning in favor of a full return to in-person instruction, then eliminating quarantine for those exposed to the virus. … Her vision for schooling during the pandemic ultimately involves abandoning universal public health measures altogether, turning masking and vaccination into individual, personal choices.

Cartus and Feldman address my question why her work “attracted little scrutiny.” It was more than journalists and experts being unaware of the differences between the highest poverty schools and the schools their children attend. Most importantly her work:

Has been funded since last summer by organizations that,without exception, have explicit commitments to opposing teacher’s unions, supporting charter schools, and expanding corporate freedom. In addition to grants from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the Walton Family Foundation, and Arnold Ventures, Oster has received funding from far-right billionaire Peter Thiel. The Thiel grant awarded to Oster was administered by the Mercatus Center, the think tank founded and financed by the Koch family.

Cartus and Feldman went deeper than I did in explaining the damage that Oster prompted. For instance, in her “2020 article in The Atlantic, ‘Schools Aren’t Super-Spreaders,’ Oster “assured readers in no uncertain terms that COVID transmission simply did not occur in schools at a rate that would necessitate closures.” But the analysis underlying the piece “drew on a sample of miniscule size—a mere two weeks of school data, reported in the second half of September 2020.” The sample was also biased by the fact that it was collected only from schools voluntarily participating in the Dashboard.

Cartus and Feldman then noted what so many journalists ignored, “The second half of September 2020 coincided with the very beginning of a national uptick in cases that would eventually become the punishing surge of winter 2020-21.”

When the press mostly failed to investigate the red flags that Oster’s work should have raised, “it became an article of faith that the laws of physics governing viral transmission don’t apply to schools, even as evidence of in-school viral transmission has mounted throughout the pandemic.”

Oster’s “declarations of victory ignore[d] a growing body of research that has found schools contribute substantially to community coronavirus transmission, especially in the absence of adequate mitigation. The proclamation of “choice” that she justifies is really:

The ‘choice” to cast off obligations to others: the permission she offers affluent parents to disengage from the social contract. While the privileged seek a return to normalcy—or some sicker, poorer approximation of it—COVID will continue to infect and kill the working class and people of color at disproportionate rates.”

Now, history may be repeating itself. To quote National Public Radio, “People say they are done with COVID, but COVID is not done with us.” When we take stock of the interrelated harm done by anti-vaxers, anti-maskers, rightwingers, and their funders, as well as mistakes made by the CDC, we must draw upon Cartus’ and Feldman’s first draft of the history Emily Oster’s stardom.

You can view the post at this link :


Early in the pandemic, an economist at Brown University named Emily Oster gained extraordinary media attention for the advice she offered. She wrote multiple articles declaring that it was safe to open schools even without the funds needed to pay for extra safety precautions. She wrote, she was written about, she became the go-to person with “evidence” that schools were safe from COVID.

Oster’s research is funded by leading rightwing and libertarian foundations, organizations, and individuals. As the linked article by epidemiologists Abigail Cartus and Justin Feldman explains, Oster’s emphasis on individualism and personal choice ring sweetly in the ears of the rightwing philanthropists.

They write:

Oster’s influence on the discourse around COVID in schools is difficult to overstate. She has been quoted in hundreds of articles about school pandemic precautions and interviewed as a guest on dozens of news shows. Officials from both parties have used her work as justification for lifting public health measures. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis cited her study while announcing an executive order banning school mask mandates, while CDC Director Rochelle Walenksy referenced Oster’s research in anticipation of relaxing classroom social distancing guidelines. Oster also co-authored an influential school reopening guidance document that was released in early 2021.

But despite its prominence, Oster’s work on COVID in schools has attracted little scrutiny—even though it has been funded since last summer by organizations that, without exception, have explicit commitments to opposing teacher’s unions, supporting charter schools, and expanding corporate freedom. In addition to grantsfrom the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the Walton Family Foundation, and Arnold Ventures, Oster has received funding from far-right billionaire Peter Thiel. The Thiel grant awarded to Oster was administered by the Mercatus Center, the think tank founded and financed by the Koch family.

Although she claimed that her work was evidence-based, the authors show that her evidence was never as conclusive as she argued.

Cartus and Feldman draw a straight line between Oster’s views about COVID and the billionaire-funded attack on public schools. It is no accident that the same people who support charter schools and vouchers also support Oster.

What’s in it for the billionaires? Oster spreads the gospel of choice, they write, a philosophy of looking out for #1, and ignoring social responsibility.

They write:

Oster is far from the only person to apply an economic style of reasoning to the U.S. education sector. There exists an entire ecosystem of “education reform” organizations that have spent decades attempting to subject schools to market conditions, promoting “school choice”, (i.e., charter schools, some of which are for-profit). This necessitates, among other stances, taking a harder line against organized labor. When the pandemic arrived, billionaires and right-wing interests invested in neoliberal “education reform” saw an opportunity to advance their interests: breaking unions, promoting charter schools, and undermining public education. Oster’s preference for individualism, the rhetoric of choice, and economic reasoning over structural and collective justice-based conceptions made her—as an impeccably credentialed and high-profile economist prior to the pandemic—a valuable “expert” ally in their crusade to reshape U.S. education. Indeed, when the pandemic began, these groups promptly expressed interest in funding her work on COVID in schools….

Throughout the pandemic, Oster’s advocacy has helped make the “data-driven” case for peeling away successive layers of COVID mitigations: first ending remote instructionin favor of hybrid learning, then ending hybrid learning in favor of a full return to in-person instruction, then eliminating quarantine for those exposed to the virus. The direction of her vision for schooling during the pandemic ultimately involves abandoning universal public health measures altogether, turning masking and vaccination into individual, personal choices that can be decided through cost-benefit calculations.

The irony of the Rightwingers’ support for Oster and her “data-driven” approach to COVID is that it stands in sharp contrast to their total disregard for data or evidence about charter schools and voucher schools. The evidence favoring charter schools over district schools is scanty; the evidence of the failure of vouchers is overwhelming. But the funders don’t care.

The bitter struggle over COVID in schools, conducted with the rhetoric of “choice,” opened up space for an alliance between affluent white liberal parents and a right-wing propaganda infrastructure devoted to destroying unions and public schools. For instance, John Arnold, the former Enron executive behind the eponymous Arnold Ventures (which funds Oster), has used the pandemic to attack teacher’s unions and further his goal of dismantling public pension funding, much of which is allocated to unionized public school teachers. The pandemic also provided an opportunity to increase charter school usageat the expense of public school enrollment. It gave plutocrats like the Waltons yet another chance to attack teachers’ unions by painting their demands for safer working conditions as irrational. By advocating reopening in a seminar at Bellwether Education Partners (another Walton grantee) during a period when the Chicago Teachers Union was campaigning for stronger COVID rules, Oster helped the Waltons do precisely that.

To see all the links and read the full article, open the link.

The Washington Post reported that the anti-vaccination movement has prompted the return of diseases that were previously thought to be eliminated. The anti-vaccination folk are mainly Republicans, and their antipathy to vaccines has been encouraged by their party’s leaders, like Ron DeSantis, who has banned vaccine mandates in Florida. Republican members of Congress forced the abandonment of mandatory vaccinations for the military.

Veteran reporter Lena H. Sun wrote:

A rapidly growing measles outbreak in Columbus, Ohio — largely involving unvaccinated children — is fueling concerns among health officials that more parent resistance to routine childhood immunizations will intensify a resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases.

Most of the 81 children infected so far are old enough to get the shots, but their parents chose not to do so, officials said, resulting in the country’s largest outbreak of the highly infectious pathogen this year.

“That is what is causing this outbreak to spread like wildfire,” said Mysheika Roberts, director of the Columbus health department.

The Ohio outbreak, which began in November, comes at a time of heightened worry about the public health consequences of anti-vaccine sentiment, a long-standing problem that has led to drops in child immunization rates in pockets across the United States. The pandemic has magnified those concerns because of controversies and politicization around coronavirus vaccines and school vaccine mandates.

More than a third of parents with children under 18 — and 28 percent of all adults — now say parents should be able to decide not to vaccinate their children for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) to attend public schools, even if remaining unvaccinated may create health risks for others, according to new polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health-care research nonprofit.

Public sentiments against vaccine mandates have grown significantly since the pandemic, said Jen Kates, a Kaiser senior vice president. A 2019 poll by the Pew Research Center found that less than a quarter of parents — and 16 percent of all adults — opposed school vaccination requirements.

The growing opposition stems largely from shifts among people who identify as or lean Republican, the Kaiser survey found, with 44 percent saying parents should be able to opt out of those childhood vaccines — more than double the 20 percent who felt that way in 2019.

Adam Moore, a father of three in the Detroit suburbs, said none of his children — 9, 12 and 17 and enrolled in private school — have received routine childhood immunizations, let alone vaccines for the coronavirus or flu. He values personal liberty and says the government has no right telling people what to do with their bodies.

“I find it a hard argument when the government says we’re all for individual liberty on abortion rights and all this other stuff, but when it comes to vaccinations, there’s no such thing as ‘my body, my choice,’” said Moore, 43, an account manager for a marketing company.

Moore, who describes himself as Republican-leaning, said he does not view childhood diseases such as measles and polio, which have resurfaced in recent years, as threats. But if the deadly Ebola virus were circulating, he said, he would want his children to get vaccinated.

Other parents who oppose school immunization mandates echo long-standing misinformation about vaccines that continue to spread via anti-vaccine groups.

Bianca Hernandez, a 37-year-old dog breeder in the Albuquerque metropolitan area, described concerns about the link between vaccine ingredients and autism, a view that has been extensively disproved. She said her two youngest children receive religious exemptions from school vaccination requirements.

Support for immunization mandates has held steady among Democrats, with 88 percent saying that children should be vaccinated to attend public schools because of the potential risk for others when they are not.

Overall, 71 percent of all adults still support school immunization requirements, compared with 82 percent in 2019.

“The situation about increasing negative sentiment about childhood vaccination is concerning, but in absolute terms, vaccines remain the social norm,” said Saad Omer, director of Yale’s Institute for Global Health and an infectious-disease expert who has studied vaccine hesitancy.

Anne Zink, chief medical officer for Alaska’s health department, said that even in a state with historically lower vaccination rates, childhood immunization rates have yet to return to their pre-pandemic levels. In the years before the pandemic, about 65 percent of Alaskan children 19 to 35 months old had completed their routine childhood immunizations. By the end of 2021, 46 percent had.

A few weeks ago, Zink, an emergency room doctor, saw her first case of chickenpox when a young woman walked into the Mat-Su Regional Medical Center in Palmer covered in large, painful lesions. The woman said she and her family did not believe in vaccinations and told Zink she thought chickenpox no longer existed.

“I think there is more mistrust of the government, there’s more questioning of vaccines, and we’ve been having a harder time getting people vaccinated,” said Zink, who is also president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

“I was like, ‘Well, it really doesn’t when all of us choose to get vaccinated, but you aren’t vaccinated, your family’s not vaccinated, and the people you hang out with are not vaccinated. Chickenpox has been spreading in your community, and now you’re really sick,’” Zink recalled.

In the past, Zink said, herd immunity would have protected the woman against such childhood diseases. But that protection has waned as anti-vaccine sentiment grows, she said.

To distance its push for vaccination from the current political narrative, the Alaska health department recently brought back images and language from a 1960s promotion for polio vaccination. The new social media campaign uses the vintage Wellbee cartoon and rocket — “Get a booster!” — to remind people that immunization has always been part of the country’s history.

It is too early to see the effects of eroding public support for school vaccination requirements on childhood immunization rates because federal data typically lag by about two years. During the pandemic, routine vaccination rates slipped because of school closures and because children were not going to the doctor.

The growing negative attitudes about school immunization requirements are troubling for health workers. Kentucky officials are urging that people get flu shots after six children — none of whom were vaccinated — died after contracting influenza. South Carolina officials had also promoted childhood vaccinations after two chickenpox outbreaks in March — the first since 2020 — affected nearly 70 people.

A case of paralytic polio in a New York man this summer prompted worry that low childhood immunization rates and rising vaccine misinformation could result in the disease’s resurgence, decades after vaccination had eliminated it in the United States.

“There is definitely a group of parents who have shifted their attitudes,” said Jennifer Heath, immunizations program coordinator for Minnesota’s health department who works on vaccine hesitancy and outreach. “Part of it is true attitude shift. But part is a disconnection to the primary care provider, the human being who’s telling you that vaccines are important.”

School vaccination requirements are among the most effective tools to keep children healthy. All states and the District of Columbia require children to be vaccinated against certain diseases, such as measles, polio and whooping cough, to attend public school. All states grant exemptions based on medical reasons; a growing number allow religious or philosophical exemptions.

D.C. also requires students 12 and older to be vaccinated against covid-19 but has delayed enforcing the mandate until the 2023-2024 school year. California has a pending statewide student coronavirus vaccine mandate that will not take effect until after July 2023. Nearly two dozen states have some form of ban against student coronavirus vaccine mandates.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends children get two doses of MMR vaccine, with the first dose at 12 to 15 months, and the second dose between 4 and 6 years old. One dose of the vaccine is about 93 percent effective in preventing measles, one of the most infectious pathogens on the planet that can cause serious complications, including death. Two doses are about 97 percent effective at preventing the disease.

In the Ohio measles outbreak, only three of the 81 children had received a single dose of vaccine, according to state data. None were known to be fully vaccinated.

“I think some of these attitudes were here before the pandemic, and then we probably picked up some additional community members who were accepting of vaccines before but now maybe are more critical about vaccines as a result of what transpired with the coronavirus vaccine,” Roberts said.

Some of the cases occurred in Columbus’s large Somali community, the second-largest Somali population in the United States after the Minneapolis area, Roberts said. Parents have said they “intentionally delayed” giving their children the measles vaccine because of their fear of autism, she said, despite considerable research disproving any relationship between vaccines and autism.

Those fears echoed similar concerns of parents in Minnesota’s Somali community during a 2017 measles outbreak that infected 75 children, mostly unvaccinated preschool kids.

Minnesota is also battling a new measles outbreak — 22 cases — as vaccine hesitancy around the MMR vaccine continues to be an issue, said Doug Schultz, spokesman for the Minnesota health department.

Officials are bracing for more cases in the coming weeks as families travel and gather indoors for the holidays. At least 29 of the Ohio children have been hospitalized, some so sick they required intensive care.

Most of the sickened children — 78 percent — are Black, 6 percent are Asian, 6 percent are White, and 4 percent are Hispanic, according to Columbus officials.

Because the measles virus is so contagious, an overall community vaccination rate of about 90 to 94 percent is needed to keep the virus from causing large outbreaks, according to infectious-disease experts. In the United States, nearly 91 percent of children have received at least one dose of the MMR vaccine by age 2. In the Columbus area, Roberts said, the measles vaccination rate is estimated at 80 to 90 percent, but health-care providers are not required to report data to Ohio’s vaccine registry.

Even if overall coverage in a community is high, measles can transmit easily in clusters of under-vaccinated or unvaccinated people. The Columbus outbreak began when one or two unvaccinated people traveled to countries where measles is still common between June and October and infected others in the community, Roberts said.

In recent years, many of the measles cases reported to the CDC have occurred in underimmunized, close-knit communities, where anti-vaccine misinformation has gained a foothold. In 2019, the United States reported the highest annual number of measles cases — 1,294 — in more than 25 years; three-fourths of those cases occurred among New York’s Orthodox Jewish communities. Outbreaks have also occurred among the Amish in Ohio and Eastern European groups in the Pacific Northwest.

After consulting with counterparts in Minnesota, health officials in Ohio have been working closely with the Somali community to increase vaccination uptake without stigmatizing them. Columbus public health workers have hosted vaccine clinics at a community center and a mosque and are conducting home visits to provide shots. They have also reached out to schools, day-care centers and grocery stores about the importance of vaccination.

The efforts appear to be making a difference.
Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus recently saw a 20 percent increase in the number of parents seeking the MMR vaccine, Roberts said. The health department, too, has seen a small uptick in vaccinations.

“They are trickling in,” she said, “slowly but surely.”

I asked AFT President Randi Weingarten to respond to David Brooks’s claim that “the teachers’ unions” were to blame for long school closures during the pandemic, which caused grievous harm to students.

She answered with a resounding “NO” and sent me the following timeline. If I had NEA President Becky Pringle’s personal email, I would have asked her the same question. Being that it’s Christmas holidays, it will be several days before I can reach her. I will try.

Meanwhile, Randi sent this comprehensive rebuttal of Brooks’ allegations.

Since the first months of the pandemic, the American Federation of Teachers has worked with parents and communities to safely reopen schools and other institutions vital to the nation’s social and economic health.

Even before COVID-19, educators knew that remote education, relentlessly championed and invested in ( by then-Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, was only ever a supplement, not a substitute, for in-person learning. Remote learning can serve as a backstop during a public health emergency, but only if we address equity issues, including broadband accessibility, services and support. In-person learning is a prerequisite to fostering the deep social and emotional ties and close relationships with educators that are essential to kids’ development.

Throughout the pandemic, AFT members have consistently ( expressed ( support ( for in-person instruction with safety protocols in place. Those protocols served as the pathway, not the barrier, to returning to classrooms. The union held ( numerous ( halls ( on the crucial importance of face-to-face instruction.

Since April 2020, the AFT has published four proposals for safely reopening schools and addressing the challenges of the pandemic.1 In the fall of 2021, the AFT invested $5 million in 28 states ( to get kids back in classrooms, through billboard and radio ads encouraging reopening as well as health fairs and vaccination clinics.

At the same time, parents in major cities often elicited ( a strong preference ( for remote learning. Charter schools were more likely ( than other public schools to shift to remote learning, and stay remote, and private schools were just 4 percentage points more likely than public schools to stay open. In October 2020, Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz said (, “The best way for us to protect teaching and learning was to stay remote and have a level of predictability.”

After a year of failed efforts under President Donald Trump, the Biden administration invested in and successfully reopened schools, with 98 percent open in January 2022 (, compared with 46 percent a year earlier. Teachers across the country advocated for the American Rescue Plan, which included $126 billion for public K-12 schools and funding specifically to address learning recovery.

Tale of the tape

On Feb. 4, 2020, as Trump downplayed COVID-19’s seriousness (, the union held a press conference ( with Association of Flight Attendants President Sara Nelson and others to push for a coordinated response to the emerging pandemic.

In April 2020, the AFT launched its landmark plan ( safely reopen America’s schools and communities—months before many other groups, including the federal government. In July of that year, the AFT launched its detailed follow-up plan ( safely reopen school buildings.

On April 24, AFT President Randi Weingarten wrote an op-ed ( with former Education Secretary John King calling out the shortcomings of remote education and pushing for multi-week summer school to deal with learning loss.

In May 2020, Weingarten was appointed to ( New York state’s Reimagine Education Advisory Council, which was charged with safely reopening and reinventing schools.

In July 2020, the union joined ( with the National Education Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the School Superintendents Association to commit to doing everything possible to safely resume in-person schooling at the start of the 2020-21 school year.

In November 2020, the AFT launched a new blueprint ( to reopen schools.

In January 2021, Weingarten joined Rajiv Shah of the Rockefeller Foundation to write an op-ed saying that schools could reopen ( with comprehensive testing, before the vaccine was widely available. In February 2021, Weingarten reiterated her position ( that vaccinations are a priority, but not a prerequisite, for in-person learning.

In February 2021, the New York Times published a profile ( titled “The Union Leader Who Says She Can Get Teachers Back in School.” It reported that Weingarten was calling for schools to reopen, in person, as soon as possible.

Later that month, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Weingarten issued a clarion call ( for in-person learning, arguing that if the NFL could resume in-person football games, schools could resume in-person classes.

Governor Ron DeSantis took the unusual step of convening a grand jury to investigate COVID vaccines. His opposition to the vaccines has been a hallmark of his administration. He wants to be the leading anti-vaxxer in the nation. He even found a public health official to serve as his Surgeon General who also opposes the vaccines. DeSantis relies on “experts” who oppose the vaccines, such as those who signed the so-called Great Barrington Resolution.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday that he plans to petition the state’s Supreme Court to convene a grand jury to investigate “any and all wrongdoing” with respect to the COVID-19 vaccines.

The Republican governor, who is often mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2024, gave no specifics on what wrongdoing the panel would investigate, but suggested it would be in part aimed to jog loose more information from pharmaceutical companies about the vaccines and potential side effects.

He made the announcement following a roundtable with Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo and a panel of scientists and physicians.

“We’ll be able to get the data whether they want to give it or not,” DeSantis said. “In Florida, it is illegal to mislead and misrepresent, especially when you are talking about the efficacy of a drug.”

Vaccine studies funded by pharmaceutical companies that developed COVID-19 vaccines have been published in peer-reviewed journals like the New England Journal of Medicine, and government panels reviewed data on the safety and effectiveness of the shots before approving them for use.

Statewide grand juries, usually comprised of 18 people, can investigate criminal activity and issue indictments but also examine systemic problems in Florida and make recommendations. Recent such panels have tackled immigration issues and school safety.

DeSantis noted that Florida recently “got $3.2 billion through legal action against those responsible for the opioid crisis. So, it’s not like this is something that’s unprecedented.” That money came largely through lawsuits, and settlements with drug makers, retailers and distributors.

DeSantis said he expects to get approval from the Supreme Court for the statewide grand jury to be empaneled, likely in the Tampa Bay area.

“That will come with legal processes that will be able to get more information and to bring legal accountability to those who committed misconduct,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis also announced that he is creating an entity called the “Public Health Integrity Committee,” which will include many of the physicians and scientists who participated in the roundtable on Tuesday. The group includes prominent opponents of lockdowns, federal vaccine mandates, and child vaccinations.

He said that over the course of the pandemic some people have lost faith in public health institutions, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The governor has frequently spoken out against CDC directives, including mask and vaccine mandates, and filed lawsuits to stop many from taking effect in Florida.

Additionally, the governor announced that Ladapo will conduct research through the University of Florida to ”assess sudden deaths of individuals in good health who received a COVID-19 vaccine.” In addition, he said that the Florida Department of Health will utilize disease surveillance and vital statistics to assess such deaths.

Read more at:

Dan Rather and his colleague Elliott Kirschner wrote a tribute to Dr. Anthony Fauci on his retirement. They noted that the anti-VAXX conspiracy theorists have been howling for Dr. Fauci’s scalp. Surprisingly, Elon Musk joined the anti-science mob with a hostile tweet.

They write:

One of the most dedicated public servants in this nation’s history is stepping down after decades of government service. That this same man is being scurrilously attacked by the world’s richest man on a rapidly degenerating social media platform is a sad but instructive snapshot of our times.

Dr. Anthony Fauci has served presidents since Ronald Reagan. He has led efforts against infectious diseases ranging from HIV/AIDS to Ebola to, of course, Covid-19. His work and dedication have saved countless lives. And for much of his career, he was viewed with great respect on both sides of the political aisle.

But we all know what happened. Fauci has become a target for the anti-science, conspiracy-theory-marinated movement stoked by the former president. And today, Elon Musk sent out a tweet that epitomizes the debasement. Like a smirking bully on the schoolyard, he wrote; My pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci.

Many online were quick to point out how Musk had earlier tweeted favorably about vaccines. And they noted how he has been staggeringly wrong about the pandemic, which he said early on would just disappear. Plus, for what exactly is Fauci supposed to be prosecuted? You have to be fluent in crazy conspiracy theories to start trying to answer that question.

But even to try to debate on the merits is to have already lost.

This isn’t about facts and the truth. This is about scoring political points. It is about flooding our global discourse with horse manure. It is about attacking the very notion of expertise. It is about saying everything can be true so nothing is true. It is about intimidating scientists and health officials. It is about feeding the MAGA crowd with the red meat of a sacrificial lamb.

Who is the real Elon Musk? With all his money and power, why does he pander to the MAGA crowd?