Twitter suspended Dr. Naomi Wolf. She has been an outspoken critic of mass vaccination with a therapeutic that is technically still an investigational medication. All COVID-19 vaccines are distributed under an Emergency Use Authorization, which means that long-term safety data is not available for them. Wolf is not alone in being skeptical about the unparalleled push to vaccinate people at low risk from COVID-19 and those who have recovered.
Dr. Jay Bhattcharya, a professor of medicine and economics at Stanford; Dr. Scott Atlas, health care public policy expert at Stanford; Dr. Hooman Noorchashm, a patient advocate and scientist, and Dr. Paul McCullough, vice chief of medicine at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, have all raised questions. These doctors acknowledge the efficacy of the new vaccines, and several report having taken the vaccinations themselves.
However, they question the public health bureaucracy’s approach of pressuring mass vaccination for everyone, for several reasons. Some of them cite the vaccines’ investigational status. Others question prioritizing the low-risk population in the U.S. when vaccines are needed to protect the elderly globally. They also point out that the institutional health bureaucracy appears to completely overlook any natural immunity to COVID-19 post-infection.
They all acknowledge that it makes sense for these vaccines to have been made available amid a pandemic. The vaccines are crucial for protecting the elderly and those most vulnerable to severe illness and death from COVID-19 and these innoculations have proven effective at preventing infection and reinfection. Wolf had always appeared to agree with this perspective but she became very outspoken when COVID-19 vaccine passports were broadly contemplated. In the TV appearances I saw, she said this idea violates the principle of body autonomy. She was also disturbed by the way that the media and social media used the pandemic to shut down freedom of speech.
Some Twitter users are sharing Wolf’s more outlandish takes, which are indeed somewhat strange. However, I share Wolf’s concern about vaccine teddy bears for children, especially since children have near-zero risk for severe illness or death from COVID-19. They also do not appear to be a driver of transmission to adults. It is rather stunning that the experts are moving to vaccinate them in the absence of complete safety analysis. Public health experts did not make a push like this during H1N1, which was far more likely to cause severe illness and death among children who caught the virus.
It is also important to remember that when authorities appear to act in ways that are not transparent, people fill in the blanks on their own. Examples of this lack of acknowledgment during the pandemic include denying natural immunity in the face of scientific evidence. The agencies also held safe and effective therapeutics to treat COVID-19 symptoms to a much higher standard than new drugs. Finally, the disclosures in Dr. Fauci’s e-mails raise further questions. The public has every right to be skeptical of government scientists at this point.
Wolf began collecting anecdotal evidence of women having severe menstrual symptoms following the vaccine that encouraged some researchers to start surveying for them. Usually, medical experts take anything that affects the reproductive system very seriously to protect fertility in the childbearing population. There is extreme caution until substantial research rules out any issues.
Yet, some experts chalked menstrual cycle symptoms up to anxiety due to COVID-19 or getting the shot when people started to write about these side effects. The history of women’s health is full of these types of “It’s all in your head” conclusions. For example, only in the last two decades have the differences in heat disease symptoms for women and men even been acknowledged. In the face of a pandemic, the assertion that women experiencing a real — and for some, a durable — symptom because they suffer from anxiety more frequently is insulting.
There is also a serious omission in this analysis. Women who have recovered from COVID-19 are also having menstrual issues that mirror those in the vaccinated population. If you understand how COVID-19 infects human cells, you know that the spike protein uses the ACE-2 receptor to enter the body’s cells. Researchers know this and also know that men’s and women’s reproductive organs are ACE-2 rich organs. In May 2020, researchers from China noted:
2019-nCoV may infect the ovary, uterus, vagina and placenta through the ubiquitous expression of ACE2. Moreover, 2019-nCoV/ACE2 may disturb the female reproductive functions, resulting in infertility, menstrual disorder and fetal distress. We suggest a following-up and evaluation of fertility after recovery from 2019-nCoV infection, and delaying becoming pregnant, if possible, especially for young female patients.
A small study from Israel, currently in preprint, notes that the ovaries are exposed to COVID-19 because they are positive for the specific antibodies. However, the disease does not appear to affect the maturation of the ovum or eggs in recovered patients or vaccinated individuals. It is unclear whether the subjects were assessed for post-vaccination or post-infection menstrual issues and the researchers recommend more extensive studies to validate their findings.
Another small study demonstrated reduced sperm counts, mobility, and odd shapes in men who had recovered from COVID-19. While doctors point out that many viruses can impact sperm counts temporarily, the duration of these changes in COVID-19 patients has not been established. The changes also appear to vary with disease severity. There could be other explanations for these findings. The scientists who commented on the study reflexively attributed cause to the findings, an anti-science temptation.
A researcher responding to the study said that there is no evidence of COVID-19 in semen, but researchers performing a review of research contradicted that assertion. According to their review, COVID-19 has been found in the semen of patients with active COVID-19 and in that of recovered patients. The studies on COVID-19 are accumulating rapidly, and as a result, the conclusions of various studies often conflict with one another.
These studies should not incite a panic. Instead, they should call for prudence and further research before scientists reflexively tell everyone that they need to get the shot. Dr. Noorchashm has advised caution about vaccinating recovered patients because the initial infection leaves markers in the body that the vaccine response will target. It would be interesting to study to find how many of the women reporting post-vaccination menstrual issues had a positive COVID-19 test. Someone should do that study and another study on the reproductive function among men who recovered and were vaccinated.
Unfortunately, prudence has been missing from the entire pandemic response. It seems that the approved experts believe that any price a person pays to avoid getting COVID-19 is worth it despite the glaring age variation in risk and despite the evidence of mild or asymptomatic illness in millions of Americans, particularly children. As a recovered patient with these symptoms being my only evidence of long-haul COVID-19, I appreciated Wolf’s amplification of these symptoms. Her work helped my doctor and me understand what happened to me in the space of 30 days in 2020 that persists to this day.
I am not “vaccine-hesitant” or “anti-vax,” terms that are simply offensive to thinking individuals doing their own risk assessment. Together with my doctor, looking at the available data, I decided that I do not need the vaccine at this point in time. So, I will not be taking it anymore than I took the chickenpox vaccine when it became available after I had recovered from that virus as a child. It is unthinkable to contemplate an increase in my long-term symptoms, which are life-altering while not deadly. And I, for one, would like to thank Wolf for letting me know that I am not alone. And it is not all in my head.