On August 6, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control released a report that the agency claimed showed “Vaccination Offers Higher Protection than Previous COVID-19 Infection.” This assertion came amidst a public battle with Sen. Rand Paul, as the CDC released this data from Kentucky, Paul’s home state.
Yet after indisputable scientific evidence continued to pile up in favor of natural immunity, the CDC finally capitulated on January 19, 2022, recognizing the superiority of natural immunity over vaccination alone: “Between May and November 2021, people who were unvaccinated and did not have a prior COVID-19 infection remained at the highest risk of infection and hospitalization, while those who were previously infected, both with or without prior vaccination, had the greatest protection.”
The CDC’s reversal came after its previous discounting of natural immunity caused mass layoffs, nursing home resident isolation, and hospital staffing shortages. It must not be forgotten or overlooked, and the CDC must be held accountable.
Last summer, guided by the CDC, President Biden claimed, “If you’re vaccinated, you’re not going to be hospitalized, you’re not going to be in the IC unit, and you’re not going to die.” Biden also spread misinformation about vaccinations preventing the spread of Covid-19 by stating, “You’re not going to get Covid if you have these vaccinations.”
Who is harmed the most by health misinformation produced by our president and his agencies? Those with low health literacy. Our rich-poor gap is growing in this country, and lying about health issues only exacerbates it.
A Positive Test Doesn’t Always Mean Infectiousness
A deeper dive into the August natural immunity study reveals methodology that can be recognized as illogical, even to those without medical experience. The CDC researchers created two groups. The case group included people who tested positive in 2020 and then tested positive again during a two-month window in 2021. The control group included people who had a positive test in 2020 without another positive test during this artificial two-month window.
The study observed that non-vaccinated group registered a positive test 34.4 percent of the time, compared to 20.3 percent of fully vaccinated individuals. The CDC falsely defined the case group’s second positive test as a “reinfection.” This is the central lie of the study. This data conveniently omitted data on people actually becoming symptomatic or what a common person would call “reinfected.”
To illustrate this point, consider if a Covid-recovered person comes into contact with Sars-Cov-2 in their community. They might test positive on a PCR test. Their body can remember the virus, fight it off, and the person never becomes ill.
However, shortly after the exposure, a PCR swab can detect bits of genetic material (even if it’s unviable virus). Therefore, this study could be more of a reflection of people’s likelihood of re-exposure to Sars-Cov-2, not reinfection, as the CDC claimed.
By conflating exposure and reinfection, the CDC misled the public. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky stated, “This study shows you were twice as likely to get infected again if you are unvaccinated. Getting the vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and others around you, especially as the more contagious Delta variant spreads around the country.”
This guidance came when mounting evidence indicated Covid vaccines quickly lose their effectiveness against infection and transmission, which the CDC loathed to admit. Unfortunately, Walensky’s guidance undermined the credibility of the CDC for generations to come.
As a physician, it’s frightening that a public health official made a policy recommendation based on such a flawed study. We should encourage critical thinking and scientific skepticism, but such a blatantly flawed study design should not be tolerated in our leading health institutions.
Not an Isolated Incident for the CDC
This isn’t the only time the CDC has been caught misleading the public. Drawing ire from the medical community, the was an uncontrolled study of students in Arizona that Walensky referred to in discussing the CDC’s mask guidance for schools. This study defined a “covid outbreak” as “two or more” positive lab tests among students or staff. So if your school had two asymptomatic third graders, you’ve got a “covid outbreak” on your hands.
Even worse, the study weighted such an “outbreak” equally to a school with dozens of symptomatic teachers or students. According to the CDC, two equals 50—at least for “covid outbreaks.”
In a Georgia study that actually had a sufficient control arm, the CDC minimized the fact that there was no statistically significant difference between masked and unmasked student groups. They’ve also minimized the importance of diet and exercise during the pandemic. They failed to effectively communicate evidence-based, life-saving outpatient treatment protocols. The list goes on.
Why This Matters So Much
How does minimizing natural immunity cause harm in the real world? There are at least three deadly repercussions.
First, many hospitals following the CDC’s guidance mandated that only vaccinated health-care workers be allowed to work at their facilities. This means naturally immune health-care workers were wrongly excluded from the workforce. Based on a toxic lie fabricated by the CDC, hospitals continue to experience staffing shortages, contributing to the hospitalization overcapacity narrative they’ve used to demonize the unvaccinated.
Second, the same problem arose for nursing homes, where seniors were denied visitation rights from unvaccinated, naturally immune family and friends, even though less protected vaccinated people were allowed in. Lack of care workers also prevents patients from being discharged from hospitals to care facilities.
Third, the natural immunity lie also stripped countless Americans of their health coverage and livelihoods. During the delta wave, for example, a worker at Los Alamos National Laboratories was fired from his job for religiously objecting to vaccination, despite working entirely from home and having recovered from a previous Covid infection.
The CDC now admits this worker’s immunity provides protection superior to that of his co-workers who had merely vaccine-induced immunity at that time. He lost his job while the less protected did not. By denying natural immunity’s superiority to vaccine-induced immunity, how many others have been fired and lost health-care access the moment we need our population to be at its healthiest?
Punishing People We Should Have Praised
Naturally immune people should have been identified early in the pandemic as the most protected, ushered into hospitals and nursing homes to serve our vulnerable, and certainly should have been allowed to keep their jobs.
By refusing to acknowledge the harms of lockdowns, mask mandates, and vaccination, the CDC has brought everlasting shame to itself. There is clear evidence these types of interventions carry measurable risk.
A better approach would have been to honestly discuss the risks and benefits with the public, much like I discuss surgical risks and benefits with my patients. This is the very tenet of informed consent, and better communication always results in a better relationship.
Americans need an unbiased, incorruptible, and credible CDC that provides reliable and scientifically sound public health guidance. These lies have de-legitimized and undermined public confidence in the institution of the CDC itself.
The consequences of lying about Covid-19 will spill into other areas of health care. Millions of Americans have lost trust in our hospitals and institutions and are now resorting to “under the table” health care. In health care, loss of trust equals lack of access. The CDC must return to the basics of evidence-based medicine to overcome its crisis of legitimacy.