Try This: Science Roundup, Covid Edition

Today we’re mixing things up by highlighting some of the latest research that I’m following on the topic of covid-19.

So why covid?

With the Omicron variant dominating the news, there is a lot of fear. And it’s worth taking a calculated step back to talk about the latest science that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves.

Small note, all these studies are preprint studies conducted by incredibly credible institutions and researchers.

As always, none of this is medical advice; please consult with your healthcare practitioner before making any medical decisions.

Let’s jump into it!

1. How Dangerous Is Covid-19 to Healthy Kids?

Overview: A new study out of Germany, the first of its kind that separates healthy children from children with comorbidities, answers this question beautifully. It turns out that covid-19 is not that dangerous to healthy kids.

Quoted from the study’s conclusion, “Our analysis of the data shows that the SARS-CoV-2-associated burden of severe disease or death in children and adolescents is low. This is particularly true for COVID-19 related symptoms in 5-11-year old children without comorbidities”

Big Picture Summary:

  • For healthy kids, ages 5 to 11, the ICU risk was 2 in 100,000
  • For healthy kids, ages 5 to 11, even those that went to the ICU, 0 deaths were
  • The risk of death in children under the age of 5 was 3 in 1,000,000

Why This Matters: Thus far, the CDC’s reporting on covid-19 risks to kids has lumped healthy kids and unhealthy kids in the same data. Many experts have pointed out that this isn’t fair and creates unnecessary hysteria, leading to scared parents, schools, and municipalities pushing for mandates and lockdowns that have many unintended consequences.

Additionally, lumping healthy and unhealthy kids into the same data is also unfair because it turns out that the risk of covid-19 to unhealthy children is high when you treat them as their own cohort. Since the start of the pandemic, around 771 children under the age of 18 have died from covid-19. However, the CDC’s own data shows that most of these deaths took place amongst children with at least one or two diagnosed comorbidities.

My goal in highlighting this study is not to make light of covid-19. Any death, especially that of a child, is incredibly tragic. My goal in highlighting this study is to cut through the fear and give concerned citizens, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles (that’s me), a summary of the latest science so we can have an honest conversation around the true risks around covid-19 and talk about deploying more resources to those that are actually at the highest risk. I wish the CDC would do a similar study to this one, but so far, it seems that the primary focus is on population-wide inoculation via vaccination with little attention to personalized risk and improving health outcomes. It seems the CDC fears that anything that distracts from the vaccine will create uncertainty amongst the public. I get the motivation, I just think it’s misguided.

If you want to go deeper on this topic, check out this interview I conducted with integrative and functional medicine pediatrician Elisa Song MD. In the interview Dr. Song talks about the role of vaccines in this pandemic and the risks/reward ratio for kids in the context of ​​myocarditis. Even though the podcast is a few months old, Dr. Song’s core message and big picture data still holds true.

2. The Latest on Natural Immunity

Speaking of natural immunity, there’s a new study out of Israel that looked at 5.7 million individuals and found that mRNA vaccine protection is far weaker than natural immunity post-covid-19 infection. The study showed that people infected with covid once had better protection from the virus over a year later than those who had received the vaccine only three months earlier.

The study did show that boosters brought vaccine immunity to the level of natural immunity; however, as we’ve seen in the news, vaccine efficacy significantly wanes over time, especially for the elderly. To be fair, natural immunity also wanes over time, but the goal in highlighting natural immunity is to make sure we’re actually following the science and not intentionally ignoring it. A big clinical trial funded by the CDC would help clear up a lot of the unknown here, but again, it seems there may not be the political will which is why we have to rely on data coming out of countries like Israel.

Why This Matters: This study builds on 139 prior studies that show that natural immunity is very much a real thing and seems to offer longer protection than the mRNA vaccines alone. Much of Europe understands this, which is why the EU accepts past covid exposure as a form of documented immunity.

Additionally, a decent-sized chunk of the population in the United States has decided not to get vaccinated but already has natural immunity. However, natural immunity is not recognized yet in the United States, but things could change with greater awareness around the latest studies and a little healthy political pressure. Dr. Marty Makary, professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health, said it best, “Natural immunity to covid is powerful. Policymakers seem afraid to say so.

As covid-19 goes from pandemic to endemic (which means it’s here to stay), natural immunity must be part of the conversation, especially for kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that over 7.2 million kids have tested positive for covid, (total exposure estimates are higher). This means many children already have natural immunity. This is one reason why even very pro-vaccine public health experts like Cody Meissner MD, Division Chief of Pediatric Infectious Disease at Tufts University School of Medicine, are recommending against vaccine mandates for kids because the risk/reward ratio may not be worth it. Every family has to decide for themselves. Not to mention that the data on how the vaccines impact children with prior exposure to covid-19 is minimal.

3. Coronavirus Attacks Fat Tissue

A recent study by researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine helps us understand why obese individuals are so much more likely to struggle with covid. It turns out that covid-19 appears to evade the body’s immune system by residing in the fat tissue, allowing the virus to replicate and trigger a severe immune-inflammatory response. Covid-19 highjacks our fat cells and uses them as a platform to replicate, causing significant inflammation. Yikes!

All the more reason that experts like Dr. Ronesh Sinha highly recommend that overweight individuals, vaccinated or not, focus on improving their metabolic health and losing weight as a byproduct of adopting a low-carb diet, moving away from ultra-processed foods, getting exercise, and getting better rest.

4. My Covid Status

People ask me about my covid status all the time and I’m happy to share. I personally have not had covid yet. I do expect to get it at some point even though I’ve been vaccinated (I got one dose of the J&J vaccine). Update March 22, 2022: I got Covid early January 2022 on my way back from Paris. I had mild symptoms from the Omicron variant and was back to 100% after 72 hours.)

I’m not opposed to the vaccine (as I’ve shared many times on my podcast) and was happy that my parents got the vaccine as they were in the higher risk group because of their age and health history. They also recently just got the boosters this past week which is consistent with the recommendations and concerns around waning immunity.

At the moment, I personally am not planning on getting a booster shot. Looking at my risk exposure for severe covid based on age (39) and metabolic health, I’m quite confident that when I get covid in the future, I’ll be able to beat it quickly using a combination of monoclonal antibodies and validated clinical protocols from functional medicine doctors who I trust.

A few people have asked me how they can double-check whether or not they or their loved ones have had covid in the past. I haven’t used the service yet, but some friends have recommended as a better option than antibody tests.

5. More Debates Please

Lastly, I want to conclude by saying that I’d love to see more live debates on the topic of covid-19, especially when it comes to some of the grey areas highlighted in today’s newsletter. Even though the CDC would have us believe that everything is going perfectly, there are plenty of well-respected experts and researchers who are raising important questions and highlighting the unknown.

Trust takes place through open communication. And on the flip side, suspicion runs rampant when open dialogue is shut down or shaky science is touted as THE truth.

I consider myself a covid moderate. I very much understand that vaccines play an important part of the equation, but I also know that they aren’t the only part of the equation. I fully support the right of anyone who wants to get vaccinated and highly encourage it for at-risk groups, but I do think vaccine mandates could backfire in the long run. Time will tell.

On that note, I want to leave you with a few experts I’ve been following to keep myself informed on all things covid-19. Twitter can be a little crazy, but it’s a great place to follow these folks and take in a different but meaningful perspective.

Monica Gandhi MD, MPH, Professor of Medicine and Associate Division Chief of Infectious Diseases, and Global Medicine at UCSF/ San Francisco General Hospital.

Marty Makary MD, MPH, Johns Hopkins professor, Editor-in-chief of Medpage Today

Vinay Prasad, MD MPH, Hematologist-oncologist and Associate Professor at the University of California San Francisco

Martin Kulldorff, PhD, Professor of Medicine, Vaccine Safety Expert, Harvard Medical School

David Zweig, author and writer for Wired, NYTimes, The Atlantic

Tracy Høeg, MD, PhD, Epidemiologist and Private Practice Physician

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