By: Kobi Karp  | 

Misrepresenting Information is Illogical, Not the Booster Mandate

On Dec. 30, Provost Selma Botman sent an email to the YU student body, and announced that YU had made the decision to mandate the COVID-19 booster. On Jan. 19, The Commentator published an article in which the author labeled the mandate “illogical” because, according to her, “getting vaccinated or ‘boosted’ will not protect you from the common cold (aka the Omicron variant).” Now, this bold claim runs contrary to the information that I am sure many of us have heard. However, the author provided links to studies and articles that she claimed support her opinions. So let us look through some of her claims, and the evidence she used to support them. Perhaps by retracing her steps we too can uncover the real truth about COVID-19 and join the fight against the apparently tyrannical institution that is YU.

A quick examination of the author’s first source immediately reveals a pattern that is pervasive in her article. The author seems to have not fully read the sources she used, as even a cursory read of her sources quickly reveals. While it is true that the first article she quotes from NBC News does list the “prominent symptoms” of Omicron as being just a “cough, runny nose, and fatigue,” Dr. Poehling, the doctor who provided that list of symptoms, immediately caveats this statement by saying it is “based on early reports” and is not backed by “scientific studies.” But that’s not all the article says. Just a few sentences later, that very article states, “It is clear that if you're vaccinated, particularly if you’ve had a booster, Omicron tends to produce milder infections.” Just a few lines later, this point is hammered home. Having only two doses is helpful, but when compared with having a booster, the symptoms following only two doses typically “include more coughing, more fever and more fatigue than those who have received an extra dose.” It is clear that Omicron clearly has the potential to be much worse than a common cold, and it is clear that the booster can help prevent that. As the author apparently trusts the article enough to use it as a source, then all she needs to do is scroll down and read more of it.

In her next paragraph, the author seeks to prove that Omicron is not dangerous by citing Boris Johnson’s Dec.13 statement that only “one patient has been confirmed to have died with Omicron.”  The mortality figures she offers for deaths in the UK and US from her more “recent reports” are no longer accurate. Let’s take a look at the most recent numbers, not ones published on Dec. 22 or Dec. 21. According to a Jan. 9 Reuters article, deaths in the UK are once again on the rise, right as Omicron cases are on the rise and after the well-documented sharp decline of the Delta Variant in the UK. The US is not doing any better. Hospitalizations and deaths are once again on the rise. According to data organized by the New York Times, in cities that were hit early by Omicron, deaths are once again beginning to spike. According to The New York Times, while it is true that “deaths have followed cases at a slightly reduced scale than in previous peaks,” but “because of the extraordinarily high case count, even a proportionally lower death toll from the current case curve in the United States could be devastating.” Contrary to what the author writes, Omicron does seem to be much more dangerous than the common cold. This does appear grim, and by “this” I mean not only the disease that may continue to rock this country in the coming months, but also the credibility of the author’s article. Perhaps the article can be redeemed in the following paragraph where evidence for the complete ineffectiveness of the vaccine is offered.

The first study the author quotes in this paragraph says exactly what she says it does. According to this study, the Omicron variant is more resistant to the vaccine. However, this does not mean it is completely ineffective or pointless. Even limited protection would make the vaccines and boosters worthwhile, but the point of the vaccines is not just prevention. Time and time again, the vaccines have been shown to limit the severity of the disease, and as mentioned above that is true for the Omicron variant as well. Contrary to the author’s report, the vaccines and boosters are worthwhile as they greatly reduce your chances of getting a serious illness should you catch COVID. 

While the above source was misrepresented by the author as proof that vaccines are pointless, the study she used did in fact say that the vaccines have a waning effectiveness. However, the next study she brings directly contradicts her claim that the boosters are pointless. The conclusion states that “our study contributes to emerging evidence that BNT162b2 (Pfizer) or mRNA-1273 (Moderna) primary vaccine protection against Omicron decreases quickly over time, with booster vaccination offering a significant increase in protection.” The findings of this study state that the VE (Vaccine Effectiveness) does wane quickly against Omicron, but that the booster offers a “significant increase in protection.” The study itself is actually pretty short and worth the easy read. I think the most generous act we can do here would be to assume that the author did not read the study, and instead relied on the word of a disgraced virologist and suspended law professor. I am truly disturbed by the article's next claim. The claim, one that is currently making the rounds in the anti-vax side of the internet, is that the study says the vaccinated are “more susceptible to catching Omicron” than the unvaccinated or unboosted. This conclusion is not at all supported by the authors of the paper, as they go out of their way to address why it might appear to be true. They say it is almost certain that the so-called “negative” efficacy rate has to do with other factors, including changes in lifestyles by the vaccinated versus the unvaccinated, such as being allowed into public places with many other people where the unvaccinated are barred entry. In a Reuters article specifically addressing this piece of misinformation, Dr. Christian Hansen, one of the paper’s authors, explains that the inability to control for other conflicting variables is a “common” problem with observational studies, and goes on to mention a few other potential interfering variables before concluding that “it is reasonable to expect that the vaccine effectiveness estimates presented in our study are too low.”  What is certainly clear is that it has not been proven that vaccines increase the risk of infection, as she suggests in her article.

It is highly suspicious that the author not only failed to bring the proper studies to defend her argument, but that time and time again she misrepresented data, misinterpreted figures and drew wild and incorrect conclusions from studies. In truth, the COVID vaccines and boosters are helpful. As cases rise around the country, it falls on every one of us to do as much as we can to help fight this virus. For now, that means getting this booster. That way we can continue to go about our lives as normal just like we did last semester and enjoy our time at YU. Now, this is an opinion piece, so here is an opinion: I believe that the more people on campus the better, and I believe this semester will be a great one.

Photo Caption: COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) vaccine booster dose

Photo Credit: Unsplash