As the world nears its second full year since the initial COVID-19 outbreak, a myriad of questions and concerns surrounding vaccines, mask-wearing and other safety protocols have proven themselves an enduring facet of global discourse.
To offer a professional medical perspective on lingering safety concerns from right here in the Portland metro region, government broadcast outlet #ClackCo TV sat down for a "mythbusting" session with Dr. Ritu Sahni, medical director for Clackamas County, Washington County and Lake Oswego emergency medical systems.
In a video edit of nearly five minutes, posted to YouTube on Monday, Dec. 6, Sahni directly addresses five social media comments expressing queries and doubts from across the county regarding the highly contagious virus.
Sahni began by addressing an inquiry about common COVID-19 vaccine side effects, which he said include developing a fever and generally feeling sick or run down for up to two days. Sahni recalled not feeling any adverse effects himself after recently receiving his third dose.
He then refuted a YouTube commenter claiming to have read data showing obesity to be the "biggest risk factor" in COVID-19 related hospitalizations and deaths.
"People who have more risk factors such as obesity, such as other medical problems, or are older than 85, or 65, have a higher risk of dying," Sahni confirmed, yet added that unvaccinated patients comprise most of the hospitalizations and deaths he has seen since the virus has mutated.
"Today with the delta variant, the majority of people that I am seeing in the hospital, who get admitted, who get sick, who get put in the ICU, are unvaccinated. And they are much younger than they were a year ago," Sahni continued.
In response to a Twitter user who cited data from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System suggesting a high number of vaccine-related deaths, Sahni warned that VAERS data can be input by anyone and reassured: "there has been no data tying a significant number of deaths to the vaccine"
"The reality about the VAERS dataset is that it is not a research dataset. It is an open reporting dataset that anyone, any person can go online and put data into," Sahni said. "If somebody has an agenda to put false data in, they can do that. You can go in today and put data into VAERS."
A disclaimer on the VAERS website warns those seeking information that the system's data alone "cannot be used to determine if a vaccine caused or contributed to an adverse event or illness."
"The reports may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental or unverifiable," reads the disclaimer. "In large part, reports to VAERS are voluntary, which means they are subject to biases. This creates specific limitations on how the data can be used scientifically. Data from VAERS reports should always be interpreted with these limitations in mind."
Sahni agreed with a Facebook user's advocacy of healthy lifestyle practices — including regular exercise, proper nutrition, good hygiene and mental health care — yet maintained that vaccines and masks remain the best modes of protection against COVID-19.
"A healthy lifestyle may help, but this is an infectious disease. That means this disease is carried from one person to another," Sahni said. "The way to prevent the passing of an infectious disease is to do things like wear a mask, or most importantly, get vaccinated."
Finally, Sahni addressed a Facebook user's strongly worded post calling for "real data" to be disseminated instead of what the commenter referred to as "PROPAGANDA BULLSH!%."
"I call bulls*** on your bulls***," Sahni responded. "There's actually plenty of data out there that shows that COVID is a real disease, that the number of deaths from COVID is now well over 720,000 people" in the U.S.
He concluded that "well over a million" excess deaths have been reported in the United States during the pandemic, meaning that over 1 million more deaths occurred during that time period than would have otherwise.
Sahni previously caught up with Pamplin Media Group in December 2020 to explain some of the mechanism by which the vaccine was developed and answer safety questions while dispelling another set of common misconceptions.
"This is what's called an mRNA vaccine. These are the first two ever approved vaccines of this type, and that creates concern in people," Sahni said, asked to list the myths he frequently heard thrown around in regard to the vaccine shortly after its release. "I totally understand that, but the technology has been studied for over 20 years."
"There have been people enrolled in trials; it just hasn't ever got to phase three where they were looking at implementation, but there is data going back 20 years on the safety of this type of vaccine," Sahni added.
"The other myth that I hear is that it messes with your DNA — it absolutely does not," he continued. "It in no way changes your DNA or messes with it. The safety numbers are pretty comparable to any other vaccine."
For more information about COVID-19 in Clackamas County, click here.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.