MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Guest post by Tobias Katz

What do we know?

ICU admission

Taken from the BMJ (Ref 1): ICNARC latest report 31/12/21 showed that the proportion of patients admitted to critical care in December 2021 with confirmed covid-19 who were unvaccinated was 61%.

Prevention of infection

The government’s week 45 Covid surveillance report (Ref 3) is clear that vaccination prevention of infection (positive PCR, for Delta) effectiveness is estimated at 65% for Oxford-AstraZeneca and 80% for Pfizer.

Prevention of transmission

The Lancet’s (Ref 4) paper, suggests once infected, initial viral load is similar for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, suggesting likely equal chance of transmitting on the virus.

Protection of the individual

Ref 3, is clear cut that vaccination protects individuals from hospitalisation and severe infection (for Delta).

(Omicron) “Among those who had received 2 doses of AstraZeneca, there was no effect against Omicron from 20 weeks after the second dose. Among those who had received 2 doses of Pfizer or Moderna effectiveness dropped from around 65-70% down to around 10% by 20 weeks after the 2nd dose. 2 to 4 weeks after a booster dose vaccine effectiveness ranged from around 65 to 75%, dropping to 55 to 70% at 5 to 9 weeks and 40-50% from 10+ weeks after the booster.” (Ref 2)

Effectiveness here is measured by admission to hospital and shows the necessity for booster jabs when fighting Omicron.

Who are Dr James and Dr Malhotra?

Steven James, consultant anaesthetist, has recently been in the news for confronting Sajid Javid RE mandatory vaccinations for hospital and nursing staff. “The science isn’t strong enough” to support the policy he stated and “I’ve got antibodies”, suggesting that he’s as protected as he would be if he had a vaccine.

Aseem Malhotra, who goes by the name of ‘lifestylemedicinedoctor’ on Instagram is an extremely controversial cardiology consultant who seems to be Djokovic’s biggest fan and whose tweets are passionately quoted and forwarded by anti-vaxxers.

With tweets such as “Mark my words, with everything we know and don’t know about the current vaccine Novak Djokovic will ultimately be proven to be on the right side of history #BadPharma #truth #transparency #InformedConsent”:

And a retweet: “Dr Jordan Peterson Oh well. It’s just fertility. Women’s Periods May Be Late After Coronavirus Vaccination, Study Suggests”; he stirs the cooking pot of anti-establishment rhetoric and only deepens an already fractured relationship between doctors and their patients caused by the pandemic.

You’d think a mature, well-researched doctor would be able to tell the difference between the menstrual cycle and becoming fertile. You’d also hope he would not be short-sighted enough to support one of the most anti-science/anti-conventional medicine public figures in the world (see here)… Alas, no.

I feel as though both of these figures need to be reminded of their ethical duty of candour as doctors and reminded that their public actions have consequences. I may not completely disagree with Dr James (RE mandatory vaccinations) but the way in which he conducted himself during this nationally broadcasted video left many shaking with rage as it undermines many of his health professional colleagues. Me, included.

When a doctor appears on national news, opposing [mandatory] vaccination and offering incorrect explanations of why this is so, it should be obvious to them that their opinion will inevitably act as anti-vaccine propaganda, whether meant for this or not.

Malhotra’s ideas (cutting back on statins, healthy diet etc.) are often worth consideration/evaluation and as a new-age medical ‘influencer’ with 130k+ followers on Twitter, with ample publications behind him, he deserves to be listened to. Not necessarily agreed with, but listened to. But he also has a duty as a doctor to guard against complacency. Similar to James’ public actions, Malhotra’s tweets that are so one-sided give a biased, inaccurate and frankly dangerous view on the efficacy and safety profile of COVID vaccinations that have been safely and effectively used in millions of people to prevent hospitalisations. Is he doing it for the views? The hits? The likes? The retweets? To have people recognise him for his Pioppi diet?

What should we do?

Candour

Doctors, including James and Malhotra have an ethical responsibility not to spread imperfect information to a wide-receiving audience where their actions can be misconstrued and misrepresented so easily. Doing so may bolster anti-vaccine views, cause less ‘on-the-fence’ people to get the jabs and essentially lead to more preventable deaths.

More and more we are seeing social media take over and often act as the public’s primary source of news. More doctors than ever are now in the [social] media limelight. Some, such as Dr Alex George (mental health advocate) are promoting health responsibly. Others, seek to undermine it. In an era when Joe Rogan has more daily views than Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, to ignore and not rebut [health] social media giants like Malhotra would just worsen the situation. Malhotra and James need to be challenged by the scientific community, as the BBC so brilliantly did here.

Complacency

If doctors want to become socialite Instagram influencers, they must do this without complacency. I think this means being responsible when offering controversial and potentially public health implicating opinions where evidence isn’t clear cut.

Final thoughts

Using all the possible information above, as the vaccines are not 100% without risk, transmission is not completely cut post-vaccine and as we have a decent-ish way of monitoring infection (lateral flows and PCRs), I feel as though mandating vaccines for all NHS staff is currently unjust. I see Steve’s point. But I’d be extremely careful in how I’d make this point. And certainly not on live Sky News when the nation is watching, where it will inevitably be seized upon by the anti-vax community.

Saying this, the data is pretty clear that there is evidence that the vaccines offer protection against infection, reducing viral load quicker once infected and against hospitalisation and so if you’re a rational doctor who thinks that at least one time your lateral flow test may give a false negative, it makes complete sense to get your vaccine to protect your patients…

References

  1. https://www.bmj.com/content/376/bmj.o5?fbclid=IwAR2MgoD_vYo0FsaVsQdLxfeYCukuRu2RegcJa-HclA13byhH71g-AnNhnP8
  2. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1045329/Vaccine_surveillance_report_week_1_2022.pdf
  3. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1032859/Vaccine_surveillance_report_-_week_45.pdf
  4. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(21)00690-3/fulltext

 

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