As federal health officials embark on a campaign this week to get more Americans boosted for COVID, Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo is digging in on social media on an earlier claim that the mRNA vaccines are unsafe and linked to deaths from myocarditis.
“mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are far less safe than any vaccines widely used,” the top health official in the state tweeted on Dec. 2. “When does sanity return to science? Why do scientists breathlessly defend this technology?” Hundreds of anti-vaccine enthusiasts commented in support.
Ladapo claims a new study of 35 deaths out of Heidelberg, Germany is “consistent” with the results of a Florida analysis of deaths. The small Germany study shows 5 out of 35 people who died within 20 days of a COVID vaccine had myocarditis as cause of death.
In Florida more than 16 million people have been vaccinated with at least one dose of a COVID shot.
Ladapo’s newest anti-vaccine social posts in the last few days have been retweeted more than 6,000 times on Twitter. They come two months after he issued formal Department of Health guidance warning young adult men to stop taking coronavirus vaccines by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, citing an “abnormally high risk” of heart-related deaths.
His warning was based on a Florida analysis designed to explore the relationship between the shots and cardiac-related deaths, as well as deaths from all causes, by examining the death certificates of Florida residents 18 and older who died within 25 weeks of vaccination between December 2020 and June 2022. The conclusion was that males 18 to 39 were most at risk for myocarditis after a mRNA vaccine, but the study has not been peer-reviewed and warns that its findings are “preliminary” and “should be interpreted with caution.”
More than a dozen experts interviewed by The Washington Post in October listed concerns with Florida’s analysis, saying it relies on information gleaned from frequently inaccurate death certificates rather than medical records, skews the results by trying to exclude anyone with COVID-19 or a COVID-related death, and draws conclusions from a total of 20 cardiac-related deaths in men 18 to 39 that occurred within four weeks of vaccination. These specialists in vaccines, patient safety and study design noted the deaths might have been caused by other factors, including underlying illnesses or undetected COVID.
Researchers who have studied hundreds of millions of vaccine recipients agree that there are real — but rare — heart risks associated with the vaccines, and concluded that the benefits still outweigh the risks.
On a media call Monday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned of extremely high levels of respiratory illness in the U.S. and made another call for people to stay up to date on their vaccinations. She also addressed the safety of the COVID vaccines: “We have demonstrated through probably the most extensive vaccine safety system in this country’s history, the overwhelming safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.”
Walensky urged people to get the updated COVID-19 booster if they have not done so already. New data released in November on the updated COVID-19 vaccines suggest the bivalent boosters are more effective against current strains of the virus compared to the original vaccines.
Florida’s publicly available data shows that the risk associated with catching severe COVID has odds far worse than any danger from a vaccine. At least 1 in 258 Florida residents have died from the coronavirus, with more than 83,200 total deaths. In addition, about 550,000 people have been hospitalized in Florida with COVID over the course of the pandemic.
While COVID has been mild for some people, Dr. Katelyn Jetelina, an epidemiologist and data scientist, has noted the prevalence of long COVID and the risk of repeated infections.
“We don’t have strong studies on long COVID,” she said in a recorded interview on The State of COVID & the Triple-demic. “We think there are multiple types and the implications are different. Some of best estimates out of the U.K. show before vaccines about 10% of people got long COVID.”
Jetelina said obvious long COVID symptoms are fatigue, chest pain and brain fog, but researchers also are studying whether heart issues are more common after a COVID infection as well as potential long-term neurological problems.
“That’s one of the reasons why not getting infected outweighs getting infected,” she said. “Long COVID is going to impact our quality of life for years to come. I think we are going to see an increased prevalence of bad stuff down the road.”