President Biden Says Anti-Vaxxer Misinformation is Killing People
- President Joe Biden spoke out about the spread of anti-vaxxer misinformation on Facebook, and said the tech company is “killing people”.
- Cancer patients should share their fears and vulnerabilities when speaking with anti-vaxxers to protect their health.
- Oncologists are all in agreement that anyone who has or is recovering from cancer needs to wear a mask to protect themselves from the Delta variant.
That is what President Joe Biden had to say about Facebook on Friday, one day after U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said the country is struggling to fight the ongoing pandemic amid all the false posts about the virus and vaccines being posted on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media platforms.Read More
This is particularly true now as the highly contagious Delta variant surges and some states start moving to ban even the possibility of future mask mandates.
The heightened fears and uncertainty of the situation can make it difficult for people with cancer to interact and communicate with anti-vaxxers. Those interactions are sometimes unavoidable, however, particularly in instances involving family members or co-workers.
Here are a few ways to approach the conversation and stay healthy.
Be Vulnerable When Talking About COVID and Cancer
“After going through a diagnosis like cancer, and even once you’re no longer immunocompromised and you’ve been given a clean bill of health, you still walk around every day thinking about your health in an intense way,” Dr. Marianna Strongin, licensed clinical psychologist tells SurvivorNet.
“So now, post-COVID, I think this is a really important topic and one thing that I have been suggesting that my patients do is create a very vulnerable dialogue. So that people can understand where they’re coming from.”
Dr. Strongin explains that attempts to discredit or debate are usually useless in these situations.
“There’s a lot of judgment that comes along with vaccines and which side you’re on, but I do think that if you are vulnerable about why this is feeling the way it is to you, people are better able to emotionally connect and understand where you’re coming from, and perhaps change their behavior,” says Dr. Strongin.
A helpful way to begin the dialog is to share “what it’s like to be a cancer survivor … and still feeling like they are very much at risk.”
Next, open up about your specific fears.
“Explain what it would be like if they were to get sick and how scary that would feel, so that other people can really understand where they are coming from.”
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Kennedys Use Facts to Fight Anti-Vaxx
No two situations are alike of course, but for those who are trying to figure out how to best navigate this tricky situation there is one family that has been publicly dealing with this ordeal for more than a decade – the Kennedys.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. surprised many in 2005 when he published a piece in Rolling Stone linking immunizations to autism.
That was just the start for RFK Jr., and over the course of the next 15 years he grew from vaccine skeptic to one of the loudest, and most prominent, voices in the anti-vaccination movement.
This all reached a fever pitch when the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year. Among the more egregious claims RFK Jr. has made are that Bill Gates and Anthony Fauci are promoting vaccinations for their own personal profit and that baseball great Hank Aaron died as a result of the vaccine.
RFK Jr. even travelled to Berlin at a time when the United States and Europe were in lockdown to speak out against restrictions and stay-at-home orders.
In February, his rhetoric became too much for at least one social network and he was banned by Instagram. He has yet to be banned by the site’s parent company, Facebook, where he continues to post at least one story a day.
Through this all his bond with his siblings has remained strong, even after a few spoke publicly about the problems they have with their brother’s beliefs.
On May 8, 2019, RFK Jr.’s two older siblings – sister Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (former lieutenant governor of Maryland and former chair of the Global Virus Network) and brother Joseph P. Kennedy II (chairman and president of Citizens Energy Corporation) published a letter on Politico declaring that their brother was “tragically wrong about vaccines.”
That letter, which was co-authored by Kathleen’s late daughter Maeve Kennedy McKean (then-executive director of Georgetown University’s Global Health Initiatives) was not a attack on RFK Jr. In fact, it was largely filled with information and statistics about vaccination and outbreaks.
“These tragic numbers are caused by the growing fear and mistrust of vaccines—amplified by internet doomsayers,” they wrote in reference to increased deaths caused by anti-vaccination efforts.
“Robert F. Kennedy Jr. … is part of this campaign to attack the institutions committed to reducing the tragedy of preventable infectious diseases.”
They added: “He has helped to spread dangerous misinformation over social media and is complicit in sowing distrust of the science behind vaccines.”
I love my brother. Please do what he did, not what he says. Vaccinate your children. https://t.co/2V1YHC4NNH
— Kerry Kennedy (@KerryKennedyRFK) May 8, 2019
That same day, his sister Kerry also weighed in on Twitter with a post sharing the Politico piece, and noting: “I love my brother. Please do what he did, not what he says. Vaccinate your children.”
It is clear the family’s aim is only to keep the public informed of the misinformation their brother is spreading rather than try to change his mind.
RFK Jr. is still at it too, recently releasing a new film through his Children’s Health Defense organization, Medical Racism. The documentary is meant to warn people about the sinister side of vaccinations.
He is also releasing a new book next month, The Real Anthony Fauci: Bill Gates, Big Pharma, and the Global War on Democracy and Public Health.
How to Stay Protected From Covid-19
Multiple oncologists tell SurvivorNet that wearing a mask is still the best way for cancer patients to avoid contracting or spreading the virus as the dangerous Delta variant spreads.
Three of the five oncologists that spoke to SurvivorNet were strongly in favor of the booster shot, including Dr. Paul G. Richardson, clinical program leader and director of clinical research at the Jerome Lipper Multiple Myeloma Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. He notes that getting vaccinated is just one of many steps cancer patients should be taking at this time.
“The key is the success of vaccinations, but other strategies in my [multiple myeloma] patients focus on continued precautions, and attention to therapeutics – not least as the variants are such a concern,” says Dr. Richardson.
“We are moving from pandemia to endemia and as such long-term adjustments and continued caution are inevitable in terms of treatments for underlying and supportive care. Fortunately, however, we are moving towards a more manageable paradigm of therapy/care, although the danger of SARS CoV2 remains clear and present,” he says.
Moderna was the first to announce that they would be releasing a booster shot, which they plan to roll out in November. Tests got underway in May amid little fanfare.
Pfizer, on the other hand, roared onto the scene by declaring they had a booster shot, would apply for emergency approval, and wanted it available to the public in August. That drew immediate backlash from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Both agencies cited the need for vaccines around the world being far greater than the need for Americans to receive a booster shot. Pfizer also referenced the surging Delta variant as a reason to get the booster.
As of Monday, the CDC reports that only 48.5% of Americans have been fully vaccinated, and deaths are starting to rise again.
That danger seems to be growing with each day as well with the Delta variant rising around the country, and studies show that it is the most vulnerable who are contracting this variant of the virus. Some early research indicates that some blood cancer patients don’t get the same benefit from the COVID-19 vaccine. This includes people with cancer that affects the blood, bone marrow or lymph nodes, particularly those with chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
That is why the third shot would be such a help to those with cancer, explains one oncologist.
“Some medical centers have looked at giving a booster vaccine dose, a third dose, and they found that some of these [cancer] patients now have a high enough immune response to potentially prevent infection,” explains Dr. John N. Greene, chief of infectious diseases at the Moffitt Cancer Center.
“But we don’t know how long-lasting even those are, but at least the numbers are high enough that it could prevent an infection. So if you would give a booster vaccine or you could get a higher immune response quantitatively, then those patients could actually do fine even if exposed to the Delta variant. And that’s been true with other variants as well. They believe that the higher the titers you can maintain, the greater the chance you can prevent infection.”
At the same time, Dr. Greene says he is not in favor of mandatory vaccination.
“Some people say that once it is officially FDA-approved and not under investigation, mandatory vaccinations may happen. So every institution has to make that decision. And then whatever state you live in may not even allow you to do that if you wanted to, so for example in Florida, you can’t mandate the vaccine and so that would obviously limit things depending on what state and where you’re at,” says Dr. Greene.
“Me personally, I’m I don’t agree with mandating vaccine, but I’m all for heavily vaccinating everybody as much as possible including my entire family, from my 99-year-old mother to my college student, who was infected, to get vaccinated, including myself. And every vaccine has been used on my family from Moderna to Pfizer to J&J. And I don’t necessarily have a preference of one over the other long as you get vaccinated.”
Dr. Balzas Halmos, medical oncologist and director of the Thoracic Oncology Program at Montefiore Medical Center, says that he cannot endorse the booster until he sees more research.
“There is emerging encouraging information now from several groups that the currently available FDA-approved vaccines are very effective amongst most patients with a cancer diagnosis just as well as for the general population. However, a small fraction … have received therapies that impair the ability to mount an immune response.. and have a lesser chance of developing a strong immune response,” Dr. Halmos tells SurvivorNet.
“For the typical patient with a cancer diagnosis, there currently does not appear to be a reason for a booster shot unless recommended otherwise for the general population at a later time. There should be emerging research to address the question, whether for the patients where an immune response was not generated, a booster shot could achieve this or not- limited data suggest that in some patients possibly, but this should be formally studied before a general recommendation can be made.”