COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
The Trump administration bailed out prominent anti-vaccine groups during a pandemic
Five prominent anti-vaccine organizations that have been known to spread misleading information about the coronavirus received more than $850,000 in loans from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, raising questions about why the government is giving money to groups actively opposing its agenda and seeking to undermine public health during a critical period.

The groups that received the loans are the National Vaccine Information Center, Mercola Health Resources, the Informed Consent Action Network, the Children’s Health Defense and the Tenpenny Integrative Medical Center, according to the Center for Countering Digital Hate, an advocacy group based in the United Kingdom that fights misinformation and conducted the research using public documents. The group relied on data released in early December by the Small Business Administration in response to a lawsuit from The Washington Post and other news organizations.

Several of the Facebook pages of these organizations have been penalized by the social network, including being prohibited from buying advertising, for pushing misinformation about the coronavirus.

... Public health officials, including World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, have called vaccine misinformation “a major threat to global health that could reverse decades of progress made in tackling preventable diseases,” and last year the organization partnered with Facebook to help counter misinformation on its platform with content from authoritative sources.

The smallest loan, $72,000, went to the Tenpenny organization, which is run by Sherri Tenpenny, an osteopathic physician and social media figure who uses online forums to promote alternative health and argue against vaccinations for children and others. A popular page run by Tenpenny was banned from Facebook in December for spreading misinformation, although she still has tens of thousands of followers on Instagram.

The largest loan, $335,000, went to Mercola, an organization affiliated with Joseph Mercola, a well-known anti-vaccine activist and businessman. The left-leaning human rights group Avaaz deemed one of Mercola’s groups on Facebook one of the leading “superspreaders” of misinformation about the coronavirus. His Facebook pages in English and Spanish together have more than 2.7 million followers.

The Children’s Health Defense Co., founded by Robert Kennedy Jr., said it does not oppose vaccines, but is dedicated to questioning their safety. The group has questioned whether the coronavirus vaccines that have received emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration are safe, as well as whether children should be vaccinated.

The group has posted on its social media channels about the “great reset” conspiracy theory, which holds that “global elites” such as Bill Gates will use the pandemic to advance their interests and push forward a globalist or Marxist plot to destroy American sovereignty and prosperity and control the population. In a CNBC interview in October, Gates said that it was “unfortunate” that he and Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, had been targeted by conspiracy theorists, and that he worried that falsehoods and misleading information about the virus were undermining the country’s ability to respond to the pandemic.

Organizations linked to Kennedy were responsible for the majority of Facebook advertising that was critical of vaccinations, until Facebook restricted the group’s ability to advertise in 2019 on the grounds that it spread misinformation, according to a study in the journal Vaccine. Facebook also has removed the group from its recommendation algorithms so that it is not suggested to other users as a potential interest, and has demoted it in its News Feed so that it shows up on people’s Facebook pages less frequently, and has blocked the ability of users to “like” the page. ... “Lending money to these organizations so they can prosper is a sickening use of taxpayer money. These groups are actively working to undermine the national covid vaccination drive, which will create long-term health problems that are felt most acutely in minority communities and low-income neighborhoods,” said Imran Ahmed, chief executive of the Center for Countering Digital Hate. Although it’s unclear whether the anti-vaccine groups broke any rules, its receipt of public assistance is in many ways a consequence of the scattershot way in which the Paycheck Protection Program delivered hundreds of billions of dollars with few guardrails or preconditions. ... “These organizations have been sowing the seeds of doubt about vaccines and public health for years,” said Erica DeWald, advocacy director at Vaccinate Your Family, a nonprofit pro-vaccine organization. “Now, in the middle of a pandemic, they are accepting funds for the chaos they’ve helped to create,” she said.

Trump lifted coronavirus travel restrictions from Europe and Brazil; Biden team says it won’t last.
President Trump on Monday ordered an end to the ban on travelers from Europe and Brazil that had been aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus to the United States, a move that was quickly rejected by aides to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who said Mr. Biden will rescind the move when he takes office on Wednesday.

In a proclamation issued late Monday, Mr. Trump said that the travel restrictions, which applied to noncitizens trying to come to the United States after spending time in those areas, would no longer be needed on Jan. 26, the date on which those passengers will be required to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.

... “With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” Ms. Psaki tweeted shortly after the White House issued Mr. Trump’s proclamation.

“On the advice of our medical team, the administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26,” she said. “In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of Covid-19.”

Mr. Trump’s attempt to alter policy related to the pandemic just two days before he leaves office is in keeping with the unorthodox way he has conducted the transition to a new administration. Normally, departing presidents refrain from issuing new executive orders without consulting with the incoming president.

Underselling the Vaccine
Scientists are naturally cautious and have offered a number of qualifiers when discussing the success of vaccines: They’re not 100 percent effective. Even vaccinated people may be able to spread the virus. And people shouldn’t change their behavior once they get their shots.

The warnings around vaccines, which have a basis in truth, can be misleading when taken as a whole, David wrote. The truth is that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are among the best vaccines ever created. Although there have been no rigorous studies about whether vaccinated people can spread the virus, experts say it would be surprising if they did. The vaccines are also incredibly effective in the rare cases when people catch Covid-19. Those people come down with only mild cases of the disease, a win in itself.

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are “essentially 100 percent effective against serious disease,” Dr. Paul Offit, the director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said. “It’s ridiculously encouraging.”

We should immediately be more aggressive about mask-wearing and social distancing because of the new virus variants. We should vaccinate people as rapidly as possible — which will require approving other Covid vaccines when the data justifies it.

People who have received both of their vaccine shots, and have waited until they take effect, will be able to do things that unvaccinated people cannot — like having meals together and hugging their grandchildren. But until the pandemic is defeated, all Americans should wear masks in public, help unvaccinated people stay safe and contribute to a shared national project of saving every possible life.