TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — During Wednesday’s final meeting of the congressional House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, an mRNA researcher directly pushed back on recent claims by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis regarding vaccine dangers and misinformation.
Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett is an assistant professor of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard University, and a viral immunologist. Before the final hearing, Corbett provided written testimony in preparation of the session.
Her testimony to the congressional subcommittee included her role in helping to develop a COVID-19 vaccine as well as monoclonal antibody treatments to respond to the pandemic. In it, she also said that COVID’s impacts on America as a whole are going to continue.
“The truth is that while we would all like to put COVID-19 behind us, one fact remains,” Corbett wrote. “The virus and the medical and social implications of it are here to stay.”
During the hearing itself, as part of a discussion section, Corbett commented on the recent development in Florida of the “Public Health Integrity Committee,” which has been described by state officials, including the governor, of designed to hold vaccine manufacturers accountable for risks and side effects.
Additionally, the governor has petitioned the Florida Supreme Court to empanel a statewide grand jury to investigate various safety claims, allegations of fraud, and dangers to public health, among other pandemic-related topics, according to the filings in state court.
During the congressional hearing, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) described the “Orwellian super-committee” as “disturbing” and that they “transparently designed to falsely suggest that coronavirus vaccines, and not the coronavirus itself, are dangerous.” He continued, promoting the safety and need for the COVID vaccines.
“These vaccines have saved millions of lives, but some public officials are continuing to promote distrust, dangerous misinformation, and conspiracy theories,” Raskin said, before asking Corbett to weigh in.
“As of yesterday, there was a report based on modeling that said vaccines have saved over three million lives. In August of this year, unvaccinated people reportedly died at least six times the rate of those who got at least the primary series of the vaccine,” Corbett said. “And, unvaccinated people aged 50 or older were 12 times more likely to die than vaccinated and double-boosted peers.”
Corbett continued, saying that things like natural immunity and vaccine-based immunity were “not in competition with each other” and that the point of a vaccine is to “teach your natural immune system how to recognize a virus” without actually being infected. She said vaccine misinformation is troubling.
“Vaccines are a way to prevent that type of disease, very severe disease,” Corbett said.
Raskin said that before President Joe Biden took office, members of the administration of former President Donald Trump had “been directed to not speak to the press and had “exerted sharp pressure” on medical professionals to block some reports from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, not to speak to the press, as well as advocate for disproven treatments such as hydroxychloroquine, among others.
Another speaker, Dr. Rick Bright, former Director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority also weighed in on the alleged misinformation regarding vaccine efficacy. Bright had previously resigned from a role at the National Institute of Health in October 2020, citing retaliation from the Trump administration following a whistleblower complaint.
In response to Raskin commentary on misinformation and its impact on public health, Bright said the politicization of lifesaving treatments have “caused many unnecessary deaths.”
He said unfounded treatments for COVID-19 had more push for use than even producing clinical trials during the early days of the pandemic, and the misinformation and lies about the drugs and vaccines have “eroded trust across this country” and built hesitancy to use any lifesaving drugs or vaccines.
“That trust is hard to rebuild, and because of that gap we are seeing many Americans die who did not need to, if they could’ve just had the truth, and effectiveness of those drugs and vaccines, at the beginning,” Bright said.
As far as information regarding vaccine safety and efficacy, when DeSantis held a roundtable in West Palm Beach on Tuesday about the new health committee, and his request for the grand jury investigation, he cited how state studies of risks after vaccination showed myocarditis diagnoses had risen as high as 84% for 18 to 39 year old patients, after getting the mRNA vaccines.
While the CDC has acknowledged the risk of myocarditis in patients following vaccination, their own numbers are not nearly as high concerning increased risk. The federal agency’s own report said risk of cardiac outcomes post-vaccinate was less than six times as likely, and in a more limited demographic.
“The incidence of cardiac outcomes after mRNA COVID-19 vaccination was highest for males aged 12–17 years after the second vaccine dose; however, within this demographic group, the risk for cardiac outcomes was 1.8–5.6 times as high after SARS-CoV-2 infection than after the second vaccine dose,” the CDC said in an April report. “The risk for cardiac outcomes was likewise significantly higher after SARS-CoV-2 infection than after first, second, or unspecified dose of mRNA COVID-19 vaccination for all other groups by sex and age.”
As of September, the CDC is still investigating the impact of COVID-19 vaccination regarding risks and effects of developing myocarditis after taking a vaccine. A study in September examined patients ages 12 to 29 who had myocarditis after getting an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, then reported it to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, a system for reporting negative impacts.
WFLA.com reached out to the governor’s office and the Florida Department of Health for response to and was directed to refer to a previous release on the Public Health Integrity Committee.