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FL’s state guidance on new COVID boosters isn’t backed by its own references, experts say

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FL’s state guidance on new COVID boosters isn’t backed by its own references, experts say

Sep 14, 2023 | 5:21 pm ET
By Jackie Llanos
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FL’s state guidance on new COVID boosters isn’t backed by its own references, experts say
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Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo in Destin on May 11, 2023. Source: Screeshot/DeSantis Facebook

Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo has provided state guidance advising people under 65 not to get the updated COVID-19 booster — but several of the references listed in the guidance document state that boosters help.

Ladapo’s three-page document posted Wednesday points to “outstanding safety and efficacy concerns.” Those concerns include the negative effectiveness of the vaccine after 4 to 6 months, risk of cardiovascular conditions, unknown risk of potential adverse impacts of additional doses, and potential risks of the spike protein from the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine remaining in the body.

Harvard University epidemiologist Bill Hanage found Florida’s guidance astonishing in that it copied anti-vax talking points, he said.

“We should not allow ourselves to be distracted from the key mission, which is to get as many people who are at risk … their boosters,” he said. “Every silly distraction like this is just so much nonsense, which is sprinkled to try to get in the way of that, and it’s horrifying. It’s the opposite of good public health.”

The two other pages of the guidance document provides links to 14 studies, but several of them contradicted the risks outlined by the state department of health.

Negative efficiency

For example, the first study on the list was conducted in Qatar between December 23, 2021, through February 21, 2022, and evaluated the effectiveness of the Pfiezer and Moderna vaccines compared to natural immunity against the Omicron variant. The study concluded that people who had previously contracted COVID-19 and also got a booster had the strongest protection against Omicron.

A letter published in September of last year from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and professors at the University of North Carolina said that an analysis of vaccination and previous infection showed that the decline in protection against Omicron provided support for boosters.

Another study out of Qatar published in June of last year suggested the need to consider rapid implementation of boosters as new variants emerge.

“These findings support the durability of vaccine protection against COVID-19 hospitalization and death for at least several months after receiving the second dose, but also demonstrate the importance of booster vaccination in achieving robust protection against any hospitalization and death due to Omicron infections,” the researchers wrote in the study.

Following that pattern, Swedish researchers concluded in a study published in February of 2022 that because the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine waned over time people should get a booster.

Even though scientific evidence points out that the vaccine becomes less effective over time, that doesn’t mean that people are more likely to contract COVID-19 after receiving a vaccine as the guidance illustrates, said Dr. Michael Teng, associate professor of medicine at the University of South Florida.

“Studies show that it’s still not as good at preventing infection over time. The antibodies, they do way and after six months or so, but it’s not like getting vaccinated causes you to get more infected” Teng said. “If that was really the case — we have hundreds of millions of people in this country alone that have been vaccinated — you’d see a real significant uptick in infections.”

Policy-based evidence

A study from Iceland published in August of last year concluded that people who had two or more doses of the vaccine had a slightly higher probability of reinfection compared with one dose or less.

But the researchers also wrote that: “This finding should be interpreted with caution because of limitations of our study, which include the inability to adjust for the complex relationships among prior infection, vaccine eligibility, and underlying conditions. Importantly, by December 1, 2021, all persons aged 12 years and older were eligible for two or more vaccine doses free of charge, and 71.1% of the Icelandic population had been vaccinated, compared with only 25.5% of our cohort of previously infected persons.”

However, the results were not the only problem in some of the studies. A study conducted in Southern Italy had 40 participants and only 20 of them had been vaccinated. Applying those results to the nearly 22 million people in Florida is nonsensical, Hanage said.

“Those are not numbers. You should not take them seriously. It’s cherry-picking, and this is not evidence-based policy it is policy-based evidence,” Hanage said. “What they’re doing is they’re cherry-picking from things that can provide a fig leaf to the position they’ve already decided they wanted to take.”

Cardiovascular risk

Ladapo has previously linked the COVID-19 vaccine to myocarditis in young men. Top leaders at the FDA and CDC have criticized the surgeon general in a letter for promoting false information about the vaccine. The March letter sent to Ladapo states that cardiovascular experts found that people who had been vaccinated had a lower risk of stroke and heart attack than the unvaccinated people who contracted COVID-19.

Still, the guidance from the Florida Department of Health included two studies that evaluated the risk of cardiovascular conditions after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Both of the studies, one out of Thailand and one out of Switzerland, state that myocardial injury after vaccination is mild and transient.

As the governor and surgeon general are telling people to skip the new booster, the rate of hospitalizations in Florida is higher than in other states, according to a CDC tracker. There were 2,536 hospitalizations in Florida in the last week of August. Also during the last week of August, the Florida Department of Health reported 23,960 new COVID-19 cases.

The CDC recommended this week that every person older than six months get the updated booster this fall.

“The FDA and the CDC have a lot of data. They’ve got these expert committees made up of people who actually work on vaccines for a living,” Teng said. “These scientists and doctors go over the data, they come to the conclusion that these shots are safe and will provide meaningful benefits to get a vaccination. But DeSantis and the surgeon general have decided that they know better than these multiple scientists that have spent their lives with vaccines. So, that’s why you get this type of guidance.”

The Florida Department of Health did not respond to Florida Phoenix’s inquiry at the time of publication.