September 15, 2021

Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.

This does not help. Because Nicki Minaj sent a tweet to her 22.6 million Twitter followers, we now shall spend a few paragraphs telling unvaccinated young males that there is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine will harm their testicles or fertility.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reiterated that there are no known side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine like swollen testicles or fertility issues. None. The CDC says:

Currently no evidence shows that any vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines, cause male fertility problems. A recent small study of 45 healthy men who received an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (i.e., Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna) looked at sperm characteristics, like quantity and movement, before and after vaccination. Researchers found no significant changes in these sperm characteristics after vaccination.

Fever from illness has been associated with short-term decrease in sperm production in healthy men. Although fever can be a side effect of COVID-19 vaccination, there is no current evidence that fever after COVID-vaccination affects sperm production.

Twitter made a big announcement in March that it would attach warning labels to tweets that contain false information about COVID-19. Twitter did not block this post or this poster.

Later, Minaj added that she is still uncertain about taking the vaccine.

She then said she was leaning toward getting vaccinated.

I’ll add one more piece of information to this conversation. While there is no proof that the vaccination is connected to erectile dysfunction or male infertility, there is evidence that getting the virus can cause those problems.

Lots of talk, not much action against physicians who spread false COVID information

Senator Rand Paul of Ky., addresses the audience at the Kentucky Farm Bureau Ham Breakfast at the Kentucky State Fair in Louisville, Ky., Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Three medical groups — the American Board of Family Medicine, the American Board of Internal Medicine and the American Board of Pediatrics — are warning physicians who spread false information about COVID-19 that they could lose their licenses. But, so far, it is all talk and no action.

“We also want all physicians certified by our boards to know that such unethical or unprofessional conduct may prompt their respective board to take action that could put their certification at risk,” the boards wrote.

Not long ago, the Federation of State Medical Boards warned that physicians who spread COVID-19 rumors could lose their state licenses. Now, the professional associations say they could lose their board credentials.

The Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure adopted a new policy last week saying physicians have an ethical and professional responsibility to act in the best interest of their patients and, “Spreading inaccurate COVID-19 vaccine information contradicts that responsibility, threatens to further erode public trust in the medical profession and puts all patients at risk.” And, the policy adds, “Physicians must understand that actions online and content posted can affect their reputation, have consequences for their medical careers, and undermine public trust in the medical profession.”

The Tribune News Service put the story in perspective:

Experts fear that a deepening distrust of expertise among many Americans, the reach offered by social media, and national politicians who promote bogus covid-19 theories are creating a welcoming environment for doctors and nurses who traffic in dangerous falsehoods that can be both alluring and bewildering given how quickly knowledge of covid-19 has evolved.

“When are we talking about honest differences of opinion and when are we talking about a flagrant disregard of standards of care?” asked Richard Baron, a doctor and head of the Philadelphia-based American Board of Internal Medicine. “With respect to some of the behavior we’re seeing it really is in contravention of pretty solid professional science.”

MedPage searched for an example of a tough-talking state taking action against a nonsense-spewing physician and could not find one. Not one.

Despite a national call to sanction doctors who spread COVID-19 misinformation, a MedPage Today investigation found that not one of 20 physicians who’ve peddled such falsehoods has been disciplined by their state licensing agency for doing so.

That’s not to say that complaints haven’t been filed, or that investigations haven’t been launched. These elements are confidential in most states, including the 10 contacted by MedPage Today who license the physicians.

But that means physicians who have advanced false COVID information — including Simone Gold, MD, JD; Scott Atlas, MD; Joseph Mercola, DO; Lee Merritt, MD; Sherri Tenpenny, DO; and Stella Immanuel, MD — are free to continue to misinform their patients and the public, even as the Delta variant surges.

“Our statement is a reminder to physicians that words have consequences and during a public health emergency like COVID-19, those words can mean life or death for patients,” Joe Knickrehm, vice president of communications for the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB), told MedPage Today via email.

Sen. Rand Paul, who is an ophthalmologist, also opposes COVID-19 vaccines and claims cloth masks are not useful in controlling the spread of the virus. YouTube suspended him from its platform for making false statements. And despite false online rumors that the American Medical Association took action against him, Paul is still licensed to practice medicine. For one thing, the AMA does not license physicians. States do.

Why COVID hospitalizations might not be a reliable barometer for pandemic severity

One of the ways that we have come to understand the severity of the pandemic is to see how many people are hospitalized with COVID-19. But researchers have wondered if that is such a good measure since the data shows us how many are hospitalized but not how severely ill those patients are. The Atlantic explains what they found:

The study found that from March 2020 through early January 2021—before vaccination was widespread, and before the Delta variant had arrived—the proportion of patients with mild or asymptomatic disease was 36 percent. From mid-January through the end of June 2021, however, that number rose to 48 percent. In other words, the study suggests that roughly half of all the hospitalized patients showing up on COVID-data dashboards in 2021 may have been admitted for another reason entirely or had only a mild presentation of disease.

This increase was even bigger for vaccinated hospital patients, of whom 57 percent had mild or asymptomatic disease. But unvaccinated patients have also been showing up with less severe symptoms, on average, than earlier in the pandemic: The study found that 45 percent of their cases were mild or asymptomatic since January 21. According to Shira Doron, an infectious-disease physician and hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center, in Boston, and one of the study’s co-authors, the latter finding may be explained by the fact that unvaccinated patients in the vaccine era tend to be a younger cohort who are less vulnerable to COVID and may be more likely to have been infected in the past.

A little disclaimer about this study. First, it was done on Veterans Affairs patients, meaning it includes relatively few women and no children. Second, the data comes from patients who were infected before the delta variant was widespread, so it is possible that the wave hospitalized now are sicker than those in the test.

The most we can pull from this is that hospitalizations, taken alone, may not tell us as much as they might seem to be saying.

FDA advisory meeting Friday on COVID booster shots with lots of disagreement

Just as the committee that advises the Food and Drug Administration about vaccine safety and effectiveness is about to meet, two outgoing FDA vaccine regulators are saying that there is not a compelling reason (yet) to administer COVID-19 booster shots to the general public.

The Lancet, a respected medical journal, just published the paper by Marion Gruber and Phil Krause, who have been leading the FDA’s vaccine approval process but announced they will be leaving the FDA soon. The key quote from the paper is, “Current evidence does not, therefore, appear to show a need for boosting in the general population, in which efficacy against severe disease remains high.”

The paper says that everyone may need a COVID-19 vaccination booster in the future, but for now, the vaccine is doing a good job.

There is general agreement that people with compromised immune systems, such as cancer patients, would benefit from booster vaccinations. There is also some agreement that a booster would benefit senior citizens. But that is where the agreement ends. Here’s a good background article from PolitiFact.

Can teachers be arrested and charged criminally if they do not enforce masks?

In Colorado, educators say they could face arrest and criminal prosecution if they fail to wear masks and enforce mask mandates. The local district attorney in Littleton says such charges are possible, but no complaints or charges are being considered at the moment.

Kids are drinking hand sanitizer

A student wears hand sanitizer at Tussahaw Elementary school on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021, in McDonough, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

KDKA Pittsburgh gives us something new to worry about:

Dr. Michael Lynch, head of the Pittsburgh Poison Center, says there’s been an increase of kids ingesting hand sanitizer.

“In Pennsylvania, in the last 18 months, more or less since the start of the pandemic, we’ve seen a 56% increase in hand sanitizer exposure cases compared to the 18 months prior to that,” he said.

Dr. Lynch says that amounts to about 2,300 cases, most under the age of 5, and about 6% of those kids needed to go to the hospital.

“Hand sanitizers will typically have 70% or so ethanol, which means they’re about 140 proof,” Dr. Lynch said. “Even a small amount can be enough to get intoxicated.”

Fox News will require regular COVID testing for all unvaccinated employees

Make of this what you will. TV Newser reports:

Fox Corp. human resources chief Kevin Lord sent out a memo to staff Tuesday saying “more than 90% of our full-time employees reported that they are fully vaccinated” after the company mandated everyone report their vaccination status.

Lord added that the company will soon introduce “daily COVID testing for the small group of employees who are not vaccinated or have not provided their vaccination status.”

A lot of temp jobs this holiday season

Consulting firm KPMG surveyed more than 100 retail executives and heard that there are going to be lots of warehouse, delivery and retail jobs open this holiday shopping season. UPS alone is planning to hire 100,000 part-time and full-time seasonal workers. The U.S. Postal Service says it will add 40,000 workers this fall. Discount retailers like Kohl’s and Michaels also say they will hire tens of thousands of seasonal workers because they expect people to be in a spending mood this year.

A crab meat shortage has customers crabby

Crab cake potato stacks made with Old Bay Seasoning are seen on Nov. 9, 2010, in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Larry Crowe)

Axios Charlotte reports:

A national crabmeat shortage has caused a 40-50% drop in business for the owners of Lulu’s Maryland-Style Chicken and Seafood. Every week it seems, they encounter another angry customer who’s come to bite into the jumbo lump hype, only to be disappointed.

“I’ve had to say this so many times: We’re not turning them away because we don’t want to give it to them,” Jay tells me. “We’re turning the away because we don’t have it.”

NPR says there are lots of reasons for the shortage that has driven prices up 50%, including fewer fishermen, a shortage of truck drivers and imports being interrupted by shipping problems.

Some restaurants are controlling prices by shrinking the size of crab cakes. If you are still paying the same price now as you were a year ago, Axios says “you’re probably eating way more cake than crab.”

Old restaurant joke: “Why do crabs never give waiters a tip? Because they’re shellfish.”

I’m here all week.

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
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