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Four Years After Shelter-in-Place, Covid-19 Misinformation Persists



Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu, PolitiFact
Mon, 01 Apr 2024 09:00:00 +0000

From spring break parties to Mardi Gras, many people remember the last major “normal” thing they did before the novel coronavirus pandemic dawned, forcing governments worldwide to issue stay-at-home advisories and shutdowns.

Even before the first case of covid-19 was detected in the U.S., fears and uncertainties helped spur misinformation's rapid spread. In March 2020, schools closed, employers sent staff to work from home, and grocery stores called for physical distancing to keep people safe. But little halted the flow of misleading claims that sent fact-checkers and public health into overdrive.Some people falsely asserted covid's symptoms were associated with 5G wireless technology. Faux cures and untested treatments populated social media and political discourse. Amid uncertainty about the virus's origins, some people proclaimed covid didn't exist at all. PolitiFact named “downplay and denial” about the virus its 2020 “Lie of the Year.” 

Four years later, people's lives are largely free of the extreme public health measures that restricted them early in the pandemic. But covid misinformation persists, although it's now centered mostly on vaccines and vaccine-related conspiracy theories.


PolitiFact has published more than 2,000 fact checks related to covid vaccines alone.

“From a misinformation researcher perspective, [there has been] shifting levels of trust,” said Tara Kirk Sell, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “Early on in the pandemic, there was a lot of: ‘This isn't real,' fake cures, and then later on, we see more vaccine-focused mis- and disinformation and a more partisan type of disinformation and misinformation.”

Here are some of the most persistent covid misinformation narratives we see today:

A Loss of Trust in the Vaccines


Covid vaccines were quickly developed, with U.S. receiving the first shots in December 2020, 11 months after the first domestic case was detected.

Experts credit the speedy with helping to save millions of lives and preventing hospitalizations. Researchers at the University of Southern California and Brown University calculated that vaccines saved 2.4 million lives in 141 countries starting from the vaccines' rollout through August 2021 alone. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows there were 1,164 U.S. deaths provisionally attributed to covid the of March 2, down from nearly 26,000 at the pandemic's height in January 2021, as vaccines were just rolling out.

But on social media and in some public officials' remarks, misinformation about covid vaccine efficacy and safety is common. U.S. presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has built his 2024 campaign on a movement that seeks to legitimize conspiracy theories about the vaccines. PolitiFact made that its 2023 “Lie of the Year.”

PolitiFact has seen claims that spike proteins from vaccines are replacing sperm in vaccinated males. (That's false.) We've researched the assertion that vaccines can change your DNA. (That's misleading and ignores evidence). Social media posts poked fun at Kansas Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce for encouraging people to get vaccinated, asserting that the vaccine actually shuts off recipients' hearts. (No, it doesn't.) And some people pointed to an American Red Cross blood donation questionnaire as evidence that shots are unsafe. (PolitiFact rated that False.)


Experts say this misinformation has real-world effects.

A September 2023 survey by KFF found that 57% of Americans “say they are very or somewhat confident” in covid vaccines. And those who distrust them are more likely to identify as politically conservative: Thirty-six percent of Republicans compared with 84% of Democrats say they are very or somewhat confident in the vaccine.

Immunization rates for routine vaccines for other conditions have also taken a hit. Measles had been eradicated for more than 20 years in the U.S. but there have been recent outbreaks in states including FloridaMaryland, and Ohio. Florida's surgeon general has expressed skepticism about vaccines and rejected guidance from the CDC about how to contain potentially deadly disease spread.

The vaccination rate among kindergartners has declined from 95% in the 2019-20 school year to 93% in 2022-23, according to the CDC. Public health officials have set a 95% vaccination rate target to prevent and reduce the risk of disease outbreaks. The CDC also found exemptions had risen to 3%, the highest rate ever recorded in the U.S.


Unsubstantiated Claims That Vaccines Cause Deaths or Other Illness

PolitiFact has seen repeated and unsubstantiated claims that covid vaccines have caused mass numbers of deaths.

A recent widely shared post claimed 17 million people had died because of the vaccine, despite contrary evidence from multiple studies and institutions such as the World Health Organization and CDC that the vaccines are safe and to prevent severe illness and

Another online post claimed the booster vaccine had eight strains of HIV and would kill 23% of the population. Vaccine manufacturers publish the ingredient lists; they do not include HIV. People living with HIV were among the people given priority access during early vaccine rollout to protect them from severe illness.


Covid vaccines also have been blamed for causing Alzheimer's and cancer. Experts have found no evidence the vaccines cause either conditions.

“​​You had this remarkable scientific or medical accomplishment contrasted with this remarkable rejection of that technology by a significant portion of the American public,” said Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. 

More than three years after vaccines became available, about 70% of Americans have completed a primary of covid vaccination, according to CDC figures. About 17% have gotten the most recent bivalent booster.

False claims often pull from and misuse data from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. The database, run by the CDC and the FDA, allows anybody to report reactions after any vaccine. The reports themselves are unverified, but the database is designed to help researchers find patterns for further investigation.


An October 2023 survey published in November by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania found 63% of Americans think “it is safer to get the covid-19 vaccine than the covid-19 disease” — that was down from 75% in April 2021.

Celebrity Deaths Falsely Attributed to Vaccines

Betty White, Bob SagetMatthew Perry, and DMX are just a few of the many celebrities whose deaths were falsely linked to the vaccine. The anti-vaccine film “Died Suddenly” tried to give credence to false claims that the vaccine causes people to die shortly after receiving it.

Céline Gounder, editor-at-large for public health at KFF Health News and an infectious disease specialist, said these claims proliferate because of two things: cognitive bias and more insidious motivated reasoning. 


“It's like saying ‘I had an ice cream cone and then I died the next day; the ice cream must have killed me,” she said. And those with preexisting beliefs about the vaccine seek to attach sudden deaths to the vaccine.

Gounder experienced this personally when her husband, the celebrated sports journalist Grant Wahl, died while covering the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Wahl died of a ruptured aortic aneurysm but anti-vaccine accounts falsely linked his death to a covid vaccine, forcing Gounder to publicly set the record straight.

“It is very clear that this is about harming other people,” said Gounder, who was a guest at United Facts of America in 2023. “And in this case, to harm me and my family at a point where we were grieving my husband's loss. What was important in that moment was to really stand up for my husband, his legacy, and to do what I know he would have wanted me to do, which is to speak the truth and to do so very publicly.”

Out-of-Control Claims About Government Control


False claims that the pandemic was planned by government leaders and those in power abound.

At any given moment, Microsoft Corp. co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates, World Economic Forum head Klaus Schwab, or Anthony Fauci, former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, are blamed for orchestrating pandemic-related threats.In November, Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) falsely claimed Fauci “brought” the virus to his state a year before the pandemic. There is no evidence of that. Gates, according to the narratives, is using dangerous vaccines to push a depopulation agenda. That's false. And Schwab has not said he has an “agenda” to establish a totalitarian global regime using the coronavirus to depopulate the Earth and reorganize society. That's part of a conspiracy theory that's come to be called “The Great Reset” that has been debunked many times.

The United Nations' World Health Organization is frequently painted as a global force for evil, too, with detractors saying it is using vaccination to control or harm people. But the WHO has not declared that a new pandemic is , as some have claimed. Its current pandemic preparedness treaty is in no way positioned to remove human rights protections or restrict freedoms, as one post said. And the organization has not announced plans to deploy troops to corral people and forcibly vaccinate them. The WHO is, however, working on a new treaty to help countries improve coordination in response to future pandemics.

By: Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu, PolitiFact
Title: Four Years After Shelter-in-Place, Covid-19 Misinformation Persists
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org/news/article/fact-check-covid-19-misinformation-persists-vaccines-deaths/
Published Date: Mon, 01 Apr 2024 09:00:00 +0000


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Paris Hilton Backs California Bill Requiring Sunshine on ‘Troubled Teen Industry’



Molly Castle Work
Wed, 17 Apr 2024 09:00:00 +0000

Celebrity hotel heiress Paris Hilton is backing California lawmakers' push to increase the transparency of residential teen therapeutic centers by requiring these programs to report the use of restraints or seclusion rooms in disciplining minors.

“We shouldn't be placing youth in facilities without knowing what these will be subjected to,” Hilton testified Monday to the Senate Human Services Committee in Sacramento. “The Accountability in Children's Treatment Act is a simple transparency measure that would make a lasting impact and show the world what truly happens behind closed doors.”

Hilton, 43, has become a high-profile advocate for getting tough on what she as the “troubled teen industry,” which promises to rehabilitate teenagers struggling with substance abuse, mental illness, and problematic behavior. Such programs lack federal oversight and have been exposed for riots, assaults, and even deaths of minors, prompting a pushback to protect the rights of young people.


After releasing a documentary in 2020 detailing abuse she while attending Provo Canyon School in Provo, Utah, as a teenager, Hilton traveled back to the , helping pass a bill strengthening inspection and oversight of the industry. Advocates have successfully passed related laws in Illinois, Missouri, Montana, and Oregon.

Last year, Hilton went to Washington, D.C., to advocate for the federal Stop Institutional Child Abuse Act, which would establish best practices and transparency in youth residential care programs. But national efforts have failed for more than a decade and the latest proposal has been stalled for a year.

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Now, Hilton and others are eyeing the most populous state as an for change.

Senate Bill 1043 is a bipartisan bill by Republican state Sen. Shannon Grove and authored also by Democratic Sens. Aisha Wahab and Angelique Ashby. The bill aims to protect young people housed in short-term residential therapeutic programs licensed by the California Department of Social Services by requiring the agency to produce a public dashboard by 2026 on the use of restraint and seclusion rooms, and when it results in serious injuries or . It would also require foster and guardians to be notified when restraints and seclusion rooms are used on minors.

“There are complaints of broken arms, slammed hands in doors,” said Grove, who noted that these facilities typically house vulnerable populations, foster youth. “There's no data to show what happened and what caused that. And so, the goal is to go after the data.”

There was no formal opposition. The National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs, the nation's largest such member organization, told KFF News that it supports the California bill.


During Monday's hearing, Hilton shared that while she was housed at facilities in California, Utah, and Montana, she was subjected to abuse disguised as therapy. She said if she tried to tell her parents about the abuse, facility staff would rip the phone from her hand, restrain her, and force her into solitary confinement.

“When I close my eyes at night, I still have nightmares about solitary confinement 20 years later,” Hilton said. “The sounds of my peers screaming as they were physically restrained by numerous staff members and injected with sedatives will also never leave me.”

Zoe Schreiber, another survivor, said she was sent at age 13 to a Utah facility, where she was restrained face down in the mud by six adults for hours in the rain. Schreiber described enduring seclusion, hard labor, and humiliation for four years.

Democratic state Sen. Marie Alvarado-Gil, who chairs the Human Services Committee, said she had worked in such residential treatment facilities and noticed that staff often didn't have proper .


“I don't think they're all bad, but I do think the ones that are bad, that impact the trauma of our children, that are unregulated, that are unstructured, that do not have evidence-based programming — I wonder how we get away with that here in California,” Alvarado-Gil said.

Wahab said it's important for California to act in the absence of a federal bill. California enacted related legislation in 2021 to prevent the state from sending foster children to out-of-state facilities.

“I'm hoping that we do some justice to the kids here,” Wahab said.

The Senate Human Services Committee passed SB 1043 on a 5-0 vote. The bill now goes to the Appropriations Committee.


This article was produced by KFF Health News, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation. 

By: Molly Castle Work
Title: Paris Hilton Backs California Bill Requiring Sunshine on ‘Troubled Teen Industry'
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org/news/article/paris-hilton-troubled-teen-industry-california-hearing/
Published Date: Wed, 17 Apr 2024 09:00:00 +0000

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FDA Announces Recall of Heart Pumps Linked to Deaths and Injuries



Daniel Chang and Holly K. Hacker
Tue, 16 Apr 2024 18:20:00 +0000

A pair of heart devices linked to hundreds of injuries and at least 14 deaths has received the FDA's most serious recall, the agency announced Monday.

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Patients Facing Death Are Opting for a Lifesaving Heart Device — But at What Risk?

The HeartMate 3 is considered the safest mechanical heart pump of its kind, but a federal database contains more than 4,500 reports in which the medical device may have caused or contributed to a patient's death.

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The recall years after surgeons say they first noticed problems with the HeartMate II and HeartMate 3, manufactured by Thoratec Corp., a subsidiary of Abbott Laboratories. The devices are not currently being from the market. Abbott did not respond to KFF Health ' requests for comment.

The delayed action raises questions for some safety advocates about how and when issues with approved medical devices should be reported. The heart devices in question have been associated with thousands of reports of ' injuries and deaths, as described in a KFF Health News investigation late last year.


“Why doesn't the public know?” said Sanket Dhruva, a cardiologist and an expert in medical device safety and regulation at the University of California-San Francisco. Though some surgeons may have been aware of issues, others, particularly those who do not implant the device frequently, may have been in the dark. “And their patients are suffering adverse events,” he said.

The recall involves a pair of mechanical pumps that the heart pump blood when it can't do so on its own. The devices, small enough to fit in the palm of a hand, are implanted in patients with end-stage heart failure who are waiting for a transplant or as a permanent solution when a transplant is not an option. The recall affects more than 13,000 devices.

Amanda Hils, an FDA press officer, said the agency is working with Abbott to investigate the reported injuries and deaths and determine if further action is needed.

“To date, the number of deaths reported appears consistent with the adverse events observed in the initial clinical trial,” Hils said in an email.


According to the FDA's recall notice, the devices can cause buildup of “biological material” that reduces their ability to help the heart circulate blood and keep patients alive. The buildup accumulates gradually and can appear two years or more after a device is implanted in a patient's chest.

were advised to watch out for “low-flow alarms” on the devices and, if they do diagnose the obstruction, to either monitor the patient or perform surgery to implant a stent, release the blockage, or replace the pump.

A of the FDA device database shows at least 130 reports related to HeartMate II or 3 that mention the complication reported by regulators. The earliest such filed with the FDA dates to at least 2020, according to a KFF Health News review of the database.

Monday's alert is the second Class 1 recall of a HeartMate device this year.


In January, Abbott issued an urgent “correction letter” to hospitals about a separate issue in which the HeartMate 3 unintentionally starts and due to the pump's communication system, which cardiologists use to assess patients' status. The FDA alerted the public in March.

In February, Abbott issued another urgent letter to hospitals about the blockage problem, asking them to inform physicians, complete and return an acknowledgment form, and pay attention to low-flow alarms on the device's monitor that may indicate an obstruction. The company said in the letter that it is working on “a design solution” to prevent the blockages.

A study published in 2022 in the Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery reported the obstruction in about 3% of cases, though the incidence rate was higher the longer a patient had the device.

The only other Class 1 recall issued for the HeartMate 3 was in May 2018, when the company issued corrective action notices to hospitals and physicians warning that the graft line that carries blood from the pump to the aorta could twist and stop blood flow.


The FDA recall notice issued Monday includes additional guidance for physicians to diagnose the blockage using an algorithm to detect obstructions and, if needed, a CT angiogram to verify the cause.

At present, the HeartMate 3, which was first approved by the FDA in 2017, is the only medical option for many patients with end-stage heart failure and who do not qualify for a transplant. The HeartMate 3 has supplanted the HeartMate II, which received FDA approval in 2008.

If the new recall leads to the device being removed from the market, end-stage heart failure patients could have no options, said Francis Pagani, a cardiothoracic surgeon at the University of Michigan who also oversees a proprietary database of HeartMate II and HeartMate 3 implants.

If that happens, “we are in trouble,” Pagani said. “It would be devastating to the patients to not have this option. It's not a perfect option — no pump ever is — but this is as good as it's ever been.”


It's not known precisely how many patients have received a HeartMate II or HeartMate 3 implant. That information is proprietary. The FDA recall notices show worldwide distribution of more than 22,000 HeartMate 3 devices and more than 2,200 of the HeartMate II.

The blockage complication may have gone unreported to the public for so long partly because physicians are not required to report adverse events to federal regulators, said Madris Kinard, a former FDA medical device official and founder of Device Events, a company that makes FDA device data more user-friendly for hospitals, firms, and investors.

Only device manufacturers, device importers, and hospitals are required by law to report device-related injuries, deaths, and significant malfunctions to the FDA.

“If this is something physicians were aware of, but they weren't mandated to report to the FDA,” Kinard said, “at what point does that communication between those two groups need to happen?”


Dhruva, the cardiologist, said he is looking for transparency from Abbott about what the company is doing to address the problem so he can have more thorough conversations with patients considering a HeartMate device.

“We're going to expect to have some data saying, ‘Hey we created this fix, and this fix works, and it doesn't cause a new problem.' That's what I want to know,” he said. “There's just a ton more that I feel in the dark about, to be honest, and I'm sure that patients and their families do as well.”

By: Daniel Chang and Holly K. Hacker
Title: FDA Announces Recall of Heart Pumps Linked to Deaths and Injuries
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org/news/article/fda-recall-abbott-heart-pumps-heartmate-deaths-injuries/
Published Date: Tue, 16 Apr 2024 18:20:00 +0000

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Conservative Justices Stir Trouble for Republican Politicians on Abortion



Rachana Pradhan
Tue, 16 Apr 2024 09:00:00 +0000

Abortion opponents have maneuvered in courthouses for years to end access to reproductive care. In Arizona last , a win for the anti-abortion camp caused political blowback for Republican candidates in the state and beyond.

The reaction echoed the response to an Alabama Supreme Court decision over in vitro fertilization just two months before.

The election-year ruling by the Arizona Supreme Court allowing enforcement of a law from 1864 banning nearly all abortions startled Republican politicians, some of whom quickly turned to social to denounce it.


The court decision was yet another forcing many legislators and candidates to thread the needle: Maintain support among anti-abortion voters while not damaging their electoral prospects this fall. This shifting power dynamic between state judges and state lawmakers has turned into a high-stakes political gamble, at times causing daunting problems, on a range of reproductive health issues, for Republican candidates up and down the ballot.

“When the said give it back to the states, OK, well now the microscope is on the states,” said Jennifer Piatt, co-director of the Center for Public Health Law and Policy at Arizona State University's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law. “We saw this in Alabama with the IVF decision,” she said, “and now we're seeing it in Arizona.”

Multiple Republicans have criticized the Arizona high court's decision on the 1864 law, which allows abortion only to save a pregnant woman's life. “This decision cannot stand. I categorically reject rolling back the clock to a time when slavery was still legal and where we could lock up women and doctors because of an abortion,” state Rep. Matt Gress said in a video April 9. All four Arizona Supreme Court justices who said the long-dormant Arizona abortion ban could be enforced were appointed by former Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican who in 2016 expanded the number of state Supreme Court justices from five to seven and cemented the bench's conservative majority.

Yet in a post the day of the ruling on the social platform X, Ducey said the decision “is not the outcome I would have preferred.”


The irony is that the decision came after years of efforts by Arizona Republicans “to lock in a conservative majority on the court at the same time that the state's politics were shifting more towards the middle,” said Douglas Keith, senior counsel at the left-leaning Brennan Center for Justice.

All the while, anti-abortion groups have been pressuring Republicans to clearly define where they stand.

“Whether running for office at the state or federal level, Arizona Republicans cannot adopt the losing ostrich strategy of burying their heads in the sand on the issue of abortion and allowing Democrats to define them,” Kelsey Pritchard, a spokesperson for Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, said in an emailed statement. “To win, Republicans must be clear on the pro-life protections they support, express compassion for women and unborn children, and contrast their position with the Democrat agenda.”

Two months before the Arizona decision, the Alabama Supreme Court said frozen embryos from in vitro fertilization can be considered children under state law. The decision prompted clinics across the state to halt fertility treatments and caused a nationwide uproar over reproductive health rights. With Republicans feeling the heat, Alabama lawmakers scrambled to pass a law to shield IVF providers from prosecution and civil lawsuits “for the damage to or death of an embryo” during treatment.


But when it to courts, Arizona lawmakers are doubling down: state Supreme Court justices are appointed by the governor but generally face voters every six years in retention elections. That could soon change. A constitutional amendment referred by the Arizona Legislature that could appear on the November ballot would eliminate those regular elections — triggering them only under limited circumstances — and allow the justices to serve as long as they exhibit “good behavior.” Effectively it would grant justices lifetime appointments until age 70, when they must retire.

Even with the backlash against the Arizona court's abortion decision, Keith said, “I there aren't Republicans in the state right now who are lamenting all these changes to entrench a conservative majority on the Supreme Court.”

Meanwhile, abortion rights groups are trying to get a voter-led state constitutional amendment on the ballot that would protect abortion access until fetal viability and allow abortions afterward to protect the life or health of the pregnant person.

State court decisions are causing headaches even at the very top of the Republican ticket. In an announcement in which he declined to endorse a national abortion ban, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on April 8 said he was “proudly the person responsible” for ending Roe v. Wade, which recognized a federal constitutional right to abortion before being overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2022, and said the issue should be left to states. “The states will determine by vote or legislation, or perhaps both, and whatever they decide must be the law of the land,” he said. But just two days later he sought to distance himself from the Arizona decision. Trump also praised the Alabama Legislature for enacting the law aiming to preserve access to fertility treatments. “The Republican Party should always be on the side of the miracle of life,” he said.


Recent court decisions on reproductive health issues in Alabama, Arizona, and Florida will hardly be the last. The Iowa Supreme Court, which underwent a conservative overhaul in recent years, on April 11 heard arguments on the state's near-total abortion ban. Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed it into law in 2023 but it has been blocked in court.

In Florida, there was disappointment all around after dueling state Supreme Court decisions this month that simultaneously paved the way for a near-total abortion ban and also a ballot measure that would enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution to proceed.

The Florida high court's decisions were “simply unacceptable when five of the current seven sitting justices on the court were appointed by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis,” Andrew Shirvell, executive director of the anti-abortion group Florida Voice for the Unborn, said in a statement. “Clearly, grassroots pro-life advocates have been misled by elements within the ‘pro-life, pro- establishment' because Florida's highest court has now revealed itself to be a paper tiger when it comes to standing-up to the murderous abortion industry.”

Tension between state judicial systems and conservative legislators seems destined to continue given judges' growing power over reproductive health access, Piatt said, with people on both sides of the political aisle asking: “Is this a court that is potentially going to give me politically what I'm looking for?”


By: Rachana Pradhan
Title: Conservative Justices Stir Trouble for Republican Politicians on Abortion
Sourced From: kffhealthnews.org/news/article/states-conservative-justices-republican-politicians-abortion/
Published Date: Tue, 16 Apr 2024 09:00:00 +0000

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