Here's what the CDC chief actually told ABC about COVID deaths and comorbidities

Here's what the CDC chief actually told ABC about COVID deaths and comorbidities

ABC is partly to blame for the confusion about this yesterday. Only partly, let me stress: Anti-vaxxers and the media ecosystem that caters to them seized on the clip in bad faith because it seemed that Rochelle Walensky had confirmed all of their suspicions about the pandemic, appearing to say that only those who were already at death’s door with four or more comorbidities are at any risk of dying from COVID. The RNC’s cut of the interview, for instance, omitted all context by not even including the question Walensky was responding to:

But ABC screwed up too — and they quietly erased the evidence of that screw-up overnight by replacing the video of their interview with Walensky (which happened last Friday) with a new, updated video that now includes her entire answer. David Rutz of Fox News noticed the poor editing in the original clip in his description of it:

“I want to ask you about those encouraging headlines that we’re talking about this morning, this new study showing just how well vaccines are working to prevent severe illness. Given that, is it time to start rethinking how we’re living with this virus, that it’s potentially here to stay?” co-host Cecilia Vega asked on Friday’s “Good Morning America.”

Some social media users said the show appeared to edit out the start of Walensky’s answer – a common practice on television to fit tight time windows.

“The overwhelming number of death, over 75 percent, occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities,” Walensky said in the posted video after Vega’s question. “So really, these are people who were unwell to begin with. And yes, really encouraging news in the context of omicron. This means not only just to get your primary series but to get your booster series, and yes, we’re really encouraged by these results.”

There was nothing in Walensky’s answer — the edited answer, at least — that made clear she was talking about COVID deaths in vaccinated people, not COVID deaths in all patients. According to a new CDC study, if you’re vaxxed then your chances of dying are almost zero unless you have many health problems on top of your infection. That’s what Walensky was talking about. But ABC’s edit omitted the part of her answer where she mentioned the study, making it unclear whether she was describing all COVID deaths or just those among the vaccinated. That made it easy to convert the clip into disinformation. The new version of the interview that the network posted last night now includes her full response:

Click over to Rutz’s post and you’ll find that the original poorly edited ABC version of the interview, which he embedded in his story, has been yanked offline by the network. The new extended interview ABC posted includes this clarification at the end:

I guess network executives heard from the CDC about their unfortunate edit after the clip went viral yesterday.

Face-saving by those who jumped to the wrong conclusion about what Walensky said will take different forms today. Some will blame ABC. Some will just ignore their original error, not caring how many people stumble across it and end up misinformed. Others will argue variations of “fake but accurate” to justify their initial burst of outrage. “Yes, fine, Walensky was talking only about deaths among the vaccinated. But the CDC is still covering up the fact that most of the unvaccinated who’ve died also had comorbidities.”

But they’re not covering that up. It’s been clear from the start of the pandemic that people in poor health are at much higher risk of dying from COVID than people whose health is good. That’s why senior citizens, especially ones in nursing homes, and the immunocompromised were prioritized for vaccination a year ago. It’s why anti-restrictionists have argued from the beginning that only the vulnerable, i.e. the elderly, should be asked to isolate from COVID while the rest of us go about our business. There’s a page right on the CDC website listing deaths from COVID according to age group, age being the ultimate comorbidity for this disease. A majority of COVID deaths have come within the 75+ group. But even if we exclude all deaths from those over 65, we still have more than 200,000 Americans dead from the virus.

Remember, “comorbidities” aren’t limited to extreme health risks like stage-four cancer, where you may have only months to live. They include everyday health problems like diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. Even among the elderly, it’s a self-serving fiction that all who died were at the very end of their lives. In 2020, the number of years the average COVID fatality lost from their life expectancy was 14. The average fatality from heart disease lost 13 by comparison. Some 140,000 kids in the U.S. had been orphaned by COVID at last check.

It’s a comforting delusion to believe that COVID deaths are no big deal because they’re only happening to 99-year-olds who have 17 serious diseases anyway. If that were true, we wouldn’t be looking at a million excess deaths in the U.S. in 2020 and 2021.

But the crusade to minimize the benefits from vaccination will never die, even as the evidence of those benefits continues to pile up. Read this piece for a comparison of how the vaxxed and unvaxxed are faring at the moment in New York and Seattle, two of America’s Omicron hot spots. If you’re healthy, odds are very high that you’ll survive a bout with COVID even if you haven’t had the jab. But going to the hospital is no fun, especially when hospitals can’t cope with the patient load they’re currently managing. And those around you who are less healthy might not fare as well.

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