Usually, when I come across a flawed piece of research, I note it and move on. Occasionally, however, I find a piece of research with such fundamental flaws and far-reaching consequences that I feel obliged to say something.
One such paper was published recently by the CDC. "SARS-CoV-2 Infections and Hospitalizations Among Persons Aged ≥16 Years, by Vaccination Status — Los Angeles County, California, May 1–July 25, 2021."
The CDC paper looks excellent at face value. It asserts, among other things, that vaccinated people are 29.2 times less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than unvaccinated people.
Twenty-nine times less likely may even be accurate, but the underlying assumptions of the paper prevent us from relying on the conclusions. The authors assume that the vaccinated vs. unvaccinated people who were studied come from the same cohort. Perhaps they are, but this is unlikely.
We know the factors that influence a person's decision to be vaccinated include socioeconomic, cultural, political, regional, and individual variables. Recently, an article published in The Economist found that African Americans are disproportionately less likely than other racial and ethnic groups to be vaccinated. Hispanics and Hindus were more likely to do so. The Economist also reported that people who earned less than $50,000 per annum were roughly 8% less likely to be vaccinated. People with incomes over $100,000 were in the order of about 5% more likely to be vaccinated.
The single most significant predictor of whether an American has been vaccinated was whether they voted for Joe Biden or Donald Trump in the last US election. Other differences related to high school versus postgraduate education. And the difference between white evangelical versus Hindu populations was significant. The article in the Economist is hardly peer-reviewed science. But it offers some insights for further research. Research that seems lacking in our broader conversation about COVID-19.
We already know that nutrition has a significant effect on the immune system. Symptoms and outcomes, in turn, are likely to be influenced by the state of a person's immune system. And one of the requirements of a healthy immune system is good nutrition and gut health.
It is difficult to know what people eat in the months before they test positive for COVID-19, but blood tests for elements such as vitamin B and vitamin D can serve as proxies for nutritional intake. We know, for example, that Vitamin D is effective in influencing health outcomes. See this excellent video by Dr. John Campbell if you'd like to know more about the research behind vitamin D.
If we want to address our COVID-19 pandemic, there is a host of simple and relatively inexpensive avenues of research. Stool samples to assess gut health, and blood tests for inflammatory markers, thyroid function, liver function, are just a few as yet uncharted avenues for research.
Do we even know if the vaccinated people in the study were also taking more care of their health? Do they have better diets, exercise more, or earn more? Are, as the Economist study suggests, people with higher incomes choosing to be vaccinated more frequently than people with lower incomes?
This assumption that vaccinated and non-vaccinated people have the same nutritional, and socioeconomic status wouldn't matter that much in a world without a pandemic. Researchers and scientists would be the only readers of each other's papers, and they understand the limitations of such documents. But in our current environment, some reports are influential in public and individual health decisions.
We want to be able to rely on studies published by organizations such as the CDC. Many governments will make health decisions based in part on this study, purporting to prove that vaccination offers 29 times the protection against hospitalization compared to that for unvaccinated individuals. But does it prove that? It's certainly suggestive. But without looking at the other influences, such as nutrition and other socioeconomic factors, we still don't know the truth.
One of the many things about our entire Covid debate is the near-complete lack of research and communication on nutrition. We know that good nutrition is essential to good health, yet research continues to be driven by vaccines. While rightly promoting evidence-based medicine, our media and governments seem to have a blind spot when it comes to low-cost nutritional advice and research.
It is disappointing to see flawed research uncritically published by organizations that we rely on. My objective for this article is to encourage critical thinking and more research. In the CDC paper the assumption that the cohort of vaccinated and unvaccinated people had similar socioeconomic and health backgrounds, which seems unlikely.
I would like to believe that vaccination reduces the risk of hospitalization a factor of 29 times. But the CDC paper doesn't prove that. At best, it's mediocre evidence. Perhaps, on a more positive note, highlighting the flaws of this study may encourage us to explore research into a range of other factors.
Risk management is part of my professional background. I was the senior risk adviser for our Australian Department of Health during the 2003 SARS pandemic, as well as a former ambulance officer and army patrol medic. Unsurprisingly, I'm doing a lot of COVID-19 related consulting these days.