I meant to write about this a couple weeks ago when the story was reported, but other more-timely news got in the way. However, since this isn't time-dated, the point of it all is still valid.
The other week, New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers – who has been critical of the COVID vaccines -- posted a quip about Travis Kelsey, the tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs, calling him as “Mr. Pfizer,” a jokey reference to the TV ad that Kelsey is doing on behalf of the COVID booster. Kelsey had a funny response, having to do with the irony of Rodgers working for team whose owner Woody Johnson is an heir of the founder of Johnson & Johnson, who make a COVID vaccine. And the matter should have ended there.
Now, I am not a fan of Aaron Rodgers. This largely stems from him having long been the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers – the big rivals of the Chicago Bears – and then this year signing with the Jets, perhaps the team I dislike most after the Packers. But in fairness, it’s not limited to that since Rodgers is fairly vocal about not being a supporter of COVID vaccines and for a long time tried to bury the fact through not-too-coy disingenuousness.
And so, although the matter should have ended there after a couple of casual quips, Aaron Rodgers not only chose to keep the matter alive, but also ratchet it up by challenging Kelsey to a debate. Now, it’s possible (and one dear hopes, likely) he was being light-hearted and didn’t think a debate between two professional football players about COVID vaccines would ever be substantive. But being Aaron Rodgers, who is a bright guy, but also noted for being a Know-It-All, we can’t rely on that. But even if so, chiding someone for promoting COVID vaccines and wanting to even have a breezy debate over them suggests that it’s something Aaron Rodgers wants to make a point about.
Which is as it should be since, after all, Aaron Rodgers is always my go-to guy when it comes to medical issues…
A football-loving friend brought all this to my attention, and thought the exchange was somewhat amusing, even if silly. I said that I didn’t. I thought Travis Kelsey did a cute thing with his “Johnson & Johnson” comeback. But Aaron Rodgers' anti-vax stance from such a high-profile platform has absolutely nothing amusing about it.
For starters, if Aaron Rodgers actually wants to debate the efficacy of COVID vaccines -- which not only have likely saved tens of millions of lives, if not in the hundreds of millions worldwide, for all we know, and have proved profoundly safe overall (with a known disclaimer about an exceedingly tiny group of people who should avoid them, which is the case with many, if not most drugs...including aspirin) after two years and billions of doses, continually studied…even if you are a conspiratorialist and choose to believe stories about adverse reactions – then he should debate Rachelle Walensky, head of the CDC, or the U.S. surgeon general Vivek Murthy, or Dr. Peter Hotez who shared the Nobel Prize for co-inventing an inexpensive, patent-free COVID vaccine, or Dr. Anthony Fauci. Rather than an NFL tight end.
But mainly, my lack of finding amusement in the exchange is my disdain for the anti-vaccine community. Indeed, overwhelmingly worse than Aaron Rodgers are people like Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) who recently advised people of his state, including the vast number of elderly, not to take the new booster.
“Personal choice!!” has long been the cry of such people. But “personal choice” is a disingenuous catchphrase since it’s become clear that most anti-vaxxers don’t even believe in it, attacking and ridiculing people now, as they do, for their personal choice to get a COVID vaccine. One would think that if you really, truly believed in the concept of “personal choice” you’d embrace those who use their personal choice, whatever it is.
(And it’s worse than just that. Anti-vaxxers have taken to stalking Nobel-winner Dr. Hotez – who gives away all profits to the life-saving vaccine he created -- to the point where a few weeks ago he posted a photo where bomb-sniffing dogs had to be brought into the hall where he had been invited to give a lecture.)
But much more than that, “personal choices” as a standard to march under is an empty banner since pretty much everything in life is a “personal choice.” Deciding whether or not to ever get out of bed in the morning is a personal choice. What toothpaste to use is a personal choice. It’s a personal choice if you want to jump off a bridge. Or go live the forest for years. A “personal choice” is really only truly personal when the decision largely affects only you. If you want to go off by yourself and live in a forest cave alone, that is a "personal choice." With an infectious disease, where others can conceivably get sick and even die if you are infected with COVID and just cough on them or even merely shake their hand, “personal choice” goes out the window and the decision becomes one of Social Responsibility.
If you choose not to get vaccinated, you risk infecting someone totally innocent of your choice. And that person in turns risks infecting others – and others – and the number grows geometrically. And some of these people, if not many may be older and have lower immunities and risk getting seriously ill…or dying. Not through their choice, but yours.
Further, it is this “personal choice” that has kept the coronavirus not only alive and spreading – requiring the very need for the boosters...every year – but allow the virus to mutate, which can evade the vaccines, require ongoing research to keep ahead of it. Or just catch up.
So, no, I don’t find Dr. Medicine Aaron Rodgers’ snarky “quips” about letting people know a new booster is available to help save lives and control a pandemic – and wanting to debate it with another football player (whether serious or a light diversion) – even remotely amusing. In fact, it speaks loudly to his cavalier lack of understanding of the deadly nature of an infectious disease. Nor do I find anything supportive about people who shirk social responsibility out of selfishness that keeps the world at deadly infectious risk and even attack others for living up to a normal societal standard.
And the politicians who still deny their own sworn obligation to keep the people they represent safe by demeaning social responsibility sit in the highest realm of Hell.
The guest on this week’s Al Franken podcast is climatologist Michael Mann who has an interesting conversation with Al about How to Talk to Climate Deniers. And as Al adds, "This climate has always changed...just not this fast!!!"
Today, I’m going to turn things over to the Washington Post. They have an utterly fascinating article by science journalist Dr. Richard Sima. The title explains it all --
“A catatonic woman awakened after 20 years. Her story may change psychiatry.”
It’s a remarkable story (as you might imagine) that transcends just this one event – though this one event is pretty amazing on its own. The overall point isn’t just what happened with this particular woman, April Burrell, but how both psychiatry and medicine, and the treatment of certain kinds of patients may be impacted, and as a result of it there are stories about others here, as well.
The sub-heading of the piece is – “New research suggests that a subset of patients with psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia may actually have autoimmune disease that attacks the brain.”
In some ways – or many ways – the story is not totally dissimilar from the book by Dr. Oliver Sacks Awakenings, and the movie made from it with Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro. In fact, the movie is referenced in the article, as is Oliver Sacks who crossed paths and, if not actually a “mentor,” was an inspiration for the doctor here, Sander Markx.
Marxk is from The Netherlands, but in 2000 he was a medical student in the U.S. on a Fulbright Scholarship. He currently is director of precision psychiatry at Columbia University. And the way he came into the story – and then circled back into it – is part of what makes it all remarkable. For starters, by all rights he shouldn't have even been attending at the far-lesser know institute he chose, rather than one of the more prestigious hospitals most Fulbright Scholars go to. As the article notes, "...but instead chose Pilgrim Psychiatric Center, a state hospital in Brentwood, N.Y., where many of the state’s most severe psychiatric patients live for months, years or even the rest of their lives." And that's where April Burrell was.
Nice too is that this isn’t about something discovered right now, but rather came to the early stages of change two or three years ago – which is now being studied by others – so, we’re able to know a bit about the outcomes of the early work.
A lot of the article is very scientific, so it’s reasonable from the skim parts. But it’s really a great story and worth checking out.
As a subscriber to the Washington Post, I’m allowed a certain number of “gift” articles each month, so this link should work for everyone.
You should (hopefully) be able to find it here.
(If not, I'll try to figure out another way...)
If you missed Last Week Tonight with John Oliver last night, the Main Story was on Artificial Intelligence. (And no, there were no jokes made about the extreme right and their lack of belief in such things as, for instance, science.) The story was very interesting -- and, as you might imagine, is a fertile ground for humor.
Today's Jon Stewart's podcast is, as they put it, “A Nuanced Conversation About COVID Vaccines (Yes, Really!)" As Jon says, “We’re back and we’re coming in hot with a conversation about COVID vaccines! We’re joined by Dr. Gregory A. Poland (Director of Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group), Dr. Saad Omer (Director of the Yale Institute for Global Health), and Zeynep Tufekci (Professor at Columbia University) who bring something that’s often lacking from these conversations: nuance. We talk through why many non-crazy people are hesitant to get vaccinated, how our public health institutions have failed to communicate effectively with the masses, and why it should be perfectly okay to ask questions about the risks and benefits of any vaccine.“
Happily, although a podcast, the show now seems to be posting an audio Zoom version of the episode, so that's what we'll go with. And you can watch it here.
I think that after today's latest GOP meltdown, it would be right and proper to have a really good dog story. It's not an Adorable Animal Video (though that's a notable part of the story), but something richer.
This is a fun, fascinating report from 60 Minutes in 2014 about the first serious studies of dogs’ brains. Among other things, the studies tried to answer the age-old question: does your dog really love you? Or is it just scamming you because it knows it will get food? But they go a lot farther. Starting with a look at the border collie named Chaser.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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