Transmission Unit / Any person who may infect another with coronavirus; in other words, anyone.
“Among the many things that Covid-19 has upended,” writes storyteller and social activist Annie Tan in a blog posted April 2020, “it has changed the way we express and experience love. When each person and family becomes a possible ‘transmission unit,’ celebrations, communal rituals and gatherings increasingly seem like a careless way of putting those you love most at risk.”
In July 2021, when Ontario’s anti-Covid restrictions were gradually being lifted, our son and his family, who live in Toronto, came to visit us. We had seen them only twice in the previous eighteen months, always outside, wearing masks and keeping social distance. This time, with cases in our city down to almost zero and all of us double-vaccinated, we felt we could selectively relax our vigilance and expand our social bubble to include them. But our son kept his face mask on. He was not afraid of contracting Covid from us; he worried that we might contract it from him. We respected his wish to follow the Covid protocols until the pandemic was over, but his actions made us realize how frightened some of us had become at the thought of being transmission units.
In Emily St. John Mandel’s post-apocalyptic novel Station Eleven, published in 2014, she envisions a world that has been reduced to scattered oases of survivors following a viral pandemic known as the “Georgia Flu.” Like SARS-1, the Georgia Flu killed its victims rapidly – and spread so thoroughly that within a year the world’s population had been reduced by more than 90 percent.
Early in the novel, Mandel gives “an incomplete list” of the many things the survivors miss about their lives “before the collapse.” Among them: “No more diving into pools of chlorinated water lit green from below. No more ball games played out under floodlights… No more certainty of surviving a scratch on one’s hand, a cut on a finger while chopping vegetables for dinner, a dog bite. No more flight. No more towns glimpsed from the sky through airplane windows, points of glimmering light; no more looking down from thirty thousand feet and imaging the lives lit up by those lights at that moment…”
One of the things she might have added to the list: no more spontaneous, uncomplicated holding of our children or grandchildren in our arms.
Vaccine Shedding / A minor phenomenon of live vaccines mistakenly cited to justify anti-vaxxers’ belief that inoculation against Covid-19 gives a person Covid-19.
In April 2021, the Centner Academy, a private elementary school in Miami, told its teachers that getting vaccinated against Covid-19 would cost them their jobs. Vaccinated teachers would not be allowed into the classrooms. One of the teachers who agreed with the policy warned his fifth-grade students that if they hugged their parents who had been vaccinated, they could contract Covid-19. The reason for this precaution, announced the school’s owner, Leila Centner, was her belief in the reality of “vaccine shedding.”
Citing vaccine shedding as a threat was a ploy of anti-vaccination groups trying to discourage or intimidate as many people as possible into resisting being vaccinated. Mass emails were sent out warning that coming into contact with “the vaccinated” could cause postmenopausal women to begin menstruating again or pregnant women to miscarry, or that vaccination could result in stillbirths. These groups maintained that being vaccinated caused the body to “shed” the coronavirus’s spike proteins, which somehow were transmitted to others and somehow caused ill effects.
Vaccine shedding is a real phenomenon, but it only happens when patients receive a live vaccine, and even then the probability of infection through shedding is only 0.58 percent. Very few Covid-19 vaccines are live-virus – almost all of them use either killed or inactivated viruses, attenuated viruses (live viruses that have been genetically altered to replicate without causing illness), or isolated proteins. The mRNA vaccines contain no virus at all, just a genetic instruction. The live virus technique was used in the 1950s with the Salk polio vaccine, and there was some transmission by vaccine shedding then – entirely through stool contamination – but with improved sanitation and almost no use of live virus vaccines, there is virtually no danger of a person vaccinated against Covid endangering anyone who comes into contact with them through vaccine shedding.
According to Zubin Damania – a former Stanford University School of Medicine physician better known as ZDoggMD, an award-winning blogger and You-Tuber on health issues – the fear of vaccine shedding lies in the observation that syncytin, a protein involved in placental formation in pregnant women, is structurally similar to the spike protein in coronaviruses. But the fear of vaccine shedding is a falsehood perpetrated by anti-vaxxers for their own political and social agendas. The Centner Academy charges an annual tuition of $30,000, and since Leila Centner’s campaign against vaccination began, it has been contacted by thousands of parents who want to enroll their children. Centner herself, a firm Republican who supported Donald Trump, says she espouses “medical freedom” for the students in her school. But not, apparently, for the teachers.