As a leading UNC epidemiologist reiterates the benefits of vaccination, conservative legislators push for Ivermectin

UNC epidemiologist Justin Lessler

On the same day the U.S. confirmed its first case of the omicron variant, UNC epidemiologist Justin Lessler found himself back before a legislative commission answering questions about ongoing efforts to end the pandemic.

“I remain cautiously optimistic about the direction things are going in the state, but with emphasis on the caution,” Lessler said.”I think we need to be prepared for the possibility of a significant winter wave at this point.”

Lessler, an infectious disease expert at the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, said as more people gather indoors for holiday festivities there’s much that remains unknown about the new variant.

“Even with significant immune invasion, it’s important to remember that vaccination will likely remain the most effective way to prevent severe disease and hospitalization even if it doesn’t fully prevent infection,” Lessler testified Wednesday.

He said very preliminary data out of Israel suggests that the current vaccines may work fairly well against the new variant.

“But just to remind you, new variants with immune escape are inevitable, and if this variant doesn’t lead to some cases coming back, ones in the future will. But hopefully those future waves – and probably those future waves – will not result in the kind severe disease you see when people are seeing the virus for the first time and have not been primed from earlier infection or immunity.”

But even as Professor Lessler made the case for vaccines and boosters, it was clear that some lawmakers would not be swayed.

Rep. Mark Brody, a Republican from Union County, questioned whether the vaccines could alter one’s DNA.

Rep. Mark Brody (R-Union Co.)

“There are a lot of people who haven’t taken the vaccine including myself, because we just don’t know what it is.”

Lessler patiently explained that there has been confusion about the technology used to create the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and what’s in the vaccine itself.

“The vaccine itself contains messenger RNA, which never enters the nucleus of the cell, so has no opportunity to quote-unquote ‘edit our genes.’ It is a way to get the cells to express the things our immune system needs to see, to fight the virus without giving it the real virus.”

Rep. Brody asked Lessler if he supported the use of Ivermectin, an animal dewormer, to battle COVID-19.

“Would you support the right to try, along with all the other methods of trying to eradicate and help people with the virus?”

Ivermectin is an anti-parasitic medicine used for livestock. It has not received emergency use authorization from the FDA, which issued its own warning about using the drug for COVID.

“I think there’s a difference between whether I think it’s okay to have the right to do something, and whether I think that’s a good idea,” the epidemiologist offered.

“We in this country have the right to do a lot of things that are bad ideas.”

Rep. Jamie Boles (R-Moore), a funeral home director, said it was frustrating that hospitals were not more willing to try Ivermectin on COVID patients.

“Families are asking for this right, and hospitals are not entertaining that,” said Boles.

“Doctors take an oath to do no harm. And if they give a treatment, they have to have some feeling that it will work and be better than the side effect,” Lessler tried to explain.

Sen. Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth Co.)

Sen. Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth) pressed on.

“My understanding and I’m certainly not a doctor and don’t know that much about it, but my understanding is those drugs — the Hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin have been used for decades and there are very little side effects. Why is there that pushback?”

“I think it may come down to the evidence, and that fact that we might have other things that help. And sometimes doing nothing is the best thing.”

Unlike a livestock dewormer, Lessler said monoclonal antibodies are a proven treatment. He said the nation is very close to having other antivirals to help people fight a COVID infection.

Lessler said we might not defeat COVID but his hope was that it will at some point change to a seasonal nuisance.

“So what role can state and local governments take in hastening that transition?” asked Sen. Deanna Ballard.

“To the extent that they are able to, encourage people to get vaccinated,” Lessler responded. “That is the most long lasting thing that we can do in terms of how we can impact the pandemic.”

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Veteran journalist: I read “The 1619 Project.” Critics need to calm down.

“The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story” is displayed at a New York City bookstore on November 17, 2021. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

You’d have to be completely out of the political loop—and I suspect you aren’t, if you are reading this—to not have heard of “The 1619 Project” and the brouhaha surrounding it.

A publication of journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and The New York Times, “1619” first appeared in an August 2019 issue of the New York Times Magazine. In May 2020, Hannah-Jones was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for her opening essay.

It was in 1619 that African slaves were first brought to America—the year before the Mayflower arrived—and the dust jacket of the expanded book version of the project refers to it as “a new origin story.” 1619, writes Hannah-Jones, is when the real story of America began, not 1776 when the American Revolution began.

I managed to miss out on reading the original version in the Times and I may not have maintained interest in it were it not for former President Donald Trump. Trump introduced many people to the project in September 2020, when he lumped it in with critical race theory, an academic concept many Americans had never heard of before. He called both “a crusade against American history . . . toxic propaganda, ideological poison that, if not removed, will dissolve the civic bonds that tie us together, will destroy our country.”

I’m one of the people who had never heard of critical race theory before and now that I’m familiar with it, I feel confident telling you that your kids in public school aren’t going to get schooled in it. While “The 1619 Project” has developed a curriculum that can be taught in schools, I also feel confident that wasn’t going to happen in many public schools even before the legislatures in Tennessee and some other states passed laws earlier this year banning the instruction of critical race theory. [Editor’s note: North Carolina lawmakers passed a similar bill, but it was successfully vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper.]

But I like a challenge and there’s nothing like the president of the United States calling writing “toxic” to make me want to check it out. I bought the book as soon as I could, read it as fast as possible and now I’m here to review it.

There’s been so much Sturm und Drang over “The 1619 Project” from right wing groups like “Moms For Liberty” and Trump supporters, I was surprised the book didn’t arrive with a big “Trigger warning!” sticker on it. I went into the book with an open mind, frankly expecting to be surprised by historical revelations.

I wasn’t surprised, as much of the book seems to be common sense, but I learned a hell of a lot. Read more

Another advocacy group calls for Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson to resign, announces planned demonstration

Saying “we expect our elected officials to represent everybody,” yet another North Carolina advocacy group has added its name to the list of groups and prominent individuals calling for the resignation of Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson in the wake of his latest homophobic remarks.

The following release was distributed this morning by the North Carolina chapter of the National Organization for Women:

North Carolina National Organization for Women (NC NOW) joins the chorus calling for the resignation of North Carolina Lt. Governor Mark Robinson since he is unable to respectfully represent all North Carolinians. Lt. Governor Mark Robinson has been called out for remarks he made regarding the LGBTQIA community in June, when he referred to homosexuality and transgenderism as “filth”. Robinson made similar comments on September 30 at another event, and he added new offensive comments at a church in Winston-Salem on November 14. NC NOW adopted a resolution denouncing Robinson’s remarks at their recent state conference. Many groups and individuals have marched and rallied and gone from trying to reason with Lt. Gov. Robinson, to asking him to apologize, to telling him to resign. There will be another protest at the Lt. Governor’s Office at 310 N Blount St, in Raleigh this Friday, Dec 3, at 4:30pm.

NC NOW supports the dignity and rights of everybody, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. We believe that everybody deserves respect and support. The Lt. Governor’s remarks are ignorant and hurtful to members of the LGBTQIA community, family, supporters and friends. In addition, his comments are discriminatory, inflammatory and potentially dangerous.

Lt. Governor Robinson is actively working to shame and ostracize LGBTQIA students. Our schools need to be places where all students are protected and supported. However, Robinson’s comments are in no way limited to books and schools as he sometimes claims. He is making them at churches and conservative events around the state, where he is billed as North Carolina’s Lt. Governor. Meanwhile, his claims are getting more offensive and outrageous. At a church in Winston-Salem on Nov 14, he “made clear that he believes homosexuals are inferior to heterosexuals, saying they serve no purpose.

We expect our elected officials to represent everybody. Lt. Governor Robinson’s remarks have shown that he cannot respect all of his constituents.  These discriminatory attitudes from an elected official, especially from the second highest officer in the state, underscore the need for comprehensive nondiscrimination protections in North Carolina. We call on Lt. Governor Robinson to resign his position since he is unable to respectfully represent all North Carolinians.