Covid-19 Nasal Viral Load Myth- Another Unnecessary Death!

“No Sir- People vaccinated for Covid-19 do NOT carry 251 times more virus in their nose.” 

As I’m in the process of admitting a 70 yo gentleman to the ICU with complications of Coronavirus I remind him that getting vaccinated is still a good idea when he gets better. (Knowing in my own mind that his risk of dying because he was sick enough to be in an ICU unvaccinated was now at 28%.)

You would think his response might be something like-  “yes doctor- you are right, I feel very sick and wish I had gotten the vaccine.”  In reality as he is breathing on 50 liters heated high flow oxygen (realize most COPD patients at home are only on 2 liters) his actual response was “I am not getting vaccinated because an Oxford study shows that vaccinated people carry 251 times more virus in their nose than unvaccinated people.”  I replied “Really?  I’m sorry but I have not seen that study”- and at that point he goes off to the CT scanner to assess his lung status and also to rule out blood clots and overlying bacterial pneumonia.

I go back to my desk and decide to look up this Oxford study.

What I easily find is an article from Reuters fact checking this very study.  As I dig deeper, I find a reprint of the study cited by my patient about to enter the ICU as an unvaccinated patient. 

As it turns out the patient was right about one thing- the paper does have an affiliation with Oxford.  The paper is from the Hospital of Tropical Diseases, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam which has an affiliation with the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Vietnam.  The misinformation being spread about this paper is so rampant that even the Oxford Clinical Research Center has written a disclaimer.

The paper my patient cited as a reason to NOT get vaccinated is a study of only 62 participants- ALL Vaccinated, and the study simply compared nasal viral load of the Delta Variant compared to the previous Covid-19 variant from one year prior.  As stated in the Oxford summary:  “Similar to data from the aforementioned studies, we showed that Delta variant infections in fully vaccinated healthcare workers were associated with high viral loads, and indeed were 250 times higher than those in people infected with the original strains.”  “The differences in viral load were driven by the ability of the Delta variant to cause higher viral loads; they had nothing to do with the vaccination status of the infected individual. Thus, the claim that vaccinated individuals carry 251 times the loads of SARS-CoV-2 in their respiratory tract compared to the unvaccinated people is a misrepresentation of the data.”

And now the conclusion to this story:   I make a point to follow up on patients as my role is as an Emergency Physician- so many times I do not see the outcome.  As it turns out this patient died from his Covid-19 illness 2 days after admission and has left behind him a wife, 3 children and several grandchildren.  He was independently living in his own home with many more years possible to share with his loved ones.  With current studies showing the risk of death is 15 times greater for unvaccinated patients, I have to think this is simply another unnecessary death- mainly due to misinformation being spread by the antivax community.  Hopefully someone can learn something from this story.

-Mark Elliott, MD,MBA

Emergency Physician

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