Including People Who Have Environmental Sensitivities in Emergency and Disaster Preparedness

On March 18, 2021, I had the honor of speaking at a virtual webinar hosted by the Arizona Statewide Independent Living Council (AZILC). The topic was Including People Who Have Environmental Sensitivities in Emergency and Disaster Preparedness. The video recording of my presentation can be found on my Interviews/Media page. Links to the Arizona Partners in Pandemic web page as well presentations by the other speakers, Cyndi Norwitz and Susan Molloy, can also be found there.

Covid-19 mRNA Vaccines – A Cautionary Tale

Several people have asked me what I think of the Pfizer and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines and whether I think they should get them. At this point I do not think there is enough information about the vaccines to give truly informed consent. The vaccines were only studied for two months and did not address the crucial question of whether they reduce one’s chance of carrying and spreading the virus. For those with chemical sensitivities, who are also often drug intolerant, the vaccines could pose a significant risk, which needs to be weighed against the benefits.

The research studies showed that these vaccines do reduce the risk of getting sick from Covid-19, but they did not provide conclusive evidence to support the reasons most people want to get vaccinated – to keep from dying from Covid-19, to get back to a more normal life, and to stop wearing masks. Thus, despite all the hype about the vaccines, they are not the “get out of jail free card” that many wish they were.

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), vaccinated persons should continue to follow all current guidance to protect themselves and others. This includes wearing a mask, staying at least 6 feet away from others, avoiding crowds, and washing hands often.

For those who are able to safely shelter in place, it seems reasonable to take a wait and see approach before deciding whether to get vaccinated. I believe that in 6-9 months there will be much more information available on which to make an informed decision about this. On the other hand, for those who must work in an indoor space where they are frequently exposed to other people, it seems reasonable to conclude the benefit of the vaccine likely exceeds the risk – although this would need to be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Before making a decision about whether to receive a Covid-19 vaccine, it is important to consider the following:

1. What is your risk of being exposed to Covid-19? How much time are you around other people? Do you work indoors or are you safely sheltering in place? Do you live in a large family group? Do you travel?


2. What is your risk of getting severe disease? How old are you? Do you have underlying medical conditions?


3. How likely are you to have an adverse reaction to the vaccine? Have you had reactions to past vaccines? Other medications? Do you have an allergy to polyethylene glycol (PEG)? Do you have an autoimmune disease?


Messenger RNA (mRNA) Vaccines

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are the first messenger RNA (mRNA)-based vaccines to be approved by the FDA. Conventional vaccines use antigens associated with an infectious agent to stimulate the immune system. mRNA vaccines take an extra step. The mRNA tells your body’s cells to make the Covid-19 spike protein which then triggers an immune response. The vaccines are injected into the deltoid muscle of the upper arm and are thought to primarily collect in the lymph nodes of the armpit where they elicit an immune response. This immune response includes immune cells as well as antibodies. Note that these vaccines do not contain a full copy of the virus so there is no risk of person becoming infected with Covid-19 by being vaccinated.

These vaccines consist of mRNA wrapped in a small fatty envelope called a lipid nanoparticle. Salts, sugar (sucrose protects vaccine during freezing), and buffers to balance the pH are also added. The outside of the particle is covered with polyethylene glycol (PEG), which is a petroleum-based hydrocarbon. Ethylene glycol is a toxic chemical used as antifreeze. When strung together as PEG, it is less toxic and found in many drugs and foods. Of note is that people with chemical sensitivities often are intolerant of drugs and processed foods.

Neither vaccine contains eggs, gelatin, or latex. Neither do they contain a preservative like mercury that can be found in other vaccines. Mercury (thimerosal) is used in some vaccines to prevent bacterial contamination in multi-dose vials that are used over time.  Although multiple doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines come in each vial, they must be used within 6 hours after the first dose is withdrawn, so there is little chance of bacterial growth and no need for a preservative. 

A full list of ingredients in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines can be found here.

www.cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/info-by-product/clinical-considerations.html
(Appendix B)


Efficacy of Pfizer and Moderna Vaccines

Articles about the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine studies were recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

Safety and Efficacy of the BNT162b2 mRNA Covid-19 Vaccine” by Pfizer researchers was published on December 10, 2020.

The Moderna study, “Efficacy and Safety of the mRNA-1273 SARS-CoV-2 Vaccine” was published on December 30, 2020.

The Pfizer study enrolled almost 44,000 participants, who were evenly divided between those receiving the vaccine and those receiving a salt water placebo. The vaccine series consisted of two doses given 3 weeks apart.

The researchers found there were 8 cases of Covid-19 (that started at least 7 days after the second dose) among those who received the vaccine and 162 cases among those who received the placebo. Based on this data they concluded the Pfizer vaccine was 95% effective in preventing symptomatic Covid-19 infections.

These results are impressive, but one must bear in mind that it is well established that studies funded by the pharmaceutical industry are more likely to be associated with statistically significant pro-industry findings than studies conducted by independent researchers.

Among 10 cases of severe Covid-19 (with the onset after the first dose), 9 occurred in placebo recipients and 1 in a vaccine recipient. This provided preliminary evidence of possible vaccine-mediated protection against severe disease, although the numbers were too small to prove this. Of note, there were no Covid-19 associated deaths in either arm of the study, so no conclusion can be drawn as to whether the Pfizer vaccine is capable of reducing Covid-19 deaths.

The Moderna study enrolled a little more than 30,000 volunteers, who were evenly divided to receive the vaccine or a placebo. The vaccine series consisted of two doses given a month apart.

Symptomatic Covid-19 illness was reported in 185 participants in the placebo group and in 11 participants in the vaccine group. This resulted in an overall vaccine efficacy of 94.1% in preventing symptomatic Covid-19 infections. But in research subjects 65 years or older, the efficacy was only 86.4%.

Unlike the Pfizer study that required laboratory confirmation of a Covid-19 case, the Moderna study counted cases that had at least two of the following symptoms: fever, chills, myalgia, headache, sore throat, or new olfactory or taste disorder. Except for changes in smell and taste, the other symptoms are common to the flu or other viral infections and participants with these symptoms may have been erroneously counted as being caused by Covid-19.

On the other hand, the Moderna study, as compared to the Pfizer study, focused more on whether its vaccine could prevent severe Covid-19 infections. The researchers found that severe Covid-19 occurred in 30 participants in the placebo group and none in the vaccinated group. This is strong evidence that the Moderna vaccine can prevent or reduce severe Covid-19 illness. But since there was only one death in the study (also in the placebo group), there is insufficient data to determine whether the Moderna vaccine can reduce one’s chance of dying from a Covid-19 infection.


Safety of Pfizer and Moderna Vaccines

Not surprisingly, both studies tend to minimize adverse reactions to their vaccines, even though 80-89% of vaccinated subjects developed at least one local symptom (e.g., pain, swelling, or redness at the injection site and/or swollen lymph nodes in the armpit of the vaccinated arm) and 55-83% developed at least one systemic symptom, such as fever, fatigue, headache, chills, and muscle or joint pain.

These side effects were considered mild to moderate and were stated to resolve within a few days. But one drawback of the studies is that participants were only followed for 2 months. The NEJM editorial that accompanied the Pfizer article asked important questions – will additional vaccine side effects emerge with longer follow-up, and will unexpected safety issues arise when the number of those vaccinated grows to millions, and possibly billions, of people.

Case in point, both studies stated there were no anaphylactic reactions among their study participants, but there have been numerous reports of severe allergic reactions occurring in members of the public who have received their vaccines. One reason the studies may have missed this potential side effect is because both studies excluded people with a history of allergies to components of the Covid-19 vaccine and those who previously had a severe adverse reaction to any vaccine. This may have excluded many chemically sensitive individuals.

Many feel the likely cause of anaphylactic reactions to mRNA vaccines is a hypersensitivity to the polyethylene glycol (PEG) coat on the vaccine nanoparticle. It is interesting to note that the mechanism of PEG hypersensitivity does not involve IgE, the antibody type that causes classic allergic reactions. For this reason, a hypersensitivity to PEG is sometimes referred to as an “anaphylactoid” or “anaphylactic-like” reaction. People with chemical sensitivities are no strangers to having unusual reactions to chemicals and drugs. According to current guidelines, no person with a history of an immediate allergic reaction to PEG (or polysorbate, which cross reacts with PEG) or any other component of the vaccines should be vaccinated.

Although concerns have been raised, It is unclear whether those with a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome or Bell’s palsy are at increased risk of having an adverse reaction to the vaccines.

It is also concerning that mRNA vaccines might induce an autoimmune response.  According to a 2018 article entitled “mRNA Vaccines – a New Era in Vaccinology,” potential safety concerns about mRNA vaccines include local and systemic inflammation, the biodistribution and persistence of expressed immunogen (in Covid-19 case the spike protein), and the stimulation of auto-reactive antibodies.

There is increasing evidence that autoimmunity is playing a part in severely ill hospitalized Covid-19 patients and “long haulers”. Autoimmunity is when a person’s immune system attacks parts of one’s body. According to the CDC, no data are currently available on the safety and efficacy of mRNA Covid-19 vaccines in persons with autoimmune conditions. Autoimmune diseases include Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, celiac disease, and psoriasis, to name a few. These conditions, especially Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, are not uncommon in individuals with multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS).

Last, but not least, there are risks associated with nanoparticle drug delivery systems. Because of their small size they have the potential for crossing various biological barriers in the body, including the blood brain barrier.

Conclusions

I am convinced by the Pfizer and Moderna studies that their vaccines reduce symptomatic Covid-19 infections. They also likely reduce serious infections to some extent, and may reduce deaths from Covid-19, though this has yet to be proven.

But many questions remain. How will the vaccines perform in children, pregnant women, and immunocompromised individuals? How long does the vaccine’s effect of suppressing symptoms last? How long does immunity after a Covid-19 infection last? Can the vaccines reduce fatalities? Will widespread vaccinations create more asymptomatic carriers who can unknowingly spread the disease? What side effects may appear over time or what new side effects may appear after millions of people are vaccinated? Will the vaccines be effective against variant strains of Covid-19?

I think the vaccine studies done to gain FDA approval were a good start, but they only went so far. Instead of the next studies being done in controlled clinical settings, they are being done in the real world. With the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccines, the public at large has become research subjects in a massive human experiment. At least for now, it is up to each of us to decide if we want to participate in this experiment or wait for more information before deciding whether to get vaccinated. I do not think there is a right or wrong answer. Each person needs to carefully weigh the risks and benefits of being vaccinated based on their individual circumstances. In the end, I hope we find that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines exceed all our expectations for reducing illness and stopping the pandemic, but only time will tell.

Burning During Pandemic Isn’t Worth The Risk

SANTA FE NEW MEXICAN – MY VIEW

BURNING DURING PANDEMIC ISN’T WORTH THE RISK

ANN MCCAMPBELL, MD

Dec 5, 2020

Santa Fe National Forest officials announced in March they were suspending intentionally set fires during the COVID-19 outbreak. The reason given was to protect the public from the hazardous effects of smoke that could “further endanger at-risk members of our communities” during the pandemic.


This was the right decision, since smoke can irritate your lungs, cause inflammation, affect the immune system and make you more prone to being infected with the coronavirus.


But these same officials now plan to resume burning this winter, despite the fact COVID-19 cases are not only still with us but are widespread in the community. In addition, private parties will join in burning thousands more acres this winter (“Prescribed burns planned for 7,400 acres across Northern New Mexico,” Nov. 29). It makes no sense to resume burning now, when the health risk from COVID-19 has increased exponentially.


The public has been doing its part to reduce the spread of the coronavirus by staying home, wearing masks and social distancing. The Forest Service and others must do their part as well. Instead, they want to put lives at risk, while ordinary people are sacrificing every day to protect public health.


The adverse impacts of smoke have real-world consequences. A friend of mine in her mid-70s suffers from asthma and numerous other medical problems. When exposed to smoke, including that from forest fires, she experiences a burning sensation in her nose and lungs, a severe headache, fatigue and has difficulty breathing.


This is not unusual. According to Santa Fe physician Erica Elliott, common symptoms of exposure to smoke include exacerbation of asthma, chronic cough, headaches, sinus congestion and fatigue that is not relieved with rest.
Even exposure to poor air quality for a short time is associated with an increased risk of developing COVID-19 and/or having a more severe case. Research into other viral infections shows that just two hours of exposure to smoke can make people more susceptible to respiratory infections.


Smoke from forest fires, whether intentionally set or naturally occurring, is hazardous even without the threat of COVID-19. Smoke often contains high levels of microscopic particles capable of lodging deep in the lungs and entering the bloodstream, contributing to respiratory diseases such as asthma and emphysema, cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke, and other health conditions, including harm to pregnant women and fetuses. The American Lung Association warns that children, older adults and those with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and bronchitis, chronic heart disease or diabetes are at elevated risk from smoke exposure.


Maintaining clean air during COVID-19 has other important health and economic benefits. The safest way to socialize is outdoors, but not if the air is laden with smoke. And during this time when many are isolated at home, it is critical for mental health to be able to go outside to exercise, walk the dog, see other humans or be in nature. Restaurants, ski resorts and other businesses that can operate outdoors also rely on clean air. No one is going to sit down at an outside cafe table when the air smells like a chimney.


The Forest Service needs to return to its initial commitment to protect public health by maintaining its moratorium on planned burning during the pandemic. Others should also rethink their plans to burn. We all need to pull together to get through this unprecedented time. Burning during COVID-19 is not worth the risk.


Please call Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other elected officials and urge them to use their emergency powers to stop hazardous burning.


Dr. Ann McCampbell is an environmental health consultant. For contact information and more, visit santafeforestcoalition.org.

A New Story About Coronavirus

A few months ago, I was taking a hike and scrolling through channels on my Walkman radio. A woman’s spoken voice caught my attention.

At first, I did not know why I kept listening, but after a while I was amazed at how many things this woman said I agreed with. The woman turned out to be science writer Sonia Shah (https://soniashah.com) and she was speaking about pandemics, a topic which she has studied extensively. I was impressed with her broad perspective on cholera, malaria, Lyme, Zika, and other diseases. She seemed to believe that governments are too frequently corrupt, corporations control everything, and environmental degradation is the cause of most human disease. I could not agree more.

Fast forward to July. A friend sent me an email about an article in The Nation entitled “It’s Time to Tell a New Story About Coronavirus – Our Lives Depend on It,”
(www.thenation.com/article/society/pandemic-definition-covid/). Lo and behold, it was written by Sonia Shah.

I was so impressed with the article, I submitted the following letter to the editor. An edited version was published in the Aug 24/31, 2020 edition of The Nation.

An Ounce of Prevention

Kudos to Sonia Shah for pointing out the need to tell a new story about Coronavirus. I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with germ theory, but as Ms. Shah points out, it doesn’t go far enough. It doesn’t address the question of how or why a host develops a disease. It skips over genetic, epigenetic, and nutritional factors; ignores the influence of medications and other disease states; and fails to address economic, environmental and geographic influences. And if the problem is only defined as the presence of a “germ,” then the solution is seen as killing the germ rather than changing the circumstances that enabled the microbe to cause illness.

The medical community would do well to adopt a broader perspective on illness using the model of integrated pest management (IPM) to control pests. In IPM, the first approach to dealing with insects in a building is not to pull out a poisonous spray, but to remove food and water sources, and seal cracks that allow insects to enter the building. Similarly, to control weeds, IPM focuses on creating healthy turf that is better able to exclude weeds. This approach is in line with the old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. May we see the bigger picture of the Covid-19 pandemic and act accordingly.

Chemical Exposures – Low Levels & High Stakes

I am pleased to report that the book Chemical Exposures: Low Levels & High Stakes is now available to read or print from my website. It is on the Resources /Links page under listing for co-author Claudia Miller, MD.

Or click here to access the book.

Covid-19 and Chemical Sensitivities

Oh my!  Who could have imagined we would be living through a pandemic that has virtually brought the world to a standstill.  While everyone’s lives have been severely impacted by Covid-19, for those with chemical sensitivities, dealing with the virus, and precautions taken to reduce its spread, present some unique challenges, and surprisingly, some benefits.

The Covid-19 situation constitutes a triple threat:

  1. Health – Becoming ill from the virus
  2. Supply Chain – Disruptions in manufacturing and distribution of products, depletion of stock due to increased buying
  3. Economic – Increased unemployment, plummeting stock market, potential recession

HEALTH

Although there is a huge amount of conflicting and changing information about Covid-19, one consistent message is that prevention is the best strategy.  This may be one area where the chemically sensitive have an advantage, since we already know a lot about masks and staying away from other people! We are also quite experienced in air hugs, paying attention to what touched what, decontamination, putting potentially harmful items outside or in isolation rooms, and spending time alone.

But there are down sides to being chemically sensitive.  If we contract the virus, many of us could not tolerate a hospital environment or medications and life-saving procedures being used to treat severely ill patients with Covid-19.  Nor are we likely to be able to tolerate a vaccine for the virus.  Some of us, on the other hand, may already have supplemental oxygen at home which could be used to reduce shortness of breath associated with Covid infection.  

Another problem for chemically sensitive individuals is the increased use of sanitizers and disinfectants. Many of us do not tolerate bleach, rubbing alcohol, phenol (Lysol), and other chemicals being used to disinfect surfaces and hands.  Some of these products also contain fragrance which only adds to their toxicity. 

You might be wondering if chemically sensitive people are more susceptible to Covid-19 than healthy people.  In my experience, there is a wide range of susceptibility to viral respiratory infections among chemically sensitive individuals.  Some seem to come down with one bug after another, while others are only rarely affected.  I think the jury is still out on who is most susceptible to becoming infected with Covid-19, both for the general public as well as those with chemical sensitivities.

Now the good news. Air quality in many places has improved dramatically due to reduced industrial emissions and vehicle exhaust, among other things.  In northern NM, the Forest Service has even suspended prescribed burns.  What a welcome relief to be able to breathe outdoors with less chance of getting sick from air pollutants.

But for those who are electromagnetically hypersensitive (EHS), the situation is not good.  The new reliance on electronic devices to connect with others is increasing electropollution significantly.  Those sheltering at home are making more calls on their cell phones and spending more time on the internet, usually through wireless connections.  And there are already calls for expediting, rather than stalling, the installation of hazardous 5G networks to increase the speed and capacity of phone and internet connections. 

SUPPLY CHAIN

Those with chemical sensitivities are often dependent on a narrow range of foods, water, supplements, medicines, and other products that we tolerate.  If these become unavailable, we may be in real trouble, because there are no tolerated substitutes.  

The Covid-19 situation has shut down some manufacturing, much transportation, and sent people to nervously stock up on toilet paper and other items.  As a result, many foods and personal products like soap, shampoo, and laundry detergent may not be available. 

It is indeed shocking to go into stores and see rows of empty shelves that had been teeming with products only weeks ago.  Not being able to find needed products is stressful for everyone, but the impact on chemically sensitive people is especially great.

The only silver lining for chemically sensitive people is that we frequently stock up on precious tolerated items, like shampoo, dental floss, supplements, and other things, to make sure we have them in case they become temporarily or permanently unavailable.

ECONOMIC

Last, but not least, the Covid-19 situation is having a huge economic impact.  Unemployment rates have skyrocketed and stocks have plummeted.  Even though many chemically people do not work or own stocks, the Covid-19 virus can still have a financial impact.

Some chemically sensitive people are financially dependent on their employed spouses who may have lost their jobs.  Others may have a special needs trust invested in stocks that lost money.  Those who do work may see their business drop off substantially or be shut down.

For now, those on fixed incomes are probably financially secure, but if there is a serious economic recession, no one knows if there will be cuts in Social Security and other benefit programs. 

The bottom line is that this is an extremely difficult and unprecedented time for all of us.  Information about the Covid virus and recommendations for how to deal with it change daily.  For those with chemical sensitivities, whose lives are often hanging by a thread during the best of times, the Covid-19 crisis poses especially difficult challenges and adds to the already daunting task of trying to stay safe.

Treating Chronic Lyme Disease with Antabuse (disulfiram)

There is an exciting possibility that Antabuse (disulfiram) can effectively treat, and possibly even cure, chronic Lyme disease. Antabuse has been used for years to discourage alcoholics from consuming alcohol, because consuming even small amounts when taking this drug can cause a terrible hangover. But it turns out that disulfiram also has antibiotic properties. Lab experiments found that disulfiram was significantly more effective at killing Borrelia burgdorferi (the bacteria that causes Lyme disease) than other antibiotics commonly used to treat it, and in some cases, disulfiram completely eradicated this bacteria. The jury is still out about disulfiram’s effectiveness in humans, but initial case reports of Lyme patients who are trying disulfiram are positive. One patient who took disulfiram for four months has remained symptom-free for two years after discontinuing the drug. For more information about treating chronic Lyme disease with Antabuse (disulfiram), see this excellent article by Dan Kinderlehrer, MD, “Disulfiram-breakthrough drug for Lyme and other tick-borne diseases?” https://www.lymedisease.org/disulfiram-kinderlehrer/

Human Health Effects of Forest Fire Smoke

I recently researched the human health effects of exposure to forest fire smoke for the Santa Fe Forest Coalition (SFFC). My report was included in SFFC comments on a proposed revision of the Santa Fe National Forest (SFNF) plan. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) makes cursory mention of the possible adverse health effects of smoke from prescribed fires on the elderly and other sensitive populations, but basically dismisses it. It certainly fails to analyze these impacts in a thorough way as required by NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act).

Some things I learned in doing the research is there is no safe level of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), there is evidence to suggest that PM2.5 from burning vegetation is more toxic than that from urban sources, and in 2013, the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) classified outdoor air pollution and particulate matter as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1). This is not good news considering the fact the U.S. Forest Service is planning to conduct increased regular prescribed burns into perpetuity. The attitude of the SFNF is if you do not like their smoke, move.

Even though it will be a difficult to change their attitude and behavior, I encourage everyone to let the Forest Service know how prescribed fire smoke harms you and/or why you do not want yourself, your children, or pets to be exposed to it, especially since aggressive forest thinning and burning will not accomplish the goal of reducing catastrophic wildfires.  Most evidence indicates these fires are the result climate change, not too many trees.

Relating to Others When You Are Chemically Sensitive

I am pleased to announce that I am adding a new article to my web site. Years ago, I wrote a booklet entitled Relating to Others When You Are Chemically Sensitive, but I never published it.  Recently, I updated it and today am making it available on my website under Writings and Publications. Relating to Others When You Are Chemically Sensitive

Communicating With Others When You Are Chemically Sensitive

Yesterday, I was a featured guest on a conference call hosted by MCS Friends, an online and phone support group for people with chemical sensitivities.  This call was one of a series of discussions on how to communicate with others when you are chemically sensitive, including suggestions for how to explain chemical sensitivities to friends, family members, doctors, etc. We also discussed health and medical issues of interest to those with MCS.

The hour and a half discussion was recorded and the replay is available to MCS Friends members.

To become a member, go to www.mcsfriends.org and follow instructions there, or you can call 248-301-2283 to join by phone.

 

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