Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) tweeted that “more than 600,000 people in the … [+] US is dying of cancer” and “no school is closed”. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
On Saturday morning, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene compared Covid-19 and cancer in a four-tweet thread. There was at least one small problem with the wire: Covid-19 and cancer are not the same.
Of course, Covid-19 and cancer both start with the letter ‘c’. But that also applies to belly band and camel. They’re also both health problems, but so is walking corpse syndrome. Nevertheless, as you can see in the following first two tweets of the thread, Taylor Greene brought Covid-19 and cancer together like hot dogs and peanut butter:
Taylor-Greene started the first tweet by saying, “More than 600,000 people in the US die of cancer every year.” Okay, that’s about true. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), “an estimated 608,570 people in the United States will die from cancer by 2021.” So far so good then. No space lasers, medical brown shirts or a deadline of June 31, 2021.
The second line of her tweet read: “The country has never once shut down.” Okay, that’s also somewhat true. But isn’t that the same as saying, “The country has never completely covered everyone in spaghetti sauce?” It’s a true statement, but doesn’t seem to follow from the first statement about cancer deaths.
The third line offered a little more of the same: “No school is closed.” Again, this is true. But how can closing schools help fight cancer, especially when cancer rates among school-age children are much lower? It’s not like the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) where school-age children are very likely to carry the virus together during school and spread it to each other and then take the virus home to infect their family members. Closing schools could thus prevent schools from becoming boilers to further fuel the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and the pandemic. By contrast, closing schools because of cancer deaths would be like sticking a stick in the eye. It wouldn’t serve any purpose except to cause more problems.
Her first tweet ended with “And every year more than 600,000 people, of all ages and all races, will continue to die of cancer.” Yes, her tweet had already said something like that. So why repeat that? Does this have anything to do with closing schools? Unless Taylor Greene somehow suggests that cancer spreads like the Covid-19 coronavirus, through the air and casual contact?
Yikes, airborne cancer transmission by spending just 15 minutes with someone with cancer? If cancer spread as quickly as SARS-CoV-2, our society would be in serious, serious trouble. Then you would see some serious toilet paper hoarding. It looks like writer Thor Benson would have no problem going into lockdown mode if that was the case:
Of course, air pollution, tobacco smoke and other substances in the air can lead to cancer. But usually that takes many months or even years of exposure. Was Taylor Greene suggesting that there could somehow be cancer super spreader events, like what happened at the White House in 2020 with Covid-19?
Before jumping to conclusions about how cancer can be spread actor Angela Belcamino reminded everyone that things don’t get so jumpy with skin cancer:
Many comments on Twitter to Taylor Greene emphasized that cancer is not contagious. That is largely correct. You don’t get cancer from staying in the same room for an hour with someone who has cancer. To be fair, however, there are cancers that can be caused by infectious pathogens. For example, human papillomavirus (HPV) infection can cause cervical cancer, anal cancer, penile cancer, and oropharyngeal cancer. And HPV can be transmitted through sex, which, by the way, isn’t the same as sharing a bus with someone. There is no evidence that HPV can float in the air like the SARS-CoV-2.
The second tweet in Taylor Green’s thread stated: “Since #COVID19 tracking began, more than 780,000 people have died in the US in 22 months, but more than 1 million still died of cancer. More people died from Covid in 2021 than in 2020, despite government-imposed widespread vaccines, massive public masking and trillions spent.”
It is true that more than 780,000 people in the US have already died from Covid-19. The reported Covid-19 deaths are likely an underestimate, as not everyone is tested for Covid-19. Nevertheless, it is not clear why mentioning the number of cancer deaths would improve the high number of Covid-19 deaths. Wouldn’t that be like saying to someone, “Don’t worry that your house is on fire because it’s on quicksand?”
The first half of the second line in Taylor Green’s second tweet is correct in that more people died in 2021 than in 2020 from Covid-19. However, the second half of the second tweet should prompt you to “hold on.” The number of deaths was higher in 2021, probably in part because the pandemic has been going on for a little longer in 2021 than in 2020. Although the pandemic in the US didn’t really get going until March 2020, the pandemic was already in full swing this year from January 1, 2021. In addition, people seemed much more diligent with social distancing and face mask wearing earlier during the 2020 pandemic. For much of 2021, especially after mid-May, face mask use has become less and less widespread even as the pandemic lasts forth.
Vaccine availability is one big thing that will be different in 2021 than in 2020. The Covid-19 vaccines have probably already saved countless lives. The problem, however, is that vaccination rates are not yet high enough to make an even more dramatic difference. As of December 3, less than 60% of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, well below the more than 80% immunity thresholds needed to break transmission of the virus. Linking this under-vaccination coverage with premature easing of other Covid-19 precautions such as wearing face masks has led to the 2021 Covid-19 death situation.
Many people remain hesitant about the vaccine, perhaps because they do not fully understand the threat of the Covid-19 coronavirus and the benefits of the vaccine. Building on Taylor Greene’s suggestion that Covid-19 could resemble cancer, the following tweet suggests people would be quite willing to get a cancer vaccine if they got one:
Now there is no vaccine against most cancers. One exception is the HPV vaccine, which in turn can reduce your risk of HPV-caused cancers such as cervical and anal cancers.
Taylor Greene’s third and fourth tweets in the thread also lacked medical knowledge:
As seen above, Taylor Greene claimed that “Covid is mainly targeting obese and older people.” The Covid-19 coronavirus is not targeting anyone in particular. It does not weigh you or ask your age before infecting you. If you have a nose or mouth and a respiratory tract, you can get infected. If you don’t have such body parts, you may be a ficus plant. While people who are obese or elderly are more likely to experience more severe consequences from Covid-19, everyone is at risk for Covid-19 badness.
Taylor Greene also claimed that ivermectin saves lives without proof that it does. As I’ve discussed for Forbes before, ivermectin can help get rid of parasitic worms from your body, there just isn’t enough scientific support for its use against Covid-19.
In case you couldn’t tell from her cancer references, Taylor Greene is not a doctor or a scientist. Therefore, adapting the words of Alanis Morissette’s song, it’s not ironic that she tweeted that “it’s time to take a different approach based on the facts” and “stop the politically driven mass hysteria.” It’s time for the US to do things differently and get politicians to stop tweeting about how to deal with Covid-19. Real scientists, doctors and public health experts should take the lead, not politicians. It should at least be people who can make it very clear that Covid-19 and cancer are not the same.
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