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Littwin: The debate about vaccines and stem cells is the latest twist. By the way, the pope says it’s “suicidal” not to be vaccinated.

In other news, my grandson’s first-grade class is in COVID quarantine. With luck, he’s got a jab coming sometime in the near future.

The news could have been worse, but it was bad enough. We got the message from my 6-year-old’s elementary school on Thursday night that he might have to be quarantined because of a possible COVID infection in his first-grade class.

The next day, we hear that the quarantine would, in fact, be put in place, and our kiddo, as the schools say these days, would have to be out for seven to 10 days. We had tested him that morning — and it was negative. We also tested his little brother, and let’s just say that swirling a swab in a 3-year-old’s nostril is probably not so different — I’m guessing here — from attempting to swirl in a bull’s nose. He was negative, too. 

Mike Littwin

Luckily, we had at-home rapid test kits on hand. Our neighborhood pharmacy limits the sale of the kits to four. Joe Biden has finally decided to spend the odd billion dollars on making rapid testing kits more readily available. But finding a test is far easier — as I’m sure many of you know — than finding someone willing to look after a kid in quarantine while parents work. 

And later that day, when my daughter talked to my grandson’s teacher during an already scheduled parent-conference meeting — the teacher was zooming from his home — we learned that the teacher and the entire class were being quarantined. So it’s back to virtual learning for a week or so. That’s so much better for kids, of course, than having to wear a mask.

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Our kiddo does wear a mask. So does everyone else in his classroom. The Austin, Texas,  school district, like most of the urban districts in the state, is defying the governor’s order that prohibits schools from mandating masks. My grandson is too young to be vaccinated, although that may be changing quite soon. Meanwhile, the kids socially distance and eat outside whenever possible. Every classroom has a high-grade air filtration system. 

They do everything right at the school, but we can’t know what happens when the kids go home at night. That’s the weak link, of course. Even as you can take all the precautions you can imagine — and my daughter certainly does — you know that not every parent is quite so vigilant. And even vigilance, starting with parents being vaccinated, is no guarantee against the delta variant, which, while slowing down in many places, is still raging as the nation’s pandemic death toll rises above 700,000.

In Colorado, we’re told COVID cases are no longer rising, but they’re not falling either. In parts of the state, ICU beds are getting increasingly difficult to come by. And good luck if you’re in need of non-emergency care. And does anyone else remember when Jared Polis said that any further moves he’d make on COVID — like mandating masks for all school kids, including those in Douglas County who are caught in a crossfire between public health experts and the county’s political leaders — would depend on how hospital beds were holding up?

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Polis, who is strongly pro-mask, is also very much mandate hesitant — on masks and on vaccines. And he says any mask decision in Douglas County, regardless of what the science says protects kids, is their “prerogative.”

Here’s a story I heard of one Denver metro hospital. A woman needed surgery. Before surgery, she was asked to sign the standard form allowing for a blood transfusion in case she was, you know, bleeding out during the operation. But she said she would accept blood only from someone who hadn’t been vaccinated for COVID. The hospital said it had no idea of the vaccination status of blood donors. The patient refused to sign — that’s her choice, of course — and fortunately the operation went smoothly. Imagine if it hadn’t.

Which brings me to the strangest, saddest, most bizarre anti-vax story I’ve heard in a while. Maybe you saw it. A Colorado woman refused to be vaccinated before undergoing a kidney transplant. Her hospital says it won’t do the surgery unless she is vaccinated because the risk factor is too high. She has stage 5 kidney disease, and without a transplant, she may very well die. She says she’s looking at hospitals in other states.

And why won’t she get vaccinated? Because she says her religious beliefs, as a born-again Christian, don’t allow it. Her reasoning is that the vaccine, like many drugs, had used fetal stem cells in testing during its production. There are no stem cells in the vaccine, but they were used during research and development of the mRNA vaccines as well as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The stem cells used are many generations old, reproduced from a stem cell line that was taken from an aborted fetus as many as 50 years ago.

Do you know what other drugs use fetal stem cells in production? I didn’t, so I looked it up, and they are used in testing 30 common medicines, including these: acetaminophen, albuterol, aspirin, ibuprofen, Tylenol, Pepto Bismol, Tums, Lipitor, Senokot, Motrin, Maalox, Ex-Lax, Benadryl, Sudafed, Preparation H, Claritin, Prilosec, and Zoloft.

If you use any of those medications, you’re in the same situation as you would be in taking the vaccine. In states where hospital workers must be vaccinated, some hospitals are requiring those claiming a religious exemption to say they also don’t use any medications from that list.

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By the way, the anti-abortion Vatican says it is “morally acceptable” to receive vaccines that were based on stem cells taken from an aborted fetus. Pope Francis, who is fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine, called it “suicide” not to get vaccinated. Many other religious leaders have also said they have no problem with taking the vaccines and many are, in fact, encouraging it.

But that’s where we are today. Only 56% of Americans, including children not yet eligible, are fully vaccinated, in large part because many in the Republican Party have decided that “freedom” trumps “medical science.” Just as one example, more than 400 colleges and universities require that students and staff be vaccinated. Nearly all those 400 are in, yes, blue states. Those people who quit rather than get mandated vaccines grab the headlines, but mandates do work.

Meanwhile, as you’ve no doubt heard, Pfizer has applied for approval from the FDA for a vaccine for those ages 5 to 11. If approved, the vaccine should be ready sometime around Halloween. My 6-year-old grandson hasn’t decided on a costume yet, but assuming he’s out of quarantine, he’ll be lining up for candy and also lining up for his jab. 


Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.


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