Here’s the latest attempt to give air to claims that something else besides Covid-19 killed all those who died from, you know, Covid-19. Social media accounts have been sharing a post on a website called the People’s Voice entitled, “Official Report: Ventilators Killed Nearly ALL COVID Patients.” But this “Official Report” posting was not official, not from the voice of all the people, and not grounded in any real science. That’s a lot of nots.
Instead, the posting twisted the findings of a study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation on April 27, 2023, as if it were a gigantic knot. That study did not say that “Nearly all Covid-19 patients who died in hospital during the early phase of the pandemic were killed as a direct result of being put on a ventilator, a disturbing new report has concluded,” as the posting claimed. That study also did not say, “ A new analysis suggests that most patients who were forced to be hooked up to a ventilator due to a Covid-19 infection also developed secondary bacterial pneumonia,” as the posting asserted. No, the study was not all about whether ventilators killed patients with Covid-19.
Instead, the study was all about VAP. VAP is short for ventilator-associated pneumonia. VAP is defined as a lung infection that develops after a person has been on a ventilator for more than 48 hours. The longer someone remains on a ventilator the greater the chance that he or she will develop VAP. That’s because there's some bacteria in this house, so to speak. The ventilator tube that goes a person’s throat can essentially serve as an escalator for these bacteria to travel down into that person’s lungs. Once in the lungs, this bacteria can cause an infection, which is what pneumonia is.
So, this study aimed to determine the importance of properly treating VAP. For the study, a team from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine followed what happened to 585 patients with severe pneumonia and respiratory failure. When someone suffers respiratory failure, typically a ventilator is needed to help that person breathe. That’s because breathing is kind of important, and by definition, respiratory failure means that you can no longer breathe on your own. Otherwise, it would be called respiratory pass or something like that. It’s not as if doctors tell patients, “You’re breathing fine on your own but let me shove this breathing tube down your throat.”
Oh, and by the way, this wasn’t a Covid-19 specific study either. Of the 585 patients, 190 of them had been diagnosed with Covid-19. Again the focus was on VAP. VAP, VAP, VAP, VAP. And how successfully versus unsuccessfully treating VAP may be associated with a patient’s chances of dying. The team from Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine used CarpeDiem, a machine learning approach, to comb through electronic health record data to help answer this question.
They found that developing VAP in general was not associated with a higher likelihood of death. However, when doctors were not able to successfully treat VAP, patients had a significantly higher (76.4% versus 17.6%) probability of dying. That shouldn’t be super surprising since if given the choice between your pneumonia being successfully treated versus not, you’d probably take the former.
This study did not evaluate what would have happened had those with Covid-19 and respiratory failure not have been placed on ventilators. That would have been a bit like evaluating what would have happened had drowning people not been saved by lifeguards. When someone truly has respiratory failure, you don’t have a whole lot of options since, again, breathing is kind of important. Of course, respiratory failure is not the only reason why patients may be placed on ventilators. For example, a patient may be undergoing anesthesia or sedation or may be seemingly close to suffering respiratory failure.
Regardless, there’s no evidence that ventilators have been responsible for all, most, or even a significant number of the 1,131,439 reported Covid-19-related deaths in the U.S. since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Rather ventilators have probably saved a number of lives throughout the course of the Covid-19 pandemic.
This seems to be yet another attempt to claim that the Covid-19 pandemic wasn’t as bad as it was and that the U.S. government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic wasn’t as bad as it was. A number of politicians, personalities, and social media accounts may try to turn Covid-19 data into a knot. But that’s not going to bring those people back or change all the suffering that’s been caused by the U.S. not properly containing the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).