During a June 8, 2020, press briefing, Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organizationâ€™s technical lead for the COVID-19 pandemic, made it very clear that people who have COVID-19 without any symptoms â€œrarelyâ€� transmit the disease to others. In a dramatic about-face, WHO then backtracked on the statement just one day later.
In the video above, you can watch Van Kerkhove yourself, but she explains that in countries that are doing contact tracing, in which the contacts of infected people are traced, notified and quarantined, asymptomatic cases are being followed, and theyâ€™re not giving the disease to others:
â€œWe have a number of reports from countries who are doing very detailed contact tracing. Theyâ€™re following asymptomatic cases, theyâ€™re following contacts, and theyâ€™re not finding secondary transmission â€¦ itâ€™s very rare, and much of that is not published in the literature.
From the papers that are published, thereâ€™s one that came out from Singapore looking at a long-term care facility. There are some household transmission studies where you follow individuals over time and you look at the proportion of those that transmit onwards.
We are constantly looking at this data and trying to get more information from countries to truly answer this question. It still appears to be rare that an asymptomatic individual actually transmits onward.â€�
Ivor Cummins, biochemist and chief program officer for Irish Heart Disease Awareness, tweeted of the video:1
â€œThe WHO have spoken on #Coronavirus, based on recently published studies. Can’t say I disagree with them on this one particularly. Those with symptoms should lie low until they are okay â€” a reasonable approach just like we use for any respiratory infection season.â€�
â€˜I Wasnâ€™t Stating a Policy of WHOâ€™
June 9, 2020, Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHOâ€™s emergencies program, quickly backpedaled Van Kerkhoveâ€™s statement, saying the remarks were â€œmisinterpreted or maybe we didnâ€™t use the most elegant words to explain that.â€�2 Van Kerkhove also stated that the data she mentioned only came from a â€œsmall subset of studies,â€� and added:3
â€œI wasnâ€™t stating a policy of WHO or anything like that. I was just trying to articulate what we know. And in that, I used the phrase â€˜very rare,â€™ and I think that thatâ€™s misunderstanding to state that asymptomatic transmission globally is very rare.â€�
The â€œofficialâ€� response to the pandemic has been mired with controversies, contradictions and mix-ups, and this WHO response is no different. But when data suggest that the vast majority of COVID-19 cases may be asymptomatic,4 then suggesting that this subset of cases doesnâ€™t spread the disease is significant, and would change the recommended rhetoric regarding proper social distancing, masks and lockdowns for those without symptoms.
For instance, between March 22, 2020, and April 4, 2020, 215 pregnant women admitted to a hospital in New York City were screened on admission for symptoms of COVID-19 and tested for the virus.
Only 1.9% of the women had fever or other COVID-19 symptoms, and all of them tested positive. Of the remaining women who were tested even though they had no symptoms, 13.7% were positive. This means that, overall, 87.9% of the women who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 had no symptoms.5 At least one systematic review and meta-analysis further found that transmission among such cases may be â€œunlikely.â€�6
Asymptomatic Transmission Rates of Zero to 2.2%
A preprint systematic review and meta-analysis, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, noted, â€œThe prevalence of true asymptomatic COVID-19 cases is critical to policy makers considering the effectiveness of mitigation measures against the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.â€�7
As such, they set out to analyze all available research on rates of asymptomatic disease and transmission. Overall, they screened 998 articles from six countries that tested 21,035 at-risk people. Of them, 559 were positive and 83 were asymptomatic. In this analysis, the proportion of asymptomatic cases ranged from 4% to 41%, with a fixed effect proportion of 15%.
While four of the studies showed evidence of asymptomatic forward transmission, they â€œsuggested considerably lower rates than symptomatic cases.â€� Specifically, rates of transmission from asymptomatic cases ranged from none to 2.2%, compared to 0.8% to 15.4% for symptomatic cases.8 The researchers concluded:9
â€œEstimates of asymptomatic rate and transmission rate are vital parameters for modelling studies. Our estimates of the proportion of asymptomatic cases and their transmission rates suggest that asymptomatic spread is unlikely to be a major driver of clusters or community transmission of infection â€¦â€�
WHO Says Asymptomatic Cases Less Likely to Transmit Virus
While WHO quickly distanced itself from the notion that asymptomatic cases arenâ€™t likely to be a significant source of transmission, they stated as such in a June 5, 2020, update to guidance on the use of masks for COVID-19.
â€œComprehensive studies on transmission from asymptomatic individuals are difficult to conduct, but the available evidence from contact tracing reported by Member States suggests that asymptomatically-infected individuals are much less likely to transmit the virus than those who develop symptoms,â€� WHOâ€™s interim guidance states.10
Van Kerkhove also noted in the video that focusing on isolating symptomatic cases would lead to a drastic reduction in transmission.
“It [COVID-19] passes from an individual through infectious droplets. If we actually followed all of the symptomatic cases, isolated those cases, followed the contacts and quarantined those cases, we would drastically reduce â€” I would love to be able to give a proportion of how much transmission we would actually stop â€” but it would be a drastic reduction in transmission,” she said.
A number of health organizations also clapped back at WHOâ€™s initial statement, citing studies showing that asymptomatic patients can and do spread disease. However, even some of those studies may be misleading. In January 2020, for instance, The New England Journal of Medicine published an article suggesting the transmission of COVID-19 is possible from an asymptomatic carrier.11
The writers reported a 33-year-old businessman had met with his business partner from Shanghai between January 19 and 22, 2020. January 24, 2020, the businessman developed a fever and productive cough. The next evening, he felt better and went back to work January 27.
The writers reported the partner had been “well with no signs or symptoms of infection, but had become ill on her flight back to China, where she tested positive for 2019-nCoV on January 26.” From this case study, they theorized the virus could be transmitted from asymptomatic carriers. An important point was left out, which is that the researchers did not speak with the partner from Shanghai before publication.
However, Germany’s public health agency, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), did speak with the woman on the phone, and she reported she did have symptoms while in Germany.12 In response, the Public Health Agency of Sweden updated their website’s FAQ page with the following information:13
“The sources that claimed that the coronavirus would infect during the incubation period lack scientific support for that analysis in their articles. This applies, among other things, to an article in NEJM that has subsequently proven to contain major flaws and errors. Statements by the Chinese authorities on infectiousness during the incubation period lack sources or other data to support it.”
Walking Backward for Gatesâ€™ Vaccine
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the biggest funder of WHO, and Bill Gates, along with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID),14 are among those who have stated that life cannot return to normal until there is a vaccine against COVID-19.
â€œHumankind has never had a more urgent task than creating broad immunity for coronavirus,â€� Gates wrote on his blog in April 2020. â€œRealistically, if weâ€™re going to return to normal, we need to develop a safe, effective vaccine. We need to make billions of doses, we need to get them out to every part of the world, and we need all of this to happen as quickly as possible.â€�15
Gates has even stated he â€œsuspect[s] the COVID-19 vaccine will become part of the routine newborn immunization schedule.â€�16 In other words, a novel vaccine that alters your DNA and RNA â€” turning your body into an antigen-producing factory â€” will be given to newborns, if Gates has his way.
However, if the pandemic suddenly becomes less of a perceived threat to the public â€” such as if symptomatic cases, which are easier to spot, are the primary transmitters, or if transmission is â€œdrastically reducedâ€� just by isolating symptomatic cases and quarantining their contacts â€” the need for a vaccine becomes less obvious, and fewer people may be willing to act as guinea pigs to try out the experimental shot.
Many are not aware that, in 2017, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which was founded by the Gates Foundation in partnership with WHO, the World Bank and various vaccine manufacturers, decided to provide every child with a digital biometric identity, which would simultaneously store the childâ€™s vaccination records. Without such a system, a 100% immunization rate simply cannot be reached, Gavi CEO Seth Berkley said.
Shortly thereafter, Gavi became a founding member of the ID2020 Alliance, alongside Microsoft and the Rockefeller Foundation. In 2019, Gates developed a novel vaccine delivery method using fluorescent microdot tags â€” essentially creating an invisible â€œtattooâ€� â€” that can then be read with a modified smartphone. As reported by investigative journalist James Corbett:
â€œIt should be no surprise, then, that Big Pharma vaccine manufacturers â€” in their scramble to produce the coronavirus vaccine that, Gates assures us, is necessary to â€˜go back to normalâ€™ â€” have turned to a novel vaccine delivery method: a dissolvable microneedle array patch.
As in so many other aspects of the unfolding crisis, Gatesâ€™ unscientific pronouncement that we will need digital certificates to prove our immunity in the â€˜new normalâ€™ of the post-coronavirus world is now being implemented by a number of governments.â€�
Again, all of this grand plan hinges on the COVID-19 pandemic remaining a threat. With his call for a tracking system to keep tabs on infected/noninfected and vaccinated/unvaccinated individuals, heâ€™s ensuring an unimaginably profitable future for the vaccine makers he supports and makes money from via his Foundation investments.
So, itâ€™s not surprising that WHO walked back their statement that asymptomatic transmission of COVID-19 is â€œvery rareâ€� â€” whatâ€™s surprising is that they let it slip out in the first place.