Respected scientist is on the front lines in the war against fake news and misinformation

In the world of fake news, misinformation and confusion between opinion and fact, it is always difficult to know who to trust. 

Dr Emily Grossman

Dr Emily Grossman, a science communicator who has spent years taking difficult to understand science and transforming it into language that normal people can understand, is making it her duty to cut through the pseudoscience and misunderstanding and fighting for the one thing that we can know to be true - observable facts.

Emily recently moved from London to Totnes and has a background to rival anyone in her field. She has a Double First Class Degree in Natural Sciences from Cambridge University and PhD in molecular biology and genetics. She has worked to translate 'science talk' into plain English, and this has led her to work with BBC News, Sky News, The Guardian, The Science Museum and The Royal Institution, as well as being the resident science expert on various mainstream TV shows. 

She has a Double First Class Degree in Natural Sciences from Cambridge University and PhD in molecular biology and genetics

She has written several best-selling children's books that explain science facts in a fun and engaging way. If that isn't enough to prove that she really knows her stuff, you can check out the rest of her credentials on her website.  

Coronavirus - stock image


Emily recently answered some questions in the Totnes Pulse [questions she has allowed us to reprint here] but she will update the original link with more information as time goes on, so keep an eye on it. 

(TL/DR) The main takeaways are:

  • The pandemic is very real – 85,000 more people died in 2020 than the average for the previous 5 years
  • Young, fit and healthy people can get very sick from Covid-19 too, and are in fact more likely to suffer from long-lasting and recurring symptoms (“long Covid”)
  • You can pass on the virus even if you don’t have symptoms
  • Masks DO make a difference – and they are NOT damaging to health
  • Lockdown is working
  • The only real long-term way out of the pandemic is the vaccine

One of the questions that we have seen flying around social media is how do we know that the people who the media say died within 28 days of having a positive Covid test actually died OF Covid?

How do we know that the people who the media say died within 28 days of having a positive Covid test actually died OF Covid?

Emily explained: "That’s a good question. It actually turns out that this method used by the Government to estimate Covid deaths (as reported in the media) is an underestimation of the number of deaths due to Covid-19, not an overestimation. The number of people who died OF the virus is actually a little higher than the figures we’ve been told.

"You see, it can often take quite a long time for the actual cause of death to be determined by autopsy and registered on someone’s death certificate. The Office for National Statistics keeps a record of this, and you can find those numbers for 2020 on this ONS chart here. Column E shows the number of people who died WITH Covid-19 each week, whilst column F shows the number of people who died OF Covid-19 each week, as determined by autopsy.

"But because this method of determining the cause of death takes so long, the Government uses a proxy measurement of 'deaths within 28 days of having a positive Covid-19 test' as a quick and easy estimation of daily coronavirus deaths. (It is important to realise that this is NOT the same as column E from the ONS data, which shows the numbers of deaths with Covid-19 regardless of when they had received a positive test.)

But because this method of determining the cause of death takes so long, the Government uses a proxy measurement of 'deaths within 28 days of having a positive Covid-19 test' as a quick and easy estimation of daily coronavirus deaths

"The time frame of 28 days was chosen because, if we use a longer one, too many people end up being included in the estimation who didn’t actually die from Covid-19, but if we use a shorter one, too many people get missed out who actually DID die from Covid-19 – but whose positive test had been received too long before their death to count.

"Looking at the figures in column F from the ONS chart (actual deaths due to Covid-19) and comparing them to the figures used by the Government and reported in the media, it’s clear that 'deaths within 28 days of receiving a positive Covid-19 test' is actually an underestimate of the number of people who actually died OF Covid-19.

Comparing them to the figures used by the Government and reported in the media, it’s clear that 'deaths within 28 days of receiving a positive Covid-19 test' is actually an underestimate of the number of people who actually died OF Covid-19

"This article does a god job of explaining why it’s really hard to get actual numbers of people who died of Covid-19."

Covid-19 Vaccines - stock image

When it comes to the vaccines, Emily explained they have gone through "extensive testing for safety and efficacy" and it was able to be approved so quickly due to the "urgency of the situation" and the "huge amounts of money, resources and time" that were focused on it. 

Some people have been worried about a couple of studies that have shown health implications for the vaccine, but Emily explained why that isn't anything to worry about.  She said: "Science is about consensus. Even a handful of individual studies that contradict the consensus can seem scary, especially if you only read those. However, scientific consensus is considered to have been achieved when a very high percentage of studies have all arrived at the same result. 

Science is about consensus. Even a handful of individual studies that contradict the consensus can seem scary, especially if you only read those

"In the case of the vaccine, the overwhelming scientific consensus is that the vaccine is safe, and that the chance of any serious side-effects is absolutely minuscule. You’ve got more chance of being hit by a bus. On the other hand, the number of people who the vaccine will protect from getting severe Covid symptoms, or dying, will be absolutely enormous. 

The overwhelming scientific consensus is that the vaccine is safe, and that the chance of any serious side-effects is absolutely minuscule. You’ve got more chance of being hit by a bus

"Indeed, we’ve already vaccinated nearly five million people in the UK, and there have been very few credible reports of adverse effects – other than a mild fever, tiredness and slight muscle aches for a day or so, which is exactly what we would expect after any vaccine.

But what about those people who died in Norway, should you be worried about those? Emily said: "At the time of this report, Norway had vaccinated more than 42,000 people. The 23 elderly people that died had serious underlying medical conditions and no link has been found to the vaccine. It’s sad, but not a reason to be unduly concerned. See this article, from the British Medical Journal, for more info. 

With stories about the delay in people getting the second dose of the vaccine, Emily said that a delay of more than three weeks is "unlikely to have an impact on its effectiveness", at least for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, and that all the vaccines "will not only stop you getting Covid-19, but will significantly reduce your chances of passing it on to anyone else, and inadvertently causing their death", which is why even young and healthy people should also take it when it is offered to them. 

All the vaccines will not only stop you getting Covid-19, but will significantly reduce your chances of passing it on to anyone else, and inadvertently causing their death

Will delaying the second dose might give the virus a chance to mutate. Is this a worry?

Emily said: "Yes, this is indeed a possibility, but thankfully not a strong one. The virus will mutate the longer it is in circulation, so the quicker we get rid of it the better – and the vaccine is our best hope of doing that."

Should you have the vaccine if you have severe allergic reactions (anaphylactic shock) to certain food stuffs? In this case, Emily said the best person to ask is your GP. Your GP will know your history and will only offer it to you if it’s safe for you. In the meantime, this link might help. 

Does Vitamin D help in the fight against Covid-19? 

Emily advised that taking 2,000-4,000 IU per day of Vitamin D – that’s 10x the RDA – is "likely to reduce your chance of getting the virus". She says it’s "perfectly safe" at those levels, as long as you’re a healthy adult with no contraindications, and 4,000 IU is "far less than you’d get from sunbathing on a warm summer’s day". 

Taking 2,000-4,000 IU per day of Vitamin D – that’s 10x the RDA – is likely to reduce your chance of getting the virus

In 'real money', 4,000 IU per day which is 100 micrograms. Kids aged 0-3 need 1,000 IU per day, (25 micrograms), and kids aged 3-adult need 2,000 IU per day (50 micrograms).

Dr Grossman will be updating this link, with more questions and answers as they come up. You can also follow her on Facebook or on Twitter, we are now! 

Thank you Emily, for helping in the fight against dangerous fake news.  

- Sam Acourt, Editor

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