Does Vice President Pence Have Pink Eye? Here’s What You May Have Seen During The Debate



People on social media seemed to notice two things about Vice President Mike Pence’s appearance during his debate with Senator Kamala Harris on Wednesday night. Both of these things rhyme with moon pie.

One was a fly. During the debate a fly treated Pence’s head as if it were Dulles International Airport. The insect landed on Pence’s head as this photo showed:

Then the fly taxied, perhaps refueled, and eventually took off again. It’s not clear whether the fly did any reconnaissance while in Pence’s hair. All the time, Pence did not flinch or even seem to notice the fly. The fly did not respond directly to any of the moderator’s questions, which wasn’t too different from what the two main debaters did at times during the televised debate at the University of Utah.

The fly quickly got attention on social media. In fact, it even seemed to spawn a bunch of new Twitter accounts. For example, Mike Pence’s Fly (@MikePenceFly___) has already accumulated 76.6K Followers and tweeted the following video:

Then there’s the @MichaelsFly account that quickly pulled in 14.9K followers, bears the description “Living rent free on Mike Pence’s head since 2020,” and tweeted this:

The second thing that social media noticed was Pence’s eye:

People on Twitter pointed out that Pence’s left eye seemed to have reddish hue. More specifically the normally white parts of his eye appeared to have some redness. Of course, those parts of your eye is not supposed that color, unless, of course, you tried to squirt some ketchup on your hot dog and badly missed. Some speculated that the redness may have been from conjunctivitis:

Now, conjunctivitis has nothing to do with the use of conjunctions. Conjunctions are connecting words such as “but” and “and,” “thank you for your question, but I am now going to answer the question that I want to answer.” Conjunctivitis is when your conjunctiva gets inflamed or swollen. The word conjunctiva may sounds a bit like naughty parts, but it’s not. It is that very thin and transparent tissue layer that covers the white part of your eye and extends across the inner surface of your eyelid. People often call conjunctivitis by the more colloquial term “pink eye.” There are many possible causes of pink eye, both infectious and non-infectious. Nevertheless, one potential cause seemed to be on a number of Twitterers minds:

Indeed, I did write for Forbes back in April that conjunctivitis is a possible symptom of a Covid-19 coronavirus infection. The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV2) can cause various eye issues. Covid-19 has to be a concern for Pence since so far at least 27 people in President Donald Trump’s inner circle have tested positive for the Covid-19 coronavirus recently. And presumably, Trump’s inner circle still includes his Vice President Pence. But you can never know for sure.

Regardless, in medicine, one should never diagnose from afar. Actually, correction, one should typically refrain from diagnosing from afar. There are situations where the diagnosis is fairly obvious. For example, if you see from afar a pig run over a person, there’s a good chance that any subsequent injuries to the person would have been pig-induced. Or if someone’s arm were to fall off, you can probably say that the person’s arm just fell off. Such situations are the exceptions rather than the rule.

In the case with Pence, don’t jump to conclusions. There are many reasons why Pence’s eye may have appeared reddish. First of all, was it really red? The lighting and television can do funny things. People often don’t appear the same on camera as they do in real life. Some celebrities like Zack Galifianakis and SpongeBobSquarePants reportedly look very different in person.

OK, assuming that Pence’s eye was really red, you still can’t tell from a distance whether he actually had conjunctivitis. How do you know that it was the conjunctiva that was inflamed or swollen? Inflammation in other parts of the eye can lead to eye redness as well.

In general, the list of possible causes of eye redness is very long. Here are just some of the possibilities:

  1. Foreign body or substance: In this case, foreign doesn’t mean something from another country like Russia. It means anything that doesn’t normally belong in the eye like dust, make-up, bedazzling rhinestones, a contact lens, or a ham sandwich. Without knowing things like Pence’s bedazzling habits, you cannot rule this out as a possibility.
  2. Injury: The larger or sharper the foreign object, the more likely it is to cause damage versus just irritation. For example, a bowling ball in the eye may cause more of an emergency than a piece of dust.
  3. Crying: Say, for example, during the debate Pence thought about the scene from the Twilight series when Bella was writing the goodbye letter to Edward. Yeah, that scene’s a real tear-jerker. Of course, it may be unusual to cry from only one eye.
  4. Dry eyes: Tears would have helped if Pence had dry eyes. Maybe he didn’t have time to put enough eyedrops in his eye to keep it moist.
  5. Medications: On the flip side, eyedrops themselves can cause redness.
  6. Allergies: Lots of things can cause allergic reactions. Heck even flies can.
  7. Blepharitis: This may sound like what you say when someone sneezes. But it occurs when the small oil glands around your eyelashes get clogged.
  8. Broken blood vessels in the eye: These may be painless and will clear up eventually.
  9. Eyelid turned inwardly or outwardly: This is not a metaphysical thing but when your eyelid actually curls a different direction, which in turn can either leave parts of eye exposed and thus more open to irritation or lead to your eyelid running your eyeball too much.
  10. Glaucoma: Glaucoma does take time to develop so it’s less likely to be a short term cause of eye redness.
  11. Inflammatory or autoimmune disease: Examples include sarcoidosis, ankylosing spondylitis, systemic lupus erythematosus or Crohn’s disease.
  12. A range of different infections: Covid-19 is certainly not the only possible infectious cause of a red eye. There are, for example, staphylococcus infections, herpes, cat-scratch disease, syphilis, toxoplasmosis and tuberculosis.

Ultimately, the only way to tell for sure what was causing Pence’s left eye to appear reddish would be for a qualified doctor to examine his eye in person and not from afar. Diagnosing him with Covid-19 would require at actual Covid-19 coronavirus test. So while it may seem tempting to guess what Pence may have, only time and real medical exams and tests can tell. Guessing from afar can be like determining whether someone is marriage material from a Tinder profile.

On the other hand, chances are the thing on Pence’s head was probably a fly or at least some kind of insect with the ability to fly. Sure, it could have been some kind of sophisticated drone from the Space Force. But don’t bet your moon pies on that.


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