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Correcting this week’s misinformation: week of December 28, 2023

2023 in Review, Part Two

We bring 2023 to a close with you by reviewing your favorite Just the Facts stories of the year in this two-part series (see part 1 here). These stories were chosen by counting up the most-clicked links of the year.

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Did HPV vaccines in India cause harm?

The Claim:

A conspiracy theory that was popular this year centered around the HPV vaccine introduction in India and the Gates Foundation’s relationship with the Indian Parliament.

The Facts:

Between 2006-2011, PATH, a public health nonprofit funded by the Gates Foundation, conducted HPV vaccination programs in 4 low- to middle-income countries, including India, to guide future cervical cancer prevention program planning. These were neither clinical nor safety trials, as the video making the claims suggests since the HPV vaccine had been approved in India in 2008.

The video also makes an unsubstantiated claim that many of the 24,000 girls vaccinated in India were seriously injured, from seizures to cancer itself. It does not cite any credible sources or detail documented instances.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in New Delhi suspended the project in 2010 after the deaths of 7 girls following the vaccine. However, 5 of those deaths were completely unrelated to the vaccine (drowning, snake bite, pesticides, and malaria), and the other two were unlikely related to the vaccine.

Allegations by a parliamentary panel that oversees India’s health ministry were that the project had breached medical ethics and violated Indian regulations on clinical trials, as these deaths were not investigated by PATH. Since “clinical trials had already established the safety of HPV vaccines through clinical trials and the vaccine had been approved in India in 2008, they were not collecting safety data at the time. The disagreement may have opened the door to anti-vaccine claims.

HPV causes the deaths of nearly 73,000 women by cervical cancer in India each year.

What about excess deaths?

The Claim:

The claims of a U.S. Senator known for berating scientists during public hearings sent you clicking this year when he claimed that no healthy people have died from COVID, but the vaccine carries a 28 times higher risk for myocarditis than the disease among young people.

The Facts:

COVID kills, even young, healthy people. And death isn’t even the only severe outcome of COVID. Long COVID, can impact between 4-25% of children and young adults as well.

Second, while one study did find that rates of myocarditis was higher in males under 40 after vaccination than after COVID infection, the authors of the paper pointed out that COVID-induced myocarditis had a much higher risk of heart failure or death than vaccine-induced myocarditis did.

CDC data shows that myocarditis is more common after infection than vaccination for teen and young adult males.

Can cancer patients get flu vaccines?

The Claim:

Anecdotes are always the most difficult scare tactics to debunk, and one claim that a child with cancer was vaccinated without parental consent was popular.

The Facts:

While it is not necessary for providers to receive signed informed consent before vaccination, they do, by law, need to provide the patient or their guardian with a Vaccine Information Statement. The claims that the child received a vaccine without consent make this entire story seem fictitious.

Some vaccines are perfectly safe for cancer patients, while others should be avoided. The two main types of vaccines at play are inactivated (killed) vaccines or vaccines containing live but weakened viruses. People with cancer or a weakened immune system should generally avoid vaccines with live viruses, as their immune systems may have trouble fighting even weakened viruses, leading to severe infections.

The American Cancer Society suggests that providers can recommend safe vaccines, and family members and caregivers should also consult their doctors about vaccinations.

For people with cancer, receiving the annual inactive flu shot is crucial due to the flu’s potential severity; however, they should steer clear of the nasal mist flu vaccine as it contains a live virus. Family members and caregivers should opt for the flu shot to safeguard themselves and those at high risk, unless the person with cancer has an extremely weakened immune system or resides in a germ-protected area, in which case they should not receive the nasal mist vaccine. Seek personalized advice from your doctor.

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