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Correcting this week’s misinformation: week of February 16, 2023

Video claims and vaccine safety

The Claim:

A Twitter account posts a video as “evidence” that doctors across the United States are warning the world that COVID vaccines are too dangerous to take.

The Facts:

The individuals in this video do not represent the majority of doctors in the United States who confidently vaccinate their patients to protect them from COVID-19. Instead, the video showcases four physicians who are recognized for spreading misinformation and opposing COVID vaccines. Several are under review by governing medical boards. A look into the background of each of these individuals is informative.

One of the showcased physicians is well-known for touting Ivermectin as a cure for COVID. He spreads mistrust with claims that vaccines are toxic, ineffective, and driven by corporate interests. Meanwhile, he runs a private, fee-based telehealth service to evaluate and treat patients with alternative treatments and sells his book about Ivermectin.

Another doctor appearing in the video is in danger of losing his medical license. His license is currently under investigation as the result of his false and misleading statements about COVID. He claims that a journal-published paper showed that mRNA vaccines caused cancer and autoimmune issues. However, the lead author of that paper states that there is no evidence for these claims.

A third video-featured doctor’s medical certifications are also under review. The American Board of Internal Medicine has threatened to revoke his credentials based on his public statements spreading false and inaccurate information.

The statements of the remaining individual in this video are also unsubstantiated by medical evidence. His claims of fertility damage caused by vaccines have been refuted as factually inaccurate, inadequately supported, and lacking appropriate context.

Cervical cancer and HPV vaccine

The Claim:

A well-known American environmental lawyer tweets that the Gardasil HPV vaccine increases cervical cancer risks in vaccinated age groups just as COVID vaccines raise the risk of COVID.

The Facts:

RFK Jr. is known for promoting anti-vaccine propaganda and conspiracy theories unsubstantiated by scientific evidence. These claims about HPV and COVID vaccines are no exception. Studies demonstrate that HPV vaccine has dramatically reduced cervical cancer in vaccinated women just as COVID vaccines reduced the risk of dying from COVID.

A compelling Swedish study of 1.7 million women demonstrates an almost 90% reduction in cervical cancer rates in the vaccinated population versus the unvaccinated population. RFK Jr. discounts the Swedish study because it is an observational study, and not a randomized controlled trial (RCT). He claims that only RCTs can adequately negate the potential bias of retrospective or observational studies. Although he is correct that inherent bias is an issue, it is an issue for every type of study—including RCTs. All three types of studies are vulnerable to inherent bias, but steps can be taken to assess and avoid bias.

RFK Jr.’s objections to the Swedish study are not compelling. He tries to suggest that the drastic cervical cancer reduction might be merely the result of HPV-vaccinated women being generally healthier than unvaccinated women. The authors of the study disagree; they attribute the significantly reduced risk of cervical cancer to HPV vaccination.

In addition to claiming that the HPV vaccine fails to prevent cervical cancer, RFK Jr. suggests that HPV-vaccinated populations engage in riskier sexual behavior. He tries to argue that his “riskier behavior” belief supports his claim that the HPV vaccine is correlated with higher rates of cervical cancer. But his belief is not supported by data. In fact, studies have shown that HPV vaccination is not associated with riskier sexual behavior.

Children and COVID-19 risks

The Claim:

An outspoken political figure tweets that the CDC should remove the COVID vaccine from the recommended child and adolescent immunization schedule because children aren’t at risk for COVID.

The Facts:

Although children are at lower risk of COVID-19 death and complications than other age groups, they are still at risk, despite what COVID minimizers claim.

Worldwide, COVID has caused more than 17,000 deaths in people under the age of 20. In the United States alone, COVID is responsible for the deaths of 1,600 children.

Children’s risk of long COVID or MIS-C are even more concerning. One meta-analysis found that up to 25% of children and adolescents who get COVID experience long-term effects from COVID. In the United States, there are almost 10,000 children with cases of MIS-C resulting in 76 additional deaths. COVID vaccination of children lowers the risk of these COVID complications. A recent study showed that COVID vaccination reduces the risk of MIS-C by 91% in children between the ages of 12 and 18.

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