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Correcting this week’s misinformation: week of February 22, 2024

Are unvaccinated people actually healthier?

The Claim:

In a long thread misrepresenting research about antidepressants, a known anti-vaxxer cites other research claiming that unvaccinated people are healthier than vaccinated people, in terms of allergies, neurodivergence, and eczema.

The Facts:

One refrain you often hear from anti-vaxxers is “follow the money.” So we did, and we found that this study was funded by two different anti-vaccine organizations (Generation Rescue, Inc., and the Children’s Medical Safety Research Institute). The study, which was retracted a month after it was published, relied on surveys sent out to parents of homeschooled children. They didn’t specify how many people were eligible to take the survey, but they only received 415 responses.

One concern about their methods is self-selection bias, or volunteer bias, in which participants can decide whether or not to participate in the study. Additionally, the home-schooling population is not representative of the general population, and some reasons to homeschool include a “desire to provide moral instruction” and “child has special needs” or other health problems.

Along with self-selection bias, a study design like this introduces other biases such as recall bias and reporting bias. The study itself shows that the unvaccinated group was less likely to seek medical or dental care and less likely to use medications. They might also have a different perception of illness or neurological disorders than someone from the vaccinated group.

A study this small with so many clear biases needs to be discarded (or retracted–which it was).

Has the COVID vaccine saved any lives?

The Claim:

A new rumor goes that by looking at excess deaths before, during, and since the pandemic, you can prove that COVID vaccines have never saved a single life. It goes on to claim that the vaccine actually caused 17 million deaths.

The Facts:

Straight from the author who claims that all-cause mortality during COVID was not from a “plague and a likely signature of mass homicide by government response” comes a new report that attempts to link all-cause mortality to the COVID vaccine. He ignores the idea of COVID itself causing death because he just doesn’t believe COVID causes death.

The claims rely on graphs to show that vaccine rollout corresponds to spikes in all-cause mortality, but he makes a mistake by using the one-year rolling average as a proxy for all-cause mortality. A one-year rolling average wouldn’t show the full impact of the pandemic for up to a year, as the rolling average includes deaths from pre-pandemic times.

To find where you see the vaccine rollout, you would have to check the graph up to a year later. At that point, you could see the impact of vaccination on all-cause mortality. Interestingly, the all-cause mortality dips significantly at that point on his graph.

Many studies show lower rates of mortality in those who are vaccinated for COVID than in those who are not vaccinated.

Are childhood vaccines unnecessary?

The Claim:

Environmental lawyer RFK, Jr. was interviewed and made the claim that after 1989, vaccines were only recommended by CDC to boost pharmaceutical company profits. While hib, hepatitis A, chickenpox, HPV, rotavirus, pneumococcal, meningococcal, and COVID vaccines were introduced since then, he uses the Hepatitis B birth dose as an example of a vaccine he thinks should not be recommended because it doesn’t have a population health benefit.

The Facts:

Doctors started recommending the Hepatitis B vaccine at birth because a lot of babies were being born to moms with hep B who didn’t realize they had it. Scientists think 30-40% of chronic infections come from catching it when they are born or in early childhood. And only about half of the women with hep B got identified before they had their babies.

Still today, about 25,000 newborns a year are born to a mother with a hep B infection. 90% of newborns who contract the disease become chronic carriers, which puts them at higher risk for cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Several reasons led to many children being born to mothers with hepatitis B who didn’t know they had it. Testing for hep B is more complicated than other kinds of tests. Because of this, some mothers caught hep B after they got tested during prenatal care and before they gave birth. Tests can sometimes give false negatives. Other mistakes in testing include ordering the wrong tests, misreading the results, or miscommunicating the results.

In addition to the possibility of a missed Hepatitis B infection in the mother, the Hepatitis B virus can live on surfaces for up to 7 days, including in dried blood. It can also be transmitted through bites like those in daycare or playgroup settings. Because it can live a week on surfaces, needles or bandaids discarded at city parks, etc. can also be sources of infection. It’s not a common method of transmission, but the risk is not zero either.

And while Hep B is often transmitted through sexual contact, obviously that’s not its only risk factor.

By contrast, the Hepatitis B vaccine is one of the safest, with the fewest possible side effects. The most likely side effects are just pain and soreness at the injection site, without any documented serious side effects.

If the hep B vaccine causes any serious side effects, they are extremely rare—so rare that we haven’t found any in several millions of doses. Because the vaccine is safe and there’s a risk of getting infected at birth or during infancy, we give this vaccine right at birth.

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