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Correcting this week’s misinformation: week of January 4, 2024

Are RSV vaccines safe during pregnancy?

The Claim:

A director of a misinformed documentary film is pushing the claim that pharmaceutical companies knew RSV vaccines could cause pre-term birth, but pushed the FDA to approve them nonetheless and for obvious nefarious reasons.

The Facts:

As a member of the FDA advisory committee, Dr. Paul Offit was directly involved in these discussions. During a publicly available webinar, Dr. Offit observed that an initial safety signal concerning pre-term birth appeared only in lower- and middle-income countries. But in those places, the presence of an additional vaccine is not linked to an increase in prematurity rates in the vaccine group.

Instead, there is a clear decrease in prematurity rates in the placebo group. Individuals in the placebo group were more likely to have received a COVID-19 or flu vaccine, reducing the risk of prematurity from those diseases.

This particular tweet goes on to make claims that pregnant people are also dying after receiving the RSV vaccine. The linked article, however, makes no mention of what, if any, vaccines were given to the pregnant woman who is the subject of the writing. Instead, the tweeter is using scare tactics by attempting to tie these events together.

Do vaccines cause Long COVID?

The Claim:

The inventor of the optical mouse claims that COVID vaccines are tied to Long COVID.

The Facts:

What the study found regarding prior vaccines came with some important discussion points. First, the authors pointed out that this tie to vaccines could, in part, be due to survivorship bias: those who didn’t receive vaccines were less likely to survive their infections, and, as dead people, could not participate in these studies.

The collider bias, the concept that a third factor that was not controlled for could affect the outcome, could also impact these data, “since the sample included only COVID-19 positive tested patients who accessed the hospital (healthcare workers included).”  The third factor, in this case, is that people who go to the hospital are more likely to seek out medical care, such as going to the doctor for a vaccination.

The study itself also talks about how most other studies show a negative association between COVID-19 vaccination and Long COVID, including a study of 13 million people that shows a decrease in Long COVID risk after vaccination, even if only a slight one.

Do vaccines start a five month countdown to death?

The Claim:

A noted conspiracy theorist who believes the British royal family to be lizard people now claims that 52,500 British people have died from the COVID vaccine and that once you receive the vaccine, you have five months left to live. Which is a surprise to those of us who were vaccinated three years ago and are still alive.

The Facts:

The Office of National Statistics (ONS), where this data originated, shows that since COVID boosters became available in September 2021, monthly mortality rates for COVID-19 have consistently been lower for individuals who received a third dose or booster in the last 21 days compared to those who are unvaccinated or have only received one or two doses. Similar trends are seen for those who received a fourth dose or an extra booster in the spring 2022.

The claimant falls into the trap of the base-rate fallacy: when a person ignores the probability that someone is vaccinated in the first place. For example, by the end of August 2022, over 93.6% of all people 12 years and up have had at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. The vaccination rate was even higher among those who are both older and more likely to die from COVID infection.

Comparing the raw numbers of COVID cases rather than the rate of COVID infection by vaccine status, it seems there are more cases in the vaccinated population than in the unvaccinated population. But that is one way to make the numbers lie. The rate of infection, or what proportion of people died from COVID,  shows that you are much more likely to catch (and die) from COVID if you are unvaccinated.

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