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Correcting this week’s misinformation: week of June 29, 2023

What killed Óscar Cabrera?

The Claim:

The recent death of Óscar Cabrera Adames, a basketball player, has some speculating that the COVID vaccine he received more than a year earlier caused myocarditis which led to the heart attack that killed him.

The Facts:

Óscar Cabrera Adames collapsed in 2021 during a basketball game, after which he took to Twitter and claimed a subsequent diagnosis of myocarditis caused by COVID vaccination.

The COVID vaccine can indeed cause myocarditis, but we don’t know what caused his collapse, what caused Cabrera Adames’ case of myocarditis, or if he even had myocarditis. We also don’t know if he had previous COVID infections. Did he have a previous condition that could lead to myocarditis and sudden cardiac death? We don’t know.

He died in June 2023, more than 18 months after the initial collapse, reportedly during a stress test. The cause of death hasn’t yet been determined, myocarditis or otherwise.

Myocarditis after COVID vaccine tends to resolve within three months, and according to the Cleveland Clinic, a regular stress test isn’t usually given to someone with myocarditis. So while this event was tragic, we need to wait for an autopsy to know more.

It is also important to note that while the COVID vaccine can cause myocarditis, it is quite rare, and the risk of developing myocarditis after vaccination is much less than the risk of developing myocarditis after COVID infection.

Are aluminum adjuvants safe?

The Claim:

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices discussed last week a recent study that suggested that the aluminum in childhood vaccines is causing asthma.

The Facts:

Admittedly, this study does show a positive association between aluminum in vaccines given before the age of two was found and developing childhood asthma between the ages of 2 of 5. However, it is a retrospective study that generally cannot establish a causal relationship between a risk factor (aluminum in vaccines) and an observed outcome (asthma). You can’t assume, based on this study, that vaccines caused the observed asthma.

Retrospective studies look back on data collected before the study was designed. Data that would have the potential to impact the observed outcome may not have been collected as it would have in a prospective study.

Let’s consider a few items concerning the results of this study.  Young children have many opportunities for aluminum exposure. Aluminum is the third most abundant element on earth and is present in many of the foods we eat, in much higher quantities than found in vaccines. Any aluminum injected from vaccines is metabolized in the body, and the vast majority of it is excreted within weeks.

Retrospective studies are very good at finding associations that need further exploration and testing. Now that a positive correlation has aluminum and asthma has been identified, further studies with different study designs need to be conducted to determine what may actually be causing the increase in asthma. No study at this point, including this one, has suggested that vaccines are the cause of increases in childhood asthma rates.

This study does show that the CDC takes vaccine safety very seriously and that our monitoring systems work.

Did COVID vaccines save lives?

The Claim:

While saving lives seems an obvious outcome of our COVID vaccination efforts, some Twitter folk are getting attention by claiming that a better look at the numbers shows that no lives were saved.

The Facts:

These claims were not published in peer-reviewed journals. If they had been peer reviewed, the reviewers would have flagged their interesting take on calculating vaccine effectiveness in preventing death. They begin their calculation with the premise of the “‘healthy vaccinee’ bias,” or the idea that “People who are not vaccinated are, on average, less healthy than their vaccinated counterparts, and therefore have higher mortality in general.” Contrary to this assumption, people with underlying health conditions are usually targeted to receive vaccines first.

It’s also of note that unvaccinated people somehow managed to experience the majority of those deaths during the peaks of COVID activity, as seen here.

Another mistaken assumption is thinking that all the deaths they see are because of the vaccine since they assume that only healthy people are getting vaccinated. But COVID itself contributed to the increase in all causes of death since it can cause damage even after the initial sickness, leading to deaths from heart attacks and strokes.

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