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

Hydroxychloroquine, ivermectin, and COVID-19 vaccines

The Claim:

A tweet presents a video claiming that hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin were effective COVID-19 treatments that were not approved to treat COVID-19 because their approval would have made it illegal for the COVID-19 vaccines to receive emergency use authorization.

The Facts:

There are two problems with this claim. Let’s look at each of them in turn.

First, the claim draws a false equivalency between vaccinations and medications. Vaccines are a preventative measure used to protect people from contracting a disease. Medications (like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin) are treatments that cannot be used until after someone becomes sick with a disease. The FDA does state that a EUA may be declared “when there are no adequate, approved, and available alternatives.” Because a vaccine is preventive and Ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine are not, the approval of the two medications would not have banned the vaccine from emergency use authorization by the FDA.

Second, this claim is founded on the belief that hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin are effective treatments for COVID-19. But they are not. Studies of both medications have failed to demonstrate that either medication is effective to treat COVID-19.

Is it true that HPV rarely impacts health?

The Claim:

A tweeting lawyer claims that HPV is a sexually transmitted disease that rarely impacts health, stating that some kids would not benefit from the HPV vaccine.

The Facts:

Our tweeter is mistaken about both the health dangers of HPV and the benefits provided by vaccination. In the United States, HPV infection is extremely common; there are an estimated 14 million new cases every year. HPV is a deadly cancer-causing virus responsible for causing more than 37,000 cases of cervical, penile, anal, mouth, and throat cancers annually.

The vaccine is most effective when it is administered at 12-13 years of age, and the level of cancer protection it provides is significant. In one study, the HPV vaccine was shown to have a relative risk reduction of 87% in cervical cancer for 12-13-year-olds when compared with their unvaccinated counterparts. While some people are fearful that vaccinating for HPV will promote teenage sex, data shows that HPV vaccination does not increase sexual activity in teens. Although it’s hard to think about, it’s important to point out that even when children voluntarily abstain from sexual activity, the vaccine protects victims of nonconsensual sex from HPV infection as well.

More whack-a-mole claims about autism and vaccines

The Claim:

A tweeted video features a familiar American environmental lawyer claiming that the Hepatitis B vaccine is largely responsible for an autism epidemic.

The Facts:

Vaccines do not cause autism, but misinformation falsely claiming a link between vaccines and autism persists. First, anti-vaccine activist Wakefield published a fraudulent study that falsely claimed a link between autism and MMR. Now, a well-known anti-vaccine lawyer is claiming that thimerosal in the Hep B vaccine caused a 1995 “explosion” in autism a few years after the vaccine became widely available. Let’s review the problems with this claim.

First, studies show that thimerosal does not increase the risk of autism. In addition, thimerosal has not even been used in childhood vaccines since 2001.

Second, autism diagnoses continued to rise following the 2001 removal of thimerosal from all childhood vaccines. The continued rise of autism diagnoses is, in fact, mostly due to growing awareness and changing diagnostic criteria.

Our anti-vaxxer does allude to a study that was approved by the CDC. This study used Vaccine Safety Datalink data to evaluate the effects of thimerosal in childhood vaccines. The study identified a signal of an increase of autism, but a signal does not necessarily indicate causation between vaccination and side effects. A signal suggests a need for further study. As a cautionary measure, however, the birth dose of the Hep B vaccination was suspended until the thimerosal-free vaccine was available in 1999.

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