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Correcting this week’s misinformation: week of May 11, 2023

Flu vaccination and other respiratory ailments

The Claim:

This prolific environmental lawyer claims that flu vaccinations render a person 4.4 times more likely to get a non-influenza respiratory illness.

The Facts:

The lawyer is citing this paper to support the claims about non-influenza illness. The study has a very small sample size of 115 people, and the authors admit that the results “could be an artefactual finding,” meaning that the results could have arisen from one of several biases, including measurement or reporting bias.

In direct response, a much larger study followed 3000+ people over six influenza seasons, testing them for 19 respiratory viruses. That study concluded that “Influenza vaccination was not associated with detection of noninfluenza respiratory viruses.” Boom.

Mo' vaccine, mo' COVID?

The Claim:

computer engineer has released a video claiming that the more vaccinated against COVID a person is, the more likely they are to be sickened by COVID.

The Facts:

A computer engineer should not fall victim to a Table 2 Fallacy, but here we have such a situation.

Often, epidemiologists need to pool together data to come up with an estimate of risk–known as an adjusted effect estimate. A Table 2 Fallacy results from multiple adjusted effect estimates from a single model presented in a single table. Problems arise when different types of estimates are presented on the same table.

In this case a table presents the results of multiple doses of a vaccine. It’s important to adjust for prior vaccination doses, but we can’t then use that same adjustment to draw conclusions about the efficacy of those prior doses.

The actual results of the study conclude that “the bivalent COVID-19 vaccine booster was 30% effective in preventing infection, during the time when the virus strains dominant in the community were represented in the vaccine.” This conclusion is supported by another analysis showing that bivalent boosters had an effectiveness of 59% against hospitalization and 62% against hospitalization or death.

Retinal occlusion and spike proteins

The Claim:

tweet from a medical student claims that mRNA vaccines can cause blood vessel damage in the eyes, positing that it reflects the “toxicity of Spike protein to the entire body’s small blood vessels,” citing this new paper.

The Facts:

While it’s accurate to say that the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 can damage blood vessels, causing a condition called vascular leak, it does so in conjunction with the virus in its entirety and is not correlated with vaccination.

The paper cited in the tweet used retrospective data and looked at the incidence of retinal vascular occlusion (RVO) for two years post-vaccination. Several limitations were noted, including the concern that underprivileged populations, who are also more likely to be unvaccinated, are also less likely to seek care. Additionally, rates of COVID infection weren’t accounted for, and RVO is a known complication of COVID infection. Another study, following over 3 million people who received an mRNA COVID vaccine, found an RVO incidence of 0.003%, a rate similar to other vaccinations. No evidence of an association between newly-diagnosed RVO and COVID vaccination was found.

The original study highlighted in the tweet ends its conclusions with: “The number of reported ophthalmic complications has remained low, and vaccine-related retinal vascular occlusion is very rare, although the number of COVID-19 vaccinations is enormous…We recommend that individuals without a history of severe allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine be vaccinated to protect against COVID-19.”

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