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Correcting this week’s misinformation: week of May 9, 2024

Are thousands of vaccine injuries being ignored?

The Claim:

A New York Times article has been picked up by anti-vaccine forces and media types such as Chris Cuomo as proof that all the vaccine injuries they claim are true. But what of the claims of injuries in the Times article?

The Facts:

“Hundreds of millions of people in the United States have safely received Covid vaccines under the most intense safety monitoring in U.S. history.” the author of this article mentions, but it is buried under anecdotes that feed into the fears vaccine-hesitant and vaccine-refusers may have,  In contrast, her colleague at the NYT addresses the same subject with this article, but is more responsible when it comes to framing the concerns.

The second article states emphatically that the “benefits of the Covid vaccines have far outweighed the downsides, according to a voluminous amount of data and scientific studies from around the world,” offering up evidence that millions of lives were saved globally in just 8-12 months because of COVID vaccines. The citations also mention that these lives saved had an economic benefit of $6.5 trillion.

Some concerns brought up in the articles may be legitimate. Some however, have been looked into and found to have no evidence linking them to COVID vaccines. For example, 25% of adults experience tinnitus, so when the CDC analyzed the 16,000 tinnitus claims following vaccination, they could not link them to the vaccine. Bell’s Palsy is also not likely to be caused by the vaccine, but POTS may be a reaction so rare that you may only see it in one out of millions of people.

Vaccines, while safe and effective for the vast majority of recipients, do sometimes result in side effects–some serious. Sometimes, those who are injured–or perceive themselves to be injured–don’t feel heard by the medical establishment. There may be valid criticisms of the Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program (CICP), which covers COVID-19 vaccines, but these do not validate improperly framing the benefits and risks of vaccination.

The real issue with telling stories of people trying to figure out how to get help is that it is too early to know what caused their ailments. Once we have pointed to vaccines, the public will always be suspicious, even if we find the cause elsewhere.

Do flu and shingles vaccines cause pericarditis?

The Claim:

tweet by optical mouse inventor Steve Kirsch promotes the idea that the CDC admits that flu, shingles, and COVID vaccines can all cause pericarditis that lead to death.

The Facts:

We can forgive someone used to the world of tech for being new to vaccines and medicine. Do we have evidence that anyone investigated flu or shingles vaccines in relation to pericarditis? Here is an article back from 2000 discussing the possibility of pericarditis after flu vaccination and additional case reports and articles from 2018. These case reports, of course, are not proof of causation, but they are proof that no one is hiding anything.

The tweet cites an article from the Epoch Times, a far-right media company rated “Unreliable, Problematic” and affiliated with the Falun Gong religious movement, the same religious movement connected to the Shen Yun dance troupe. The article is based on a reply from the CDC regarding an FOIA request by Epoch Times. The website does not supply the letter in their article, so it is difficult to know what the facts are.

It’s notable that in his next tweet, Kirsch claims that all cases of pericarditis are caused by COVID vaccines, so he does not seem to be too concerned about flu or shingles vaccines. His proof is VAERS, and we know that anyone can submit a report to VAERS. VAERS is helpful for keeping track of vaccine safety, but just because something is reported doesn’t mean the vaccine caused it.

The most pertinent warning on the website helps put the above claims into context: “VAERS reports may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable. Reports to VAERS can also be biased. As a result, there are limitations on how the data can be used scientifically. Data from VAERS reports should always be interpreted with these limitations in mind.”

Are unvaccinated children healthier?

The Claim:

The old claims are never gone. Once again, anti-vaxxers claim that unvaccinated children are less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, allergies, asthma, chronic sinusitis, ear infections, eczema, GI disorders, learning disabilities, seizures, and eye or speech disorders.

The Facts:

The tweet starts out strong by claiming that “Vaccine safety research is forbidden and our government will not release its safety data,” yet you can find hundreds of research articles addressing vaccine safety here.

Anti-vaxxers that unvaccinated children are healthier than vaccinated children in myriad ways. They often cite some studies to try to back up those claims. However, all these studies suffer from a lot of the same fallacies. Many are simple surveys.

Surveys are often victims of self-selection bias, or volunteer bias, in which participants can decide whether or not to participate in the study, along with recall bias and reporting bias.

One refrain you often hear from anti-vaxxers is “Follow the money.” So we did, and we found one study funded by two different anti-vaccine organizations (Generation Rescue, Inc., and the Children’s Medical Safety Research Institute). This study was eventually retracted. Twice.

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