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Correcting this week’s misinformation: week of November 30, 2023

Is COVID-19 vaccination killing everyone?

The Claim:

In a Tweet so poorly written that it is nearly funny, a tech millionaire perhaps asserts that 94% of people over 65 in the UK have died. The article he links to asserts that 94% of COVID deaths were in those who had received four doses of COVID vaccines.

The Facts:

Over 11 million people were 65 years old in the UK in 2021. Have over 9 million of them died without the world noticing? No. And the article he references also does not make that assertion.

So let’s tackle the assertion from the article: that 94% of COVID deaths were among the double-boosted.

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.

Are RSV vaccines related to poor birth outcomes?

The Claim:

guy with a website claims that the RSV vaccine, when given during pregnancy, causes prematurity and preterm death in babies and should never have been approved by the FDA.

The Facts:

This article begins with a claim that “[t]he incidence or prevalence of RSV is not known precisely because it poses no danger to anyone.” They cite this article to assert that only 17 infants die per year due to RSV.

However, this claim counts those deaths where RSV is a primary contributing cause and ignores RSV as an “underlying contributing cause of death.” The underlying cause on a death certificate is the very first thing that happened in the series of causal events leading to someone’s death. As such, RSV is still a cause of death.

The article cites Dr. Paul Offit and his purported concern about an increased risk of premature birth in the vaccinated participants and a decreased risk in the placebo group.

If you listen to Dr. Offit himself, however, he observes that the initial signal 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.

Does thimerosal in flu vaccines cause brain damage?

The Claim:

Twitter guy claims that thimerosal in mutli-dose vials of flu vaccines causes brain damage, such as ADHD, tics, and autism, and that for reasons people end up on anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication.

The Facts:

We know a lot now about thimerosal. Thimerosal, a mercury compound used today in some flu vaccines, has caused concern due to its name being confused with a harmful type of mercury. Thimerosal contains ethylmercury, which is safe and quickly leaves the body. It’s different from harmful methylmercury found in some fish. Thimerosal has been used safely in vaccines, drugs, and contact solutions since the 1930s. Nowadays, most vaccines use single-use vials, and thimerosal-free vaccines are available for those still concerned.

To drum up concerns, vaccine opponents have to travel back in time and make dull government meetings look nefarious. Such is the case with Simpsonwood.

The 2000 Simpsonwood CDC conference was a two-day meeting organized by the CDC to discuss data from the Vaccine Safety Datalink regarding the possible link between the mercury compound thimerosal in vaccines and neurological issues in vaccinated children. Attendees included experts in various fields, public health organizations, and pharmaceutical companies.

The conference gained notoriety in the anti-vaccination movement when RFK Jr. wrote an article in 2005 alleging a conspiracy to withhold vaccine safety information. However, the article contained numerous factual errors, leading to its retraction.

In 2007, the Senate HELP Committee reviewed the allegations against the CDC and found they had mostly no merit. It was found that the CDC did not interfere with vaccine safety studies, and the review groups did not rely on manipulated studies.

Four other allegations were also not substantiated, including claims that the CDC convened the Simpsonwood Conference to cover up findings, pressured Dr. Thomas Verstraeten to change his findings, hid the Vaccine Safety Datalink, or organized public health organizations to hide a link between vaccines and autism. And we know that vaccines do not cause autism.

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