Canadian COVID-19 study that turned out to be false has spread like wildfire among anti-vaccines

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Inaccurate Canadian study suggesting extremely high rate of heart inflammation after COVID-19 vaccines withdrawn due to major mathematical error – but not before it has spread like wildfire on anti-virus websites -vaccination and social media.

The preprint study, which was published by researchers at the Ottawa Heart Institute last week but has not been peer reviewed, looked at the rate of myocarditis and pericarditis after Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccinations in Ottawa from June 1 to July 31.

The study identified 32 patients with rare side effects out of a total of 32,379 doses of mRNA vaccine administered in Ottawa over the two-month period, finding an excessively high rate of almost 1 in 1,000 – significantly more high than the others international data showed.

But the researchers made a critical mistake that experts say sparked the anti-vaccination movement’s “weapon” of study at a time when concerns about side effects from the COVID-19 vaccine are a priority for parents whose children may soon get the hang of.

Jasleen Kambo, 18, a Black Creek Community Health volunteer, receives her first dose of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic run by Humber River Hospital in Yorkgate Mall, Toronto on April 14, 2021. (Evan Mitsui / CBC)

The risk of heart inflammation after an “incorrect” injection in the study

The researchers mistakenly failed to record the exact number of vaccines given during this two-month period, despite total dose data being publicly available, and the figure turned out to be astronomically higher than what was reported. was featured in the study.

Instead of 32,379 doses of mRNA vaccine given in June and July, as the study suggests, there were actually over 800,000 injections at that time, according to the study. Ottawa Public Health.

This means that the actual rate of side effects is closer to 1 in 25,000, not 1 in 1,000.

“We have recalculated the rate, and the rate is not correct in this article,” said Dr. Peter Liu, scientific director of the Ottawa Heart Institute and co-author of the study, in an interview. with CBC News.

“We were doing this on the run, in a way, and we were sort of getting the preliminary data on the vaccination rate, and so it turns out that number was not complete.”

Dr Andrew Crean, co-director of the cardiac MRI service at the Ottawa Heart Institute and lead author of the study, confirmed to CBC News in an email Thursday that the preprint was being retracted.

Late Friday evening, the study was officially marked as “withdrawn” on the medRxiv preprint server, with a link to a statement citing “a major underestimation” of the occurrence rate.

“In order to avoid misleading our colleagues or the general public and the press, we, the authors, unanimously wish to remove this article due to incorrect incidence data,” the statement read.

“We thank the many reviewers who went out of their way to contact us and report our error. We apologize to anyone who may have been upset or disturbed by our report.”

Crean said the authors discovered the “significant error” a few days after posting it to the server, finding a “substantial overestimate” of the risk of heart inflammation after vaccination, then quickly made the withdrawal. study.

“As you know, preprints are not full refereed publications,” he said. “The peer review process worked quickly and efficiently to detect our error and we were happy to remove this data once the error was confirmed.”

And Crean is absolutely right – that’s exactly how the process is supposed to work.

Preprints have traditionally been a way for academics to share early information on important topics before data is peer reviewed and published, said Ivan Oransky, co-founder of Retraction watch, a website that tracks errors in scientific journals.

“If in fact that is taken out quickly and taken out quickly on the basis of what seems like a pretty big mistake, then science is actually doing what it should,” he said.

“The problem is not with the preprint server, the problem is that no one is ever providing context around it.”

The side effect remains rare, treatable

The Ottawa Heart Institute has issued a Tweeter late Wednesday night, a week after the study was published, saying the authors “requested retraction of the pre-publication” due to “incorrect data” that “dramatically inflates the incidence of post-vaccine myocarditis.”

“We are sorry that a preprinted document citing incorrect data led to misinformation about the incidence of post-vaccine myocarditis,” a spokesperson for the institute said in a follow-up statement to CBC News on Friday morning. .

“COVID-19 vaccines are safe and have been shown to be effective against the disease. We urge anyone who has not yet received the vaccine to be vaccinated.”

While some real-world data has shown an increased risk of heart inflammation after COVID-19 vaccines in younger age groups, it’s important to remember that the side effect is rare.

“Even if you take the worst-case scenario, it doesn’t happen 99.9 percent of the time,” said Montreal cardiologist and epidemiologist Dr. Christopher Labos. “So the vast majority of people, even young people, will get vaccinated and will not have a problem with myocarditis.”

A small proportion of people who experience the side effect will have mild symptoms that can be treated without hospital care, Labs said, and do not appear to cause “major heart damage.”

Benefits of COVID-19 vaccine outweigh low risk of heart inflammation, experts say

A small number of cases of heart inflammation – in particular, myocarditis and pericarditis – have occurred in adolescents and young adults after COVID-19 mRNA vaccination, but experts say the benefits of a vaccine far outweighs the risk. 2:00

“So it appears to be a relatively mild side effect that should not deter anyone from getting the vaccine,” he said. “Because the benefits really outweigh the risks.”

An Israeli study published in the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this month showed a slight increased risk of myocarditis after vaccination – but researchers pointed out that COVID-19 is more likely to cause the side effect than the vaccine.

Despite this reassuring conclusion, experts say the speed at which preliminary data is downloaded, manipulated and disseminated during the pandemic means that one mistake can cause a lot of damage.

“Mistakes happen; I don’t have any major criticisms of anyone here. They’ve done exactly what they’re supposed to do: when you make a mistake, you fix it,” Labs said.

“The real problem here is that I’m afraid people will continue to use the wrong version of the study to move their agenda forward.”

Rotten data

Although it received no media coverage in Canada or elsewhere at the time of its publication, the study quickly spread around the world on social media and anti-vaccination websites, where it has been wrongly cited as evidence of damage from COVID-19 vaccines. .

The preprint has been shared on Twitter more than 11,000 times in the week since its publication, according to Altmetric, a company that tracks where published research is put online. It’s in the top five percent of all searches ever followed.

A particularly damaging Tweeter who got a massive response came from Robert Malone, an infectious disease researcher and propagator accused of anti-vaccination misinformation who calls himself “the inventor” of mRNA vaccines despite evidence to the contrary.

The study also appeared on numerous anti-vaccination websites, misrepresented as evidence that the rate of myocarditis was intentionally underestimated and that thousands of children could be at risk for heart failure after vaccination. in the future.

Timothy Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta, who has explored the challenges with preprints in the pandemic, says the way the flawed study was widely shared online to promote an anti-vaccination program is “incredibly frustrating.”

“First of all, the subject is so sensitive with parents, with young adults. When people do that risk-benefit calculation and they see a study like this, even if it just crosses their radar on social media, it can have an impact on their intentions, ”he said.

“So a mistake like this can do real and serious harm – and I think it probably already is, unfortunately.”

The error highlights challenges with preprints, Caulfield said. On the one hand, they can create an open dialogue with academics and quickly bring research into the public domain on important topics, but on the other hand, they can cause irreparable damage in the long run.

“Preprints can quickly be turned into weapons by activists when data seems to reinforce their ideology, and they lend credibility to claims that might otherwise appear unscientific,” added Jonathan Jarry, a biologist in the Bureau of Science and Technology. company of McGill University in Montreal.

“And when a preprint is retracted because it was fraudulent or simply incorrect, that bell is difficult to remove in the public arena that is the Internet.”

Reports of heart inflammation in a small number of children who received Pfizer vaccine

A small number of children who have received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have reported swelling of the heart. Researchers and officials are monitoring the phenomenon closely, but so far have found no cause for concern. 2:03

Caulfield said that once an inaccurate preprint is published it can “take a life of its own.”

“And that’s exactly what happened here,” he said. “I can assure you that you will continue to see references to this version of the diary for a long time to come.”

These so-called ‘zombie papers’ are often intentionally shared within anti-vaccination circles long after they have been withdrawn or corrected in order to deceptively influence public opinion and fuel disinformation, said Caulfield .

“It’s an extreme picking,” he said. “And the cherry is rotten.”

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