COVID vaccine preprint study prompts Twitter outrage


Vaccine risks versus COVID harm

The authors searched the VAERS system for children aged 12 to 17 years who had received one or two doses of an mRNA vaccine and had symptoms of myocarditis, pericarditis, myopericarditis, or chest pain, and also troponin levels available in the lab data.

Of the 257 patients they examined, 211 had peak troponin values available for analysis. All but one received the Pfizer vaccine. Results were stratified by age and sex.

The authors found that the rates of cardiac adverse events (CAEs) after dose 1 were 12.0 per million for 12- to 15-year-old boys and 8.2 per million for 16- and 17-year-old boys, compared with 0.0 per million and 2.0 per million for girls the same ages.

The estimates for the 12- to 15-year-old boys were 22% to 150% higher than what the CDC had previously reported.

After the second dose, the rate of CAEs for boys 12 to 15 years was 162.2 per million (143% to 280% higher than the CDC estimate) and for boys 16 and 17 years, it was 94.0 per million, or 30% to 40% higher than CDC estimate.

Dr. Mandrola said he and his colleagues found potentially more cases by using slightly broader search terms than those employed by the CDC but agreed with some critics that a limitation was that they did not call the reporting physicians, as is typical with CDC follow-up on VAERS reports.

The authors point to troponin levels as valid indicators of myocardial damage. Peak troponin levels exceeded 2 ng/mL in 71% of the 12- to 15-year-olds and 82% of 16- and 17-year-olds.

The study shows that for boys 12 to 15 years with no comorbidities, the risk for a CAE after the second dose would be 22.8 times higher than the risk for hospitalization for COVID-19 during periods of low disease burden, 6.0 times higher during periods of moderate transmission, and 4.3 times higher during periods of high transmission.

The authors acknowledge in the paper that their analysis “does not take into account any benefits the vaccine provides against transmission to others, long-term COVID-19 disease risk, or protection from nonsevere COVID-19 symptoms.”

Both Dr. Mandrola and Dr. Hoeg told this news organization that they are currently recalculating their estimates because of the rising numbers of pediatric hospitalizations from the Delta variant surge.

Paper rejected by journals

Dr. Hoeg said in an interview that the paper went through peer-review at three journals but was rejected by all three, for reasons that were not made clear.

She and the other authors incorporated the reviewers’ feedback at each turn and included all of their suggestions in the paper that was ultimately uploaded to medRxiv, said Dr. Hoeg.

They decided to put it out as a preprint after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued its data and then a warning on June 25 about myocarditis with use of the Pfizer vaccine in children 12 to 15 years of age.

The preprint study was picked up by some media outlets, including The Telegraph and The Guardian newspapers, and tweeted out by vaccine skeptics like Robert W. Malone, MD.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia), an outspoken vaccine skeptic, tweeted out the Guardian story saying that the findings mean “there is every reason to stop the covid vaccine mandates.”

Dr. Gorski noted in tweets and in a blog post that one of the paper’s coauthors, Josh Stevenson, is part of Rational Ground, a group that supports the Great Barrington Declaration and is against lockdowns and mask mandates.

Mr. Stevenson did not disclose his affiliation in the paper, and Dr. Hoeg said in an interview that she was unaware of the group and Mr. Stevenson’s association with it and that she did not have the impression that he was altering the data to show any bias.

Both Dr. Mandrola and Dr. Hoeg said they are provaccine and that they were dismayed to find their work being used to support any agenda. “It’s very frustrating,” said Dr. Hoeg, adding that she understands that “when you publish research on a controversial topic, people are going to take it and use it for their agendas.”

Some on Twitter blamed the open and free-wheeling nature of preprints.

Harlan Krumholz, MD, SM, the Harold H. Hines, junior professor of medicine and public health at Yale University, New Haven, Conn., which oversees medRxiv, tweeted, “Do you get that the discussion about the preprint is exactly the purpose of #preprints. So that way when someone claims something, you can look at the source and experts can comment.”

But Dr. Ziaeian tweeted back, “Preprints like this one can be weaponized to stir anti-vaccine lies and damage public health.”

In turn, the Yale physician replied, “Unfortunately these days, almost anything can be weaponized, distorted, misunderstood.” Dr. Krumholz added: “There is no question that this preprint is worthy of deep vetting and discussion. But there is a #preprint artifact to examine.”

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