— Doctors worry misinterpretation will fuel misinformation campaigns
Researchers are getting pushback over a medRxiv preprint that relied heavily on Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) data to characterize myocarditis risk with the COVID-19 vaccine in adolescents, particularly young boys. The report by Tracy Høeg, MD, PhD, of the University of California Davis, and colleagues found that rates of “cardiac adverse events” after the second dose were higher than previous CDC estimates, at 162 per million among boys ages 12 to 15 and 94 per million among boys ages 16 to 17. (Rates were much lower for girls, at about 13 per million for each age group.) The authors also concluded that the risk of hospitalization for cardiac adverse events following vaccination is higher than the risk of being hospitalized with COVID for healthy boys in both age groups. The findings led to an uproar by physicians on social media, who pointed out that they’re unreliable due to the nature of VAERS and its known limitations — and that the authors are running the risk of serious misinterpretation of their findings by groups with bad intentions. For instance, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) already tweeted a link to a Guardian story that took an uncritical approach to the findings, holding it up as evidence that vaccines are riskier than COVID for boys. Physicians haven’t been kind in their reviews, with one physician blogger calling it a “dumpster dive” into a dataset that’s full of well-known flaws, adding that these authors should have known better. VAERS is an early warning system that can generate hypotheses that require adjudication of reports; it was never intended to be used as a research dataset, said blogger David Gorski, MD, PhD, of Wayne State University in Detroit. Gorski also raised concerns about confirmation bias — particularly because one co-author is a member of “Rational Ground,” a group that promotes anti-masking and anti-lockdown stances.