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A Canadian COVID-19 study that turned out to be wrong has spread like wildfire among anti-vaxxers – CBC.ca

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This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.


An inaccurate Canadian study suggesting an extremely high rate of heart inflammation after COVID-19 vaccines has been retracted due to a major mathematical error — but not before it spread like wildfire on anti-vaccination websites and social media.

The preprint study, which was released by researchers at the Ottawa Heart Institute last week but has not been peer-reviewed, looked at the rate of myocarditis and pericarditis cases after Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccinations in Ottawa from June 1 to July 31.

The study identified 32 patients with the rare side effects out of a total of 32,379 doses of mRNA vaccines given in Ottawa in the two-month period, finding an inordinately high rate of close to 1 in 1,000 — significantly higher than other international data has shown.

But the researchers made a critical error that experts say caused the study to be “weaponized” by the anti-vaccination movement at a time when concern over COVID-19 vaccine side effects are top of mind for parents whose kids may soon get the shot.

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

Risk of heart inflammation after shot ‘not correct’ in study

The researchers mistakenly failed to record the accurate number of vaccinations given out during that two-month period, despite the data on total doses being publicly available, and the figure turned out to be astronomically higher than what was presented in the study. 

Instead of 32,379 mRNA vaccine doses administered in June and July, as the study suggests, there were actually more than 800,000 shots given out at that time, according to Ottawa Public Health

That means the true rate of side effects is closer to 1 in 25,000 — not 1 in 1,000. 

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

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

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

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

“In order to avoid misleading either colleagues or the general public and press, we the authors unanimously wish to withdraw this paper on the grounds of incorrect incidence data,” the statement read.

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

Crean said the authors uncovered the “significant error” days after posting it to the server, finding a “substantial overestimate” of the risk of heart inflammation after vaccination, then moved quickly to get the study withdrawn.

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

And Crean is absolutely right — this is exactly how the process is supposed to work. 

Preprints are traditionally a way for academics to share early information on important subjects before the data is peer-reviewed and published, said Ivan Oransky, co-founder of Retraction Watch, a website that tracks errors in science journals. 

“If in fact this is retracted quickly and withdrawn quickly based on what seems to be a pretty significant error, then it’s actually science doing what it should,” he said. 

“The problem is not the preprint server, the problem is that nobody ever provides any context around it.” 

Side effect remains rare, treatable

The Ottawa Heart Institute issued a tweet late Wednesday night, a week after the study was released, saying the authors “have requested the retraction of the preprint” due to “incorrect data” that “vastly inflates the incidence of post-vaccine myocarditis.” 

“We are sorry a preprint paper citing incorrect data led to misinformation on the incidence of post-vaccine myocarditis,” a spokesperson for the institute said in a followup statement to CBC News on Friday morning.

“COVID-19 vaccines are safe and have been proven effective against the disease. We invite anyone who has not yet received the shot to please get vaccinated.”

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

“Even if you took the worst-case scenario, it doesn’t happen in 99.9 per cent of cases,” said Montreal cardiologist and epidemiologist Dr. Christopher Labos. “So the vast majority of people, even young people, are going to get vaccinated and not have an issue with myocarditis.” 

A small proportion of people who do experience the side effect will experience mild symptoms that are treatable without hospital care, Labos said, and don’t appear to cause “any major heart damage.”

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

3 months ago

A small number of cases of heart inflammation — specifically, myocarditis and pericarditis — have occurred in teens and young adults following mRNA COVID-19 vaccination, but experts say the benefits of a vaccine far outweigh the risk. 2:00

“So it looks as if this is a relatively mild side effect that should not dissuade anybody from getting vaccinated,” he said. “Because the benefits really outweigh the risks.” 

One study from Israel published in the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this month showed a slight increased risk of myocarditis after vaccination — but the researchers stressed that COVID-19 is more likely to cause the side effect than the shot. 

Despite this reassuring conclusion, experts say the speed in which preliminary data is being uploaded, manipulated and disseminated in the pandemic means one error can cause a lot of damage. 

“Mistakes happen; I have no major criticisms to level against anybody here. They did exactly what they’re supposed to do: When you make a mistake — you fix it,” said Labos.

“The real problem here is that I worry that people are going to keep using the wrong version of the study to advance their agenda.” 

Cherry-picking ‘rotten’ data

Despite not getting any mainstream media coverage in Canada or anywhere else at the time it was published, the study quickly spread around the world on social media and anti-vaccination websites, where it was incorrectly claimed as evidence of the damage COVID-19 vaccines cause.

The preprint has been shared on Twitter more than 11,000 times in the week since it’s been published, according to Altmetric, a company that tracks where published research is posted online. That’s in the top five per cent of all research it’s ever tracked.  

One particularly damaging tweet that gained a massive response came from Robert Malone, an infectious-disease researcher and accused spreader of anti-vaccination misinformation who calls himself the “inventor” of mRNA vaccines despite evidence to the contrary.

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

Timothy Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in health law and policy at the University of Alberta who has studied the challenges with preprints in the pandemic, says the way in which the erroneous study has been shared widely online to promote an anti-vaccination agenda is “incredibly frustrating.”

“First of all, the topic is so sensitive with parents, with young adults. When people are doing this risk-benefit calculus 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, serious harm — and I think it probably already has, unfortunately.” 

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

“Preprints can quickly be weaponized by activists when the data seems to bolster their ideology, and they lend credibility to claims that might otherwise appear non-scientific,” added Jonathan Jarry, a biological scientist with McGill University’s Office for Science and Society in Montreal.

“And when a preprint gets retracted because it was fraudulent or just simply incorrect, that bell is hard to un-ring in the public square that is the internet.” 

Reports of heart inflammation among small number of children that got Pfizer vaccine

4 months ago

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

Caulfield said that once an inaccurate preprint gets released, it can “take on a life of its own.” 

“And that’s exactly what has happened here,” he said. “I can guarantee that you are going to continue to see references to this version of the paper for a long time to come.”

These so-called “zombie papers” are often intentionally shared within anti-vaccination circles long after they’re retracted or corrected in order to disingenuously influence public opinion and fuel misinformation, said Caulfield. 

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

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Hospitals in Saskatchewan face prolonged COVID-19 crisis, modelling shows

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COVID-19 patients will keep crowding hospital intensive care units (ICUs) in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan well into next year without government orders to limit public mixing, modelling data showed on Wednesday.

As the pandemic ebbed during the summer, the western farming and mining province lifted restrictions at the fastest rate in Canada along with neighbouring Alberta. Saskatchewan has since become the country’s  COVID-19 hotspots, with the lowest vaccination rate among provinces, and had to hastily reimpose restrictions such as masking in indoor public places.

“I have no shame in pleading to the public, that we’ve gone so far and we just have to pull along for the next weeks and months,” said Saskatchewan’s Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab, who broke down with emotion during a media briefing. “It is distressing to see what is happening in our ICUs and hospitals and I’m sorry — it’s a very challenging time.”

The pandemic’s spread has forced Saskatchewan to fly some COVID-19 patients to Ontario for care and to cancel thousands of surgeries.

Saskatchewan’s modelling showed that severe cases will continue to overwhelm ICUs until March before beginning to decline, without a reduction in mixing, such as smaller gatherings, and greater access to vaccine booster shots. Reduced mixing should ideally last at least 28 days, Shahab said.

The provincial government, led by Premier Scott Moe, has declined to impose limits on private gatherings, however.

Canada’s daily case counts spiked in late summer, but have declined recently. Cases in Saskatchewan and Alberta have also started trending lower, however they have still recorded the highest rates of deaths among the 10 provinces in the past week, and the highest rates of active cases.

 

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; Editing by David Gregorio)

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SHA says COVID-19 protocols prevented a flu season last year – moosejawtoday.com

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The Saskatchewan Health Authority says last year’s flu season was prevented thanks to masks, physical and social distancing, and increased hand washing.

Dr. Tania Diener, the COVID-19 Immunization Co-Chief at the province’s Emergency Operations Centre, says that, “We effectively didn’t have a flu season here last year.”

With restrictions slowly lifting from a population feeling the stress of isolation and public health measures, the province is uncertain about whether or not a flu season will return this winter.

Dr. Diener emphasized that, “Our hospitals are already under strain due to the number of cases of COVID-19, especially among those who are unvaccinated, due to the new Delta variant. A further influx of people sick with influenza would further strain those resources, so we’re asking everyone to get their flu vaccine again this year.”

SHA says they have enough evidence at this point to conclude that receiving a COVID-19 vaccine and a flu vaccine together is safe, and they encourage everyone able to do so to get both vaccines as soon as possible. 

This year’s flu vaccine is quadrivalent, meaning it protects against four different flu variants, an improvement from last year’s, which was trivalent. 
Information on this year’s flu vaccine can be found here.

Those looking to book their flu and/or COVID-19 vaccine can go to 4flu.ca.

SHA’s full press release can be found here.

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Province says flu shots prevents serious illness, deaths – My Comox Valley Now

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The province wants you to roll up your sleeves for another kind of vaccine as we head into flu season.

Health officials are hoping you will take their advice and get a flu shot, which is free for everyone in B.C. older than six months.

They say the unique circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic and the strain it has put on the health-care system continue to make influenza immunization a priority.

“All British Columbians should get vaccinated against influenza to protect themselves and their loved ones from serious illness, to reduce the strain on our hard-working health workers and to do our part to make sure the health system continues to be there for people who need it, where they need it and when they need it,” said health minister Adrian Dix. 

“I’m grateful to all of our health-care workers, including physicians, pharmacists, nurses, nurse practitioners and others for how they help people get immunized to protect themselves and those they care about.”

Seasonal influenza and other respiratory viruses will be in communities alongside COVID-19 this fall and winter.

The province says it “has the potential to escalate pressures already faced by the health-care system, particularly if the effects from COVID-19 and seasonal influenza occur are the same.”

That is why vaccines are now available and the province continues to increase vaccine accessibility through many locations and vaccine providers throughout B.C.

“This year, it’s especially important for people to get vaccinated against influenza. Last year’s low influenza rates means our immunity against influenza is lower than usual,” said provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. 

“Getting your influenza vaccine this year is more important than ever to protect yourself, your community and our overstretched health-care system.”

Pharmacies around B.C. have played a key role in providing easy access to influenza vaccines since 2009. 

This year, vaccines are available to pharmacies through a direct-distribution model. 

This means pharmacies are able to order them directly from distributors, which the province says makes “influenza immunization easier and more flexible for people in B.C.”

“Pharmacists played a key role in helping people get immunized against COVID-19 earlier this year and administered the majority of influenza doses last year,” said Geraldine Vance, CEO, B.C. Pharmacy Association. “We’re proud of the role we continue to play in protecting our health-care system and keeping everyone safe.”

Flu vaccines have been available already for certain high-risk groups. 

As they become available more broadly to the public throughout the province, you’re asked to check their health authority’s website or call their health-care provider or pharmacist to check for availability and to make an appointment.

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