“Numb-bers” (COVID vaccine harms)

My children and I like to make an annual trek to the apple orchard each fall. Then there are those who prefer cherry picking. These types misuse numbers by design or by misinterpretation, leading to erroneous conclusions.

Let’s take the case of Dr. Peter Doshi, whom three doctors with Science Based Medicine accuse of beginning with an assumption that vaccines ineffective and harmful. He then crams in any data that seems to support this while dismissing any evidence, no matter how voluminous or persuasive, to the contrary.

His latest effort, “Serious Adverse Events of Special Interest Following mRNA Vaccination in Randomized Trials,” concluded that, “The excess risk of serious adverse events of special interest surpassed the risk reduction for COVID-19 hospitalization relative to the placebo group in both Pfizer and Moderna trials.”

The numbers he used were accurate but egregiously misused. It is similar the possibly Apocryphal story about Pravda reporting that the US and USSR had a two-car auto race won by the Americans – by printing that the Soviets had come in second and the USA next to last.

Doshi’s tactics included double- or triple-counting any harm suffered by those who received a vaccine, while not doing that for the unvaccinated. For example, a vaccinated patient who had gastroenteritis and abdominal pain counted as two adverse reactions, whereas any unvaxxed person hospitalized for COVID counted as one, regardless of how many symptoms they displayed, or how serious the impact was.

An even bigger deficiency was Doshi failing to account for long-term results. How quickly a virus spreads can impact how long it takes a vaccine’s benefits to be seen. By contrast, nearly all vaccine harms occur right after receiving the shot. This means almost all adverse reactions will be seen in a few days, whereas immunity through vaccination cannot be determined for months.

So to accurately ascertain the benefits, a research trial would need to run the course of an entire pandemic. As more were exposed to the virus, the vaccine’s benefits relative to placebo would increase. Had the trials lasted two years, there would be many more cases of severe COVID, especially among the unvaccinated. But these trials were ended well short of a year for ethical reasons.

And there are still more flaws in Doshi’s conclusions. In the two trials he cited, there were 74,000 participants, with 36,930 of them receiving a vaccine and only 366 having COVID. Therefore, the vaccine had many more opportunities than the virus to cause adverse reactions.

Also noteworthy, nearly all of those harmed by the virus received a placebo. Like all subsequent studies, the trials revealed that COVID was dangerous and the vaccine effective at mitigating that. There were 40 cases of severe COVID, all but one in the placebo group. This is substantial because many of those 74,000 participants have since contracted COVID. Once this protection was known, it would have been unethical to continue the trials and allow people to remain unvaccinated.

So when Doshi claims that “results show an excess risk of serious adverse events of special interest greater than the reduction in COVID-19 hospitalizations in both Pfizer and Moderna trials”, he doesn’t acknowledge these studies were terminated because the hospitalizations were rising. The trials were designed to stop once a small number of people got COVID, but Doshi deceptively uses numbers to deduce that COVID was no big deal. But the trials didn’t prove COVID wasn’t a threat. Rather they ended so rapidly precisely because COVID was a threat.

Doshi neglected to reference a single trial showing the vaccine’s benefits in his paper even though evidence is overwhelming that COVID vaccines are safe and effective. Only someone who starts with the conclusion that vaccines are ineffective and picks the cherries he likes would arrive at such a conclusion.

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