Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Scientists pan analysis Florida’s surgeon general posted on COVID-19 vaccines

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Vaccine experts are pushing back on an analysis published by Florida’s surgeon general that warns that COVID-19 vaccines increase the risk of heart-related deaths in young men, calling the study poorly designed and dangerously misleading.

The vaccine warning from Dr. Joseph Ladapo is the latest move by the state’s surgeon general and his chief – Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis – that is casting doubt on the scientific consensus as they take advantage of voter frustration still draining from the pandemic.

“Love the discussion we’ve sparked,” Ladapo tweeted Monday after immunologists and doctors accused him of spreading misinformation.

“Isn’t it great when we discuss science transparently instead of trying to cancel each other out?” he added.

But if Ladapo wanted to spark a scientific discussion, he would have submitted the Department of Health’s work for peer review rather than posting it on the Florida government’s website, Dr. Peter Hotez, co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

Hotez called it another “fake bullshit” deliberation by the DeSantis administration designed to raise the Republican governor’s national profile ahead of an election.

“This is a lot more of a political stunt than anything to do with science or protecting the population of the Florida people… They choose the risks and they choose the benefits,” Hotez said.

Ladapo did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Bryan Griffin, DeSantis press secretary, said, “We have no interest in responding to that.”

It is about a paper that Ladapo uses as a reason for no longer recommending vaccines to young men between the ages of 18 and 39. The recommendation went against the consensus of all major government scientific organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Institutes of Health.

These government agencies and the American Heart Association cite larger studies that found that the benefits of the COVID vaccine far outweigh the risks.

Ladapo’s recommendation fell so far outside of mainstream scientific consensus that it prompted an immediate online pushback. At one point, Twitter removed the Surgeon General’s announcement from its platform.

When asked why, a Twitter spokesman only said the “enforcement action” was taken “in error” and later reversed.

Vaccine experts said the Florida paper raised several red flags: The analysis, which was written anonymously before being released by the Florida Department of Health, omitted important details about the methodology and examined no medical records, only deaths.

“When you look at how this study was conducted and how the results are interpreted, it’s one problem after another,” said John Brownstein, chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital and an ABC contributor.

Daniel Salmon, director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, said among those concerns is that Florida is considering deaths up to 25 weeks after vaccination. He called that a “big problem” because it’s too long and likely affected by the “seasonality” of the results.

“No experienced vaccine safety researcher would have a 20 or 25 week follow-up period,” he said.

“If you submitted that to peer review, any decent journal would reject it,” he added.

The Florida analysis also failed to mention what medical experts and scientists have found over the past year: The virus is more likely than the vaccine to cause health problems in young men.

When the vaccine does induce myocarditis, most cases appear to be relatively mild and resolve on their own.

“COVID can cause all kinds of cardiovascular problems,” said Salmon, who said he personally chose to vaccinate his own sons. “So ultimately the benefits (of the vaccine) outweigh the risks and that’s what really counts.”

Hotez and Brownstein agreed, both pointing to larger studies showing the COVID virus can put young men at risk in ways the vaccine doesn’t.

“We know there are some concerns about myocarditis. But overall, the evidence suggests there’s a much greater risk of cardiac events if you’re unvaccinated,” Brownstein said.

A much larger global study is underway to examine myocarditis risk by combing through data collected from more than a dozen countries. These results are expected next spring.

When asked about Florida’s position in a CNN interview, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said the main problem was that misinformation was still spreading too easily.

“The enemy of public health when you’re dealing with a pandemic is misinformation and disinformation. And unfortunately we have a lot of them,” he said.

ABC News reporter Cheyenne Haslett and Dr. Tiffany Russ contributed to this report.

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