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Flawed Study Widely Cited By "COVID-Skeptics" Retracted After Experts Debunk It


Tom Hale

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist

Vaccine centre.

Several virologists and vaccinologists resigned as editors from the journal in protest of the study's publication. Image credit: Nicolas Economou/

A study that erroneously claimed the COVID-19 vaccination causes two deaths for every three lives it saves has been retracted from the journal after researchers and editors found a drastic “misinterpretation of data.”

The study, called “The Safety of COVID-19 Vaccinations—We Should Rethink the Policy”, was first published in the journal Vaccines on June 24, but was later retracted on July 2 after several scientists highlighted serious methodological flaws in the research.


The main argument of the study was “for three deaths prevented by [COVID-19] vaccination we have to accept two inflicted by vaccination.” As such, they conclude “this lack of clear benefit should cause governments to rethink their vaccination policy.” However, this is based on some very, very shaky data. 

The paper was quickly weaponized by anti-vaxxers and COVID-skeptics as evidence that the vaccines are not safe. One popular conservative commentator talked about the paper in a video posted to her 1.4 million Facebook followers saying: “Essentially, this peer-reviewed scientific study shows that COVID-19 vaccine causes two deaths for every three lives it saves.” Facebook flagged the video as containing “partly false information,” but it’s since been viewed over 250,000 times. The study has also been tweeted by anti-vaccination activists with hundreds of thousands of followers.

Meanwhile, scientists raised serious questions about the study and questioned some of its data. The authors looked at the Adverse Drug Reactions database of the European Medicines Agency and of the Dutch National Register, as well as data from a large Israeli field study, in an attempt to gauge the rate of severe side effects and fatalities after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

However, these reporting systems cannot determine whether the vaccines explicitly caused the side effects or any fatalities. Their job is to simply collect raw data on possible side-effects, but they do not actually determine whether the links are causal. The Dutch database explains that a number of deaths have been reported after vaccination, but most of these were not caused by the vaccination and were likely a coincidence. The since-retracted study, however, ignored this and bullishly implied causality.


Additionally, some scientists also highlighted that the study worked on the premise of a misleading "number needed to vaccinate," a metric used in the evaluation of vaccines. It’s worth noting that none of the study authors are vaccinologists, epidemiologists, or virologists. 

Science Magazine reports that several virologists and vaccinologists resigned as editors from the journal in protest of the study's publication. One of those is Katie Ewer, an immunologist at the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford who was on the team that developed the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. She tweeted: “I have resigned from the Editorial Board of @Vaccines_MDPI following the publication of this article. It is grossly negligent and I can't believe it passed peer-review. I hope it will be retracted.”

Fortunately, the study has since been retracted, along with a notice from the Vaccines Editorial Office saying the paper used data that was "incorrectly interpreted which led to erroneous conclusions. The data was presented as being causally related to adverse events by the authors. This is inaccurate."

In reality, about one in ten people experience side effects following the jab, but they are largely mild and manageable. The most common side effect is pain, redness, and swelling near the injection point, but some may also experience headaches, chills, fever, nausea, and a general sense of tiredness. More severe side effects are exceptionally rare. Even in regards to the much-talked-about issue of blood clots and the AstraZeneca shot, you are far more likely to get a deadly blood clot from a COVID-19 infection than the vaccine. 




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