Feature

COVID vaccine preprint study prompts Twitter outrage


 

Measured support

Some clinicians signaled their support for open debate and the preprint’s findings.

“I’ve been very critical of preprints that are too quickly disseminated in the media, and this one is no exception,” tweeted Walid Gellad, MD, MPH, associate professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. “On the other hand, I think the vitriol directed at these authors is wrong,” he added.

“Like it or not, the issue of myocarditis in kids is an issue. Other countries have made vaccination decisions because of this issue, not because they’re driven by some ideology,” he tweeted.

Dr. Gellad also notes that the FDA has estimated the risk could be as high as one in 5,000 and that the preprint numbers could actually be underestimates.

In a long thread, Frank Han, MD, an adult congenital and pediatric cardiologist at the University of Illinois, tweets that relying on the VAERS reports might be faulty and that advanced cardiac imaging – guided by strict criteria – is the best way to determine myocarditis. And, he tweeted, “Physician review of VAERS reports really matters.”

Dr. Han concluded that vaccination “trades in a significant risk with a much smaller risk. That’s what counts in the end.”

In a response, Dr. Mandrola called Han’s tweets “reasoned criticism of our analysis.” He adds that his and Dr. Hoeg’s study have limits, but “our point is not to avoid protecting kids, but how to do so most safely.”

Both Dr. Mandrola and Dr. Hoeg said they welcomed critiques, but they felt blindsided by the vehemence of some of the Twitter debate.

“Some of the vitriol was surprising,” Dr. Mandrola said. “I kind of have this naive notion that people would assume that we’re not bad people,” he added.

However, Dr. Mandrola is known on Twitter for sometimes being highly critical of other researchers’ work, referring to some studies as “howlers,” and has in the past called out others for citing those papers.

Dr. Hoeg said she found critiques about weaknesses in the methods to be helpful. But she said many tweets were “attacking us as people, or not really attacking anything about our study, but just attacking the finding,” which does not help anyone “figure out what we should do about the safety signal or how we can research it further.”

Said Dr. Mandrola: “Why would we just ignore that and go forward with two-shot vaccination as a mandate when other countries are looking at other strategies?”

He noted that the United Kingdom has announced that children 12 to 15 years of age should receive just one shot of the mRNA vaccines instead of two because of the risk for myocarditis. Sixteen- to 18-year-olds have already been advised to get only one dose.

A version of this article first appeared on Medscape.com.

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