As Omicron spreads in winter bound Europe, boosting of immunity by vaccination is being advised to protect those vulnerable to the illness, and to try to keep the ailing services afloat. While uncertainties exist regarding how deadly this variant will be, vaccination remains key to staying healthy.

What we don’t need right now are attempts to scare women who are pregnant or considering pregnancy with misinformation.

One of the worlds main anti-vaccine websites is now claiming that mRNA vaccines given early in pregnancy are associated with a whopping 85% risk of miscarriage. This is based on a paper in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine and is a complete misinterpretation (or worse) of what the paper actually found.

The danger of this is twofold, one is that women who experience a miscarriage will feel additional anger, guilt and shame that they, or the vaccine manufacturers, caused of their loss. Thus their grief will be complicated, made worse. The second is that anyone contemplating pregnancy will be dissuaded from getting vaccinated and will run the risk of infection and it’s noted complications during pregnancy.

It will not take me long to show how wrong this is…

The Paper itself

This looked at completed pregnancy in 4000 American women, that is the number of births, miscarriages or still births. Although the findings were described as preliminary, they considered it useful to publish early as there appeared to be no increase in the risk of miscarriage or adverse outcomes at delivery. Miscarriages occurred in 13.9% of the pregnancies which is in line with what would be expected. The paper is not without its faults, but nonetheless it is very good news. So what happened then to lead to these frightening headlines?

Bad maths

Mercola quotes the results but goes on to make an error so obvious that it must have been intentional. The women enrolled in the study had 827 completed outcomes at this early stage; 104 miscarriages and 723 babies born. He comes to his 85% figure by deducting from the 827 total outcomes, the 700 who had vaccinations in the last third of pregnancy when the risk of miscarriage has largely gone. In other words, he concludes that 104 miscarriages took place in the 127 women vaccinated earlier in pregnancy.

Mercola has not done his sums.
Instead of an 85% risk of miscarriage after vaccination, the actual data says the risk in 0%

However, most of the women vaccinated in early pregnancy had not notified the registry used to follow them up of any problems and were just plodding along nicely. In fact, there were 1040 women who had the vaccine just before or in the first third of pregnancy and the preliminary findings would include just about all the miscarriages that would be expected. Thus in fact there were 104 miscarriages in 1040 women which is just about what would be expected without vaccines. In other words, vaccination did not lead to ANY increase in the risk of miscarriage.

There were letters to the editor and clarifications of the data, and indeed further reports from the same team which again, happily, showed no extra risk due to the vaccines.

Bias and Faith

The findings in the paper might have been more clearly described, and so a charitable interpretation is that Mercola made a simple mistake, but I don’t buy that. Mercola’s daily antivaccine posts are written by a team scouring the world for anything they can use, ignoring anything that contradicts their beliefs. In a way, their reading of the paper revealed this bias which means pretty much anything they say needs taking with a big pinch of salt.

Anyone without the deepest of bias would know that a risk of 85% miscarriage would be noticed pretty quickly by women, midwives and routine surveillance – this has not happened.

Nevertheless the nonsensical “85% risk of miscarriage” headline is now in circulation along with calls for the mRNA vaccines to be halted. Mercola’s collaborators state “…...they concluded, very fraudulently, in my estimation, that it was safe to vaccinate in the third trimester, and said nothing about the clear safety signal in the first trimester,” Lindsay says. “It’s just so dishonest, so purposefully manipulative.”

This is gibberish!

I cannot comment within Mercolas website as I have been banned, having pointed out some pretty clear errors of his in the past. Criticise him once, and he makes it difficult to comment, twice and you’re banned. This is from someone who touts the concept of freedom of speech .

Clarity

The author of the paper replied that the data has now been updated to include outcomes for all the women studied and the resultant risk of miscarriage published as a letter in the NEMJ. The results again show that the vaccinations are safe and the risk of miscarriage is in line with what would be expected when compared to other studies using similar methodology.

Yellow and Blue = other studies of miscarriage rates.

Grey = miscarriage after COVID19 vaccine

Vaccines are not associated with a risk of miscarriage.

They conclude: “Our findings suggest that the risk of spontaneous abortion after mRNA Covid-19 vaccination either before conception or during pregnancy is consistent with the expected risk of spontaneous abortion; these findings add to the accumulating evidence about the safety of mRNA Covid-19 vaccination in pregnancy

Why this matters

Pregnancy is a huge experience and responsibility. In these difficult pandemic times, the advice from experts is clear:

“Studies from the UK show that pregnant women are no more likely to get COVID-19 than other healthy adults, but they are at slightly increased risk of becoming severely unwell if they do catch COVID-19, and are more likely to have pregnancy complications like preterm birth or stillbirth.”

So, most people will be fine, but there is a significant risk, particularly to women of certain ethnic backgrounds and those with other illnesses.

Misinformation harms

Misinformation harms the mind rather like poison harms the body. There are matters where opinions differ, and the scientific methods seeks to uncover reality, but in this case of misinformation is simply completely untrue.

The claim that 85% of women who are vaccinated early in pregnancy will miscarry is very damaging misinformation which will cause anxiety, fear and anger at a time when women are grieving for the loss or a pregnancy

Why Mercola has highlighted this now, 6 months after the publication of the preliminary findings and two months after the publication of the final results is unclear, but hints to me that there is a struggle to find more bad news for the antivaccine industry to use to manufacture fear, division and anger.

This whole saga reminds me somewhat of what went before. Antivaccine specialists, with Wakefield and Mercola at their apex, play on, increase and spread fear, anger and guilt in parents of autistic children faced with all the difficulties and challenges that entails. Spread of misinformation has led to an epidemic of blame guilt and anger, mush of which has played out in court, as well as harmful treatments for these children, duff therapies and parents whose grief has been commodified into careers for these dubious doctors and hosts of lawyers.

Any doubts about the safety of vaccines, particularly in pregnancy could potentially lead to large numbers of women opting to avoid vaccination and then being exposed to the increased risk they face, sometimes with disastrous consequences. For others who are trying to deal with the grief of miscarriage, this will add to their pain,

Perhaps Mercola is after martyr-hood. Being so outrageous and so blatantly wrong that eventually – in my opinion at long last – action will be taken by regulators, and professional bodies to prevent him from creating harm. Free speech is one thing, using ones medical qualifications to dress up dangerous fiction, quite another.


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