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Home » That BMJ paper — COVID vaccines not linked to excess deaths

That BMJ paper — COVID vaccines not linked to excess deaths


Last updated on June 22nd, 2024 at 11:18 am

Predictably, the anti-vaccine world trumpeted a recent paper published in BMJ Public Health — they claim that the paper showed that there were excess deaths from COVID vaccines. However, BMJ (formerly known as the British Medical Journal) issued an “expression of concern” because of withering complaints about the quality of the analysis and conclusions presented in the article.

In peer-reviewed journals, “expression of concern” is one of the first steps to having the article completely retracted and erased from the body of evidence in science. Of course, the authors could republish it in a predatory journal, then anti-vaxxers can refer to it as “proof” that COVID vaccines caused excess deaths.

So, let’s discuss the article in a bit of detail and then move on to what the BMJ wrote about it.

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Excess deaths from COVID vaccine paper

In a paper published on 3 June 2024 in BMJ Public Health, Saskia Mostert, Pediatric Oncology, Emma Children’s Hospital, Amsterdam UMC, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and colleagues examined the numbers of people who died from any cause above and beyond what would normally be expected for any given week/month between January 2020 and December 2022 in 47 countries in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.

The authors weren’t subtle, stating, “During 2022, when most mitigation measures were negated and COVID-19 vaccines were sustained, preliminary available data count 808 392 excess deaths.” In other words, the authors wanted to establish that COVID vaccines were responsible for the excess mortality. To be fair, they never wrote “COVID vaccines killed people,” but it is easy to rush to a conclusion about their data. And anti-vaxxers did just that.

For example, several news outlets, including The Telegraph, reported on the study’s conclusion that COVID vaccines were linked to excess deaths. Of course, this began the anti-vaxxer shouting and hand-wringing.

When I first saw the paper, I initially thought that it was just about excess deaths from the pandemic. Then after reading it, I felt like it was an anti-vaccine paper that could have been written by all the usual suspects in the anti-vaccine world. It made no sense.

I guess I wasn’t the only one. The PubPeer review of the paper was scathing.

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The downfall of the excess mortality paper

The “expression of concern” that was published by the BMJ on 14 June 2024 was remarkable for its speed. Usually, it takes months, even years, for a journal to sow doubt about an article it published. For example, it took the Lancet nearly 12 years to retract the fraudulent article by Andrew Wakefield that claimed that the MMR vaccine “caused” autism. Ironically, BMJ published several articles written by award-winning journalist Brian Deer that detailed Wakefield’s cunning fraud.

The BMJ statement about this paper by Mostert et al. was pretty clear. They wrote:

The integrity team and editors are investigating issues raised regarding the quality and messaging of this work. The Princess Máxima Centre, which is listed as the affiliation of three of the four authors, is also investigating the scientific quality of this study. The integrity team has contacted the institution regarding their investigation.

Readers should also be alerted to misreporting and misunderstanding of the work. It has been claimed that the work implies a direct causal link between COVID-19 vaccination and mortality. This study does not establish any such link. The researchers looked only at trends in excess mortality over time, not its causes. The research does not support the claim that vaccines are a major contributory factor to excess deaths since the start of the pandemic. Vaccines have, in fact, been instrumental in reducing the severe illness and death associated with COVID-19 infection.

Now I’m going to have to disagree with the BMJ’s rejection of the causal link — several sentences strongly implied, if not outright stated, that the cause of the excess mortality was a direct result of the COVID vaccines.

But there is more

There are more issues with this paper:

  1. The authors claimed that the study was supported by the Foundation World Child Cancer NL. In fact, the foundation explicitly stated that they had nothing to do with this study. That’s just one weird thing to do.
  2. Actuary Stuart McDonald wrote a scathing takedown of the article on Substack. He acknowledges, as I wrote above, that BMJ is trying to distance itself from the anti-vax conclusions from the article. McDonald writes, “It’s all very well to say the ‘study’ doesn’t establish a link between excess deaths and vaccines, but it’s full of inappropriate insinuation.” The article, without stating it directly, keeps trying to blame vaccines for the excess deaths.
  3. McDonald goes on to say that “excess deaths commentary is a copy/paste from World Mortality Dataset, a labour of love by @ArielKarlinsky and @hippopedoid , who are understandably furious.” The researchers copied the methods from an influential 2021 paper published in eLife, by Ariel Karlinsky, a PhD student at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel, and Dmitry Kobak, PhD, a research scientist at the University of Tübingen in Germany.
  4. Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz, PhD, an epidemiologist from the University of Wollongong in Australia, wrote in another Substack article that “There are so many errors in this short paper that it’s hard to know where to start,” and “They (the authors) re-analyzed it badly, and then they published it as novel work, which is extremely problematic.”
  5. The Princess Máxima Center, where three of the four authors work, has distanced itself from the article.
  6. Mostert et al. wrote, “This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed.” If BMJ did not peer-review this paper, that may explain how this travesty got published by a generally well-respected journal.

Summary

This is a bad article on so many levels. First, the study itself seemed to misuse data that was published elsewhere. Second, their analysis was so bad that scientists across the planet had to rip it to shreds. Third, their research doesn’t actually show that COVID vaccines caused excess deaths, although they used very carefully worded insinuations to the contrary. Fourth, anti-vaxxers jumped on the article without doing a careful analysis of the methods, analysis, and conclusions.

Although BMJ is trying to say “everyone is misinterpreting the article” while still being concerned about the quality of the study, the fact is that the paper says enough to get the anti-vaccine crowd excited.

Well, I’m sure this paper will be withdrawn or retracted soon enough, given how fast BMJ expressed their concerns about it. And to the anti-vaxxer world, this does NOT show that there are excess deaths from COVID vaccines.

Citations

Michael Simpson
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