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Many scientists citing two scandalous COVID-19 papers ignore their retractions – Science Magazine

Many scientists citing two scandalous COVID-19 papers ignore their retractions - Science Magazine


Many scientists citing two scandalous COVID-19 papers ignore their retractions - Science Magazine

E. Petersen/Science

This story was supported by the Science Fund for Investigative Reporting. Please help Science pursue ambitious journalism projects.

In June 2020, in the biggest research scandal of the pandemic so far, two of the most important medical journals each retracted a high-profile study of COVID-19 patients. Thousands of news articles, tweets, and scholarly commentaries highlighted the scandal, yet many researchers apparently failed to notice. In an examination of the most recent 200 academic articles published in 2020 that cite those papers, Science found that more than half—including many in leading journals—used the disgraced papers to support scientific findings and failed to note the retractions.

COVID-19 “is such a hot topic that publishers are willing to publish without proper vetting,” even in the face of retractions that made global headlines, says Elizabeth Suelzer, a reference librarian at the Medical College of Wisconsin who has written about problematic citations to a retracted 1998 study in The Lancet falsely linking vaccination to autism.

Both of the retracted COVID-19 papers, one in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) and the other in The Lancet, were based on what appeared to be a huge database of patient records compiled from hospitals worldwide by Surgisphere, a small company operated by vascular surgeon Sapan Desai, who was a co-author on each article. The 22 May 2020 Lancet paper ostensibly showed that hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug promoted by President Donald Trump and others, could harm rather than help COVID-19 patients. Its publication led to a temporary halt in a major clinical trial and inflamed an already-divisive debate over the drug, which has proved to be no help against COVID-19. The 1 May NEJM article corroborated other evidence that people already taking certain blood pressure medicines did not face a greater risk of death if they developed COVID-19.

Questions soon arose about the validity, and even existence, of the Surgisphere database, however, and the retractions followed on 4 June. But of the 200 papers examined by Science—all published after the retractions—105 inappropriately cited one of the disgraced studies. In several cases it was a primary source for a meta-analysis combining multiple studies to draw overarching conclusions. In most, the studies were cited as scientific support or context. Science also found a handful of articles that uncritically cited an influential April preprint based on the same Surgisphere data set, which described the antiparasitic drug ivermectin as beneficial in critical COVID-19 cases. (There is no standard way to retract preprints, however.)

Ivan Oransky, co-founder of the website Retraction Watch, says such blunders occur because “people are either willfully or negligently not checking references.” Many authors copy and paste lists of apparently relevant citations from similar papers without actually reading them, he says. “It’s frightening. It’s terrible, but common.”

Many of the tainted citations appeared in papers published by little-known journals, but at least a dozen found their way into major publications. For example, three articles in PLOS ONE, the prominent open-access journal, cited the retracted papers in discussions of pandemic conditions in Europe. A 28 December paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)—one of the most influential journals—discussed the risks and benefits of drugs to treat COVID-19 and noted the Lancet retraction in its citations, yet the text merely noted the paper’s hydroxychloroquine findings as “controversial.”

Editors at those two publications said they would correct the references and take steps to prevent such problems in the future. Renee Hoch, a PLOS ONE editor and publication ethics manager, wrote in an email that the publication relies on authors and its outside, volunteer editors to check citations, and she was caught by surprise when contacted by Science. “We are currently following up on this issue with high priority in light of the implications for public health and ongoing COVID-19 research,” she wrote.

Hoch added that reliance on retracted work, “either directly or in the form of supporting references,” can be harmful. “[W]here the retracted work has clinical implications, this can result in direct risks to patients.”

In a written response to questions about the citation of the Lancet paper, May Berenbaum, editor-in-chief of PNAS, said, “The authors really should have either removed the citation, added more text about why they included it, or cited the retraction notice itself.” Given that no editor or reviewer caught the problem, she said, “I plan to discuss with the staff incorporating such screening into manuscript processing.” A co-author of the paper, biostatistician Clelia Di Serio of Vita-Salute San Raffaele University, later said the reference to the Lancet paper would be expunged.

Some journal editors noted extenuating factors. In Stroke, a leading medical journal, a December article about ischemic stroke in COVID-19 patients referenced the NEJM paper without mentioning the retraction. Stroke Editor-in-Chief Ralph Sacco wrote in an email that the retraction occurred after the article was initially received. However, a revision of the article was resubmitted months after the event, according to the paper itself. Sacco said he would issue no correction because the retraction “is not material to the findings.”

A 16 December paper on SARS-CoV-2 genetics in Nature Communications, another high-profile journal, also cited the NEJM article without reference to the retraction. Elisa De Ranieri, the journal’s editor-in-chief, told Science her journal does not routinely check for “retractions or other postpublication updates.” A lead author of the paper, biomathematician Maik Pietzner at the University of Cambridge, said that although the paper was submitted after the retractions occurred, it was written beforehand, and “the current pandemic requires immediate response.” However, the paper was published 4 months after its submission.

Suelzer says inappropriate citations of retracted articles are hard to excuse. Retraction Watch publishes a free retraction database that has been integrated into a number of automated services to check citations, including, Zotero, and RedacTek. The failure to use such tools “is a disservice to the readers and researchers,” Suelzer says. “They are pretty low bars.”

Yet Oransky estimates that in biomedicine, up to 90% of citations to retracted papers don’t mention their fall from grace. “Half the time [as seen with the Surgisphere papers] is an improvement. That’s what’s shocking about it.”

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Pennsylvania State Troopers Association voices frustration that troopers haven’t been prioritized for vaccination – WGAL Susquehanna Valley Pa.

Pennsylvania State Troopers Association voices frustration that troopers haven’t been prioritized for vaccination - WGAL Susquehanna Valley Pa.


Pennsylvania State Troopers Association voices frustration that troopers haven’t been prioritized for vaccination

WGAL News 8 coronavirus coverage

The Pennsylvania State Troopers Association expressed frustration that the COVID-19 vaccination of troopers is not being prioritized.PSTA President David Kennedy issued a statement Wednesday after the Wolf administration moved teachers to the front of the line for the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine.“There are only 4,300 state troopers in Pennsylvania, but they are responsible for patrolling over 85% of our commonwealth,” Kennedy said. “Thus far, over 700 troopers have been infected with nearly 1,000 department employees, overall. An outbreak could cripple our department. Public safety should be a priority right now. The PSTA renews our call for the administration to vaccinate first responders so they can focus on doing their jobs.”

The Pennsylvania State Troopers Association expressed frustration that the COVID-19 vaccination of troopers is not being prioritized.

PSTA President David Kennedy issued a statement Wednesday after the Wolf administration moved teachers to the front of the line for the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“There are only 4,300 state troopers in Pennsylvania, but they are responsible for patrolling over 85% of our commonwealth,” Kennedy said. “Thus far, over 700 troopers have been infected with nearly 1,000 department employees, overall. An outbreak could cripple our department. Public safety should be a priority right now. The PSTA renews our call for the administration to vaccinate first responders so they can focus on doing their jobs.”

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Stark link between obesity and Covid deaths revealed – Financial Times

Stark link between obesity and Covid deaths revealed - Financial Times

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Good news about the Moderna arm vaccine rash — its no worse with second shot – USA TODAY

Good news about the Moderna arm vaccine rash — its no worse with second shot - USA TODAY

There’s good news about “Moderna arm,” the raised, sometimes itchy red rash some people get a week or so after being vaccinated with Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine.

There were concerns people who experienced the annoying rash might have a worse reaction with the second dose. A report published Wednesday finds that’s not the case – and most don’t have any reaction at all the second time.

“We’re encouraging people who’ve had this reaction to go in and get their second shot,” said Dr. Kim Blumenthal, an allergist, epidemiologist and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who’s tracking the reaction.

“There was concern that if you had the reaction on the first dose, it might reoccur with the second and possibly be worse. But we now have followed enough cases to know that’s not happening.”

Opinion:Getting the COVID-19 vaccine: I put my faith in science, Moderna, and myself

The reaction appears as an angry red rash, almost always on the arm where the vaccine was given, but can spread to other parts of the arm or hand. It can be a very pronounced oval on the skin, hard and hot to the touch, and sometimes is very itchy. 

The reaction occurs only in people who get the Moderna vaccine, not the one from Pfizer-BioNTech. It is more common in women than men, and is more frequently seen in those under 60.

For Natalie Roth of San Mateo, California, the area where she got her first COVID-19 vaccine shot “was swollen and hot to the touch but not a big deal,” she said. The red splotch grew every day but was never itchy and lasted for about six days.  

A harmless but annoying rash that appears in some people who have gotten the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19. A report in the New England Journal of Medicine published March 3, 2021 found the reaction is not more severe with the second dose of the vaccine and often didn't occur at all. The new data was reassuring to physicians who encourage people who had had the rash to get their second dose.  This patient was seen at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. The reaction lasted four days.

The reaction can come as a surprise because it typically doesn’t appear until seven or eight days after the immunization.

“In all the patients, they had totally resolved any initial symptoms from when they first got the shot and then this popped up out of nowhere,” Blumenthal said.

The rash is now termed “delayed large local reaction” though many patients have begun informally referring to it as “Modera arm.”

Doctors and patients first began to hear reports of the reaction soon after the Moderna vaccine began to be distributed. USA TODAY wrote about it on Jan. 27, but at that point little data was available. 

Blumenthal and Dr. Esther Freeman have been tracking the phenomenon and published the first paper on it in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday.

They have been following cases of the reaction at Massachusetts General Hospital and have seen no instances where the reaction worsened with the second shot.

“This paper should be really reassuring to both patients and health care providers,” Freeman said. “The reaction only seems to reoccur in about half the cases and in no cases did we see it get worse.”

In about 50% of cases, the patient had no reaction at all with the second dose. In 25%, the reaction was milder; in 25%, it was about the same. 

“The big concern people might have had was that they were going to have a full-body, full-blown allergic reaction. But on that point we can be reassuring,” said Freeman, director of global health dermatology at Massachusetts General and a professor at Harvard Medical School.

Race against variants:Moderna to begin trial of new COVID-19 vaccine to address virus variant first found in South Africa

Another positive finding was that in people who got the rash with both shots, it seemed to fade more quickly after the second.

Those who had it after the first shot reported the rash lasted for six to 11 days. Those who had the reaction after the second shot said it faded within two to three days, Freeman said.

Wendie Holman’s first rash lasted for 10 days but the second one only lasted for three.

“Today, if I look closely, I see a faint remnant of pink skin around the inoculation site. There is no itching and no pain,” said Holman, a Santa Rosa, California, resident.

So far, side effects for both the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines seem to be almost identical, apart from this one reaction. Experts caution that a small number of people having a reaction is not a reason to prefer one vaccine over another. People should take whatever vaccine they can get, Freeman said.

Treatment is simple for most patients. Ice on the site of the rash and non-sedating antihistamines are usually all that’s needed to deal with the symptoms, Blumenthal said. Getting the second shot on the opposite arm can help but isn’t necessary.

In a few, more severe cases, steroids were required. The good news is, in those few cases, patients didn’t have a reoccurrence of the rash with their second dose of vaccine, she said.

The doctors reported some patients were treated with antibiotics when the rash was misdiagnosed as an infection. 

Safe early rollout:The first 22M Americans have been vaccinated for COVID-19, and initial safety data shows everything is going well, CDC says

It’s not known how common the reaction is. In the initial Moderna tests, “delayed injection site reactions” occurred in .08% of participants. However, Freeman thinks the number is probably higher because Moderna counted only reactions that began on or after Day 8.

Such delayed skin reactions to vaccinations are rare but have been reported with other routine vaccinations, she added. 

Researchers encourage those who experience the reaction to report it on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine adverse reaction system, known as V-safe.

The doctors continue to study the reaction and are especially interested in collected images of the rash in people with darker skin tones. There is no indication the reaction is any different in people with darker skin; they simply want to document the phenomenon across all skin shades. 

Contact Elizabeth Weise at [email protected]

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Mass. reports 1,553 new COVID-19 cases, 66 new deaths –

Mass. reports 1,553 new COVID-19 cases, 66 new deaths -

Newly reported cases: 1,553

Total confirmed cases: 553,220

Estimated active cases: 28,550

Newly reported deaths: 66

Total confirmed deaths: 15,925

Newly reported tests: 102,052

Total tests: 16,419,989

Percent positivity (seven-day average): 1.82%

Hospitalized patients: 755

ICU patients: 173

Intubated patients: 109

Average age of hospitalized patients: 69

View an interactive version of the state’s dashboard here.

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Oregon reports 27 more COVID-19 related deaths; 1 million vaccine doses given – KTVZ

Oregon reports 27 more COVID-19 related deaths; 1 million vaccine doses given - KTVZ

(Update: Adding weekly report; deaths, cases, hospitalizations increase; Western Workgroup recommends Johnson & Johnson vaccine as safe, effective))

PORTLAND, Ore. (KTVZ) — There are 27 new COVID-19 related deaths in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 2,252, the Oregon Health Authority reported Wednesday.

OHA also reported 276 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 as of 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, bringing the state total to 156,287.

Note: A large volume of backlogged electronic laboratory reports (ELRs) were received Tuesday. As a result, Wednesday’s test counts are higher than anticipated. Test results were from Jan. 1 to March 1. Approximately 99% of these test results were negative results, and Wednesday’s percent positivity is lower than anticipated.

Oregon hits milestone: 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered

OHA recorded Wednesday more than 1 million vaccines administered to Oregonians. There were 22,346 doses recorded Tuesday, bringing the total number of doses administered in the state to 1,019,767. The first dose was administered on Dec. 14, less than three months ago.

About one in five Oregonians who likely are eligible have received at least one dose.

The vaccine has been delivered to every Oregon county, long-term care and residential care facilities, adult foster homes, group homes for those with disabilities, hospitals, mass vaccination events, mobile events, clinics, Tribal health centers, group homes, congregate care settings, pharmacies, outpatient clinics, federally qualified health centers and other locations throughout the state.

Oregon has now administered a cumulative total of 1,019,767 first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccines. To date, 1,310,175 doses of vaccine have been delivered to sites across Oregon.

 “This could not happen without the partnerships that have been strengthened and developed to move Oregon closer to community immunity, and the thousands of providers, volunteers, nurses and countless other Oregonians who made this happen,” said OHA Director Patrick Allen. “Every day, we are delivering more than 22,000 doses of vaccine that will bring us to the end of this difficult journey for so many.

“Our ability to meet our timelines for opening up scheduling opportunities to additional groups will still require an adequate and consistent supply of doses from the federal government, a large number of Oregonians who are able and willing to get vaccinated and the ability of our vaccination sites to immunize all eligible persons.”

St. Charles Health System has given 27,447 COVID-19 vaccinations as of early Wednesday.

As Oregon continues the vaccine rollout, OHA encourages all Oregonians to keep taking the protective measures to help keep themselves, families, coworkers, loved ones, friends and communities safe and healthy. They continue to recommend that all Oregonians:

  • Maintain 6 feet of physical distance;
  • Wear a face covering when outside the house;
  • Practice good hand hygiene;
  • Avoid any gatherings with non-household members;
  • If you start to have symptoms — even mild ones — consult with a medical provider quickly to get instructions on how to care for yourself and your household members and to determine whether to get tested;
  • And finally, if you get a call from a local public health authority, answer it, and take their advice on how to protect yourself and those around you.

COVID-19 hospitalizations

The number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 across Oregon is 140, which is nine fewer than Tuesday. There are 31 COVID-19 patients in intensive care unit (ICU) beds, which is two more than Tuesday.

The total number of patients in hospital beds may fluctuate between report times. The numbers do not reflect admissions per day, nor the length of hospital stay. Staffing limitations are not captured in this data and may further limit bed capacity.

St. Charles Bend had 14 COVID-19 patients as of 4 a.m. Wednesday, one of whom was in the ICU and on a ventilator.

More information about hospital capacity can be found here.

Cases and deaths

Details of Wednesday’s reported deaths will be published later.

The new confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases reported Wednesday are in the following counties: Baker (2), Benton (3), Clackamas (20), Clatsop (2), Columbia (3), Coos (24), Deschutes (10), Douglas (22), Grant (2), Harney (2), Jackson (47), Jefferson (5), Josephine (5), Klamath (2), Lane (15), Linn (4), Malheur (2), Marion (28), Multnomah (26), Polk (4), Tillamook (4), Umatilla (7), Union (10), Washington (25) and Yamhill (2).

Weekly COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, deaths rise

The Oregon Health Authority’s COVID-19 Weekly Report, released today, shows increases in daily cases, hospitalizations and deaths from the previous week.

OHA reported 2,652 new daily cases of COVID-19 during the week of Monday, Feb. 22 through Sunday, Feb. 28 — a 17% increase from the previous week.

New COVID-19 related hospitalizations also rose to 164, up from 159 the previous week.

Reported COVID-19 related deaths also increased to 57, up from 17 last week. That represents the lowest total since mid-November.

There were 120,678 tests for COVID-19 for the week of Feb. 21 through Feb. 27, a sharp increase from the previous week. The previous week’s total was most likely affected by the inclement winter weather event that took place throughout the region.

Roughly 117,000 tests were administered on a weekly basis earlier this year. The percentage of positive tests was 3.7%.

People 70 years of age and older have accounted for 40% of COVID-19 associated hospitalizations and 77% of COVID-19 associated deaths.

Friday’s COVID-19 Weekly Outbreak Report shows 56 active COVID-19 outbreaks in senior living communities and congregate living settings, with three or more confirmed cases and one or more COVID-19 related deaths.

Learn more about COVID-19 vaccinations

To learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine situation in Oregon, visit OHA’s web page, which has a breakdown of distribution and other useful information.

News release from Gov. Kate Brown’s Office:

Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup Recommends Johnson & Johnson Vaccine, Confirms it is Safe and Effective

Workgroup “Recommends unanimously that the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine be used in our states” 
Endorses the transparency and objectivity of the process, and the rigor, validity and reliability of the federal analyses
J&J becomes the third vaccine supported for use by the Workgroup; vaccine shipments are arriving this week

 (Salem, OR) — The Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup last night completed its review of the federal process and has concluded the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen Biotech) COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective for use in the Western States. The Workgroup provided its confirmation to the Governors of California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington this morning, making the J&J vaccine the third COVID-19 vaccine supported for use in these states. Shipments are expected early this week.  

Washington, Oregon and Nevada joined California’s COVID-19 Scientific Safety Review Workgroup in October. The workgroup, made up of nationally acclaimed scientists with expertise in immunization and public health, has concurrently and independently reviewed the FDA’s actions related to COVID-19 vaccinations. It will continue to evaluate other COVID-19 vaccines as they go through the federal process.

Statement from Governor Kate Brown:
“After thorough scientific review by doctors and health experts, we now have three safe and effective vaccines available for Oregonians. And, because the Johnson & Johnson vaccine can be stored in standard refrigerators and vaccinate individuals in a single dose, it gives us the ability to vaccinate even more people. We will work to distribute vaccines as quickly and equitably as possible as we move forward to vaccinate seniors, people with underlying health conditions, frontline workers, and all Oregonians.”

Statement from Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak:
“With the review of the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) COVID-19 vaccine, the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup has again come together to ensure we have a safe, effective vaccine available to our residents. Their review of this vaccine should give Nevadans added confidence to say ‘yes’ to any of the three vaccines offered.

“The availability of COVID-19 vaccine is crucial as we continue our response and efforts to protect the health of our communities and our state. I am so proud of the work being done on the ground at vaccination sites statewide – almost 670,000 doses administered – and I offer my gratitude and thanks to all of those working for their fellow Nevadans.

“The Johnson & Johnson vaccine gives us additional flexibility as we strive to reach all Nevadans. This vaccine is easy to use, ship and store, which will help our partners in their mission to reach all our residents. Thank you to my fellow governors for sharing your expertise as we all work to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

Statement from California Governor Gavin Newsom:
“With the authorization of the single-shot Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, we now have three remarkable vaccines that offer 100 percent protection from death and hospitalizations. We have administered 9.3 million vaccines in California thus far, and we’re building a system that will allow us to vaccinate people as quickly as supply becomes available. There is truly light at the end of the tunnel.”

Statement from Washington Governor Jay Inslee:
“The Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup gives us further confidence around the safety and efficacy of Johnson and Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine. With the delivery of the J & J vaccine this week, and overall increase in the number of vaccine doses coming to Washington, we have increased our capacity to get vaccine to all parts of the state. We are making good progress on vaccination rates, and this third vaccine will help our efforts to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible.”

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