Pfizer vaccine and COVID mortality: a call for retraction of publications from Israel

Remember those first studies from Israel about a year ago, reporting excellent vaccine effectiveness against death from COVID? They were published in high-profile journals and made the headlines.

Suppose I showed you — using official Israeli statistics — that the mortality endpoint in those studied was misclassified at a rate of 50%; that half of “COVID deaths” were not death from COVID.

Would you have trusted those studies?

No.

So let me show you the evidence of misclassification. It is simple.

The Israel Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) estimated excess deaths versus reported COVID deaths in various periods, including December 2020 through March 2021 (graph and table). That’s the winter during which the population in Israel was first vaccinated.

Source: Israel CBS Excel file. I indicated the period and highlighted the corresponding row of data.

In that 4-month period, there were 3,298 reported COVID deaths, but CBS estimated only 1,641 excess deaths — half as many. For every COVID death in Israel there was another so-called “COVID death” that did not account for excess mortality, which means that the patient would have died, regardless of their positive PCR test (death “with COVID”, not “from COVID”). Therefore, any study that relied on classification of COVID death in Israel during the first vaccination campaign suffered from a 50% misclassification error. Yes, you are reading that number correctly.

Is it acceptable to publish a study when a major endpoint is misclassified at this rate?

No.

Would journal reviewers have allowed those studies to be published, had they known it back then?

No.

Those publications should be retracted.

p.s., I offered the British Medical Journal a short piece on this topic for their Analysis Section. They declined (boilerplate rejection text). Why don’t I write to the journals that published those studies (Lancet, New England Journal of Medicine)? Tried twice before. Hopeless.

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Professor Emeritus of Public Health (University of Arizona); MD (Tel-Aviv University, Israel); MPH, Epidemiology (University of Minnesota)

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Eyal Shahar

Professor Emeritus of Public Health (University of Arizona); MD (Tel-Aviv University, Israel); MPH, Epidemiology (University of Minnesota)