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Covid-19: Vaccines journal retracts controversial paper after editorial board members quit

BMJ 2021; 374 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.n1726 (Published 07 July 2021) Cite this as: BMJ 2021;374:n1726

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Re: Covid-19: Vaccines journal retracts controversial paper after editorial board members quit

Dear Editor,

I would like to briefly comment on the recent News article by Jacqui Wise [1] which reports about the retraction of our paper “The Safety of Covid-19 Vaccinations—We Should Rethink the Policy” [2]. I am of the opinion that this article contains a biased account of the story, and would like to raise only a few points to justify this belief:

1. Great emphasis is placed on the fact that none of the three authors who wrote the retracted study (Harald Walach, Wouter Aukema and me) have a background in vaccinology, virology, or epidemiology. However, since when is the integrity of a scientific article dependent on the authors’ background? I was described as “a medical physicist who studies ketogenic diets in cancer treatment” [1], without mentioning that I have also published many papers on applied statistics and medical modelling. Our paper was not retracted because the statistical analysis was wrong, but mostly because of our language which implied some causality between vaccinations and reported side effects, although we had acknowledged in our discussion that causality cannot be strictly established.

2. This main reason of retraction of our paper was only briefly mentioned. In their retraction note, the Vaccines Editorial Office stated: “The data was presented as being causally related to adverse events by the authors. This is inaccurate” [3]. However, inaccurate presentation of a statistically valid analysis is not a reason for retraction according to the COPE guidelines that Vaccines officially adheres to (https://publicationethics.org/files/cope-retraction-guidelines-v2.pdf, pages 3-4, accessed 19th July). Neither did we fabricate data or use plagiarism, nor did we have financial conflicts of interest that could have biased our interpretation - all normal criteria for considering a retraction. Therefore, a correction or addendum would have been appropriate.

3. On the other hand, conflicts of interest exist for the editors of Vaccines who resigned or threatened to do so from their editorial position. Investigating and reporting this would have given a more balanced and objective coverage of the story.

4. The cited comment to our study by vaccinologist Helen Petousis-Harris, “garbage in, garbage out” is nothing but a confession that official institutions who are responsible for collecting vaccination safety data apparently do a very poor job. Given that these novel vaccines only have emergency authorization, so that the usual procedures to establish safety have been waived, this is a scandal in itself.

5. Jacqui Wise stated that Wouter Aukema and I are also coauthors of a paper published by Walach et al. in JAMA Pediatrics [1]. This is wrong and requires a correction.

Best regards,

Rainer J. Klement

References
1. Wise, J. Covid-19 : Vaccines journal retracts controversial paper after editorial board members quit. BMJ 374, n1726 (2021).
2. Walach, H., Klement, R. J. & Aukema, W. The Safety of COVID-19 Vaccinations — We Should Rethink the Policy. Vaccines 9, 693 (2021).
3. Vaccines Editorial Office. Retraction: Walach et al . The Safety of COVID-19 Vaccinations — We Should Rethink the Policy. Vaccines 2021, 9, 693. Vaccines 9, 729 (2021).

Competing interests: No competing interests

19 July 2021
Rainer J. Klement
Medical Physicist
Leopoldina Hospital Schweinfurt, Department of Radiation Oncology
Robert-Koch-Strasse 10, 97422 Schweinfurt