Understanding and neutralising covid-19 misinformation and disinformationBMJ 2022; 379 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj-2022-070331 (Published 22 November 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;379:e070331
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Dr Evans and colleagues argue that we have misrepresented them. They read our sentence saying that they oppose vaccination as meaning that they opposed ALL vaccination. Our words were in a paper that was about covid-19, in a paragraph that mentioned covid-19 twice. We contend that a reasonable person would have interpreted our words as meaning that it was covid-19 vaccination that they opposed. This they confirm in their response by stating that they have “called for the entire Covid vaccine rollout to be halted”. We should add that we have struggled to reconcile her statement that they only made this call recently with the letter from the UKMFA to vaccine regulators and the Secretary of State, dated 23rd November 2020,(1) before the vaccine programme even started, that said “We urge them not to go ahead with authorisation or a rollout until our concerns are addressed.” This, they go on to say, should involve following up trial participants for a “minimum of five years, but ideally for an entire generation”. This letter also includes several arguments, such as the rejection of covid-19 vaccine studies using vaccines against other diseases as a placebo and that influenza vaccines can leave recipients vulnerable to other viruses and may increase mortality from covid-19. None of these statements suggest confidence in other vaccines. Their other criticisms refer to statements they attribute to us that we did not make.
Dr Jones asks if we have read any of HART’s publications. We can confirm that we have, in detail. We have also benefitted from sight of internal discussions among those participating in HART chats. These include the theory that mRNA vaccination leads to viral shedding that can make those around them ill,(2) leading to the suggestion that vaccinated teachers should be removed from classes (3) or stories of deaths of infants born to vaccinated mothers, with the suggestion that the mothers might be excreting graphene in their milk.(4)
Dr Craig writes that “For the avoidance of doubt, and with a gentle eye-roll, we point out that we have not made any claims about … [a list of conspiracy theories]”. For the avoidance of doubt, and without any eye-roll, we can only point out that we did not say that HART promoted these theories. Rather, we correctly cited a separate report.
Finally, Mr Suadoni also bases his response entirely on something we did not say.
We purposely decided not to engage with the many statements made by these groups and their individual members in our paper as space did not permit. Rather, given that their views are available on the internet, including statements such as “Even if started late, use of ivermectin and high dose vitamins should be made readily available for physicians to prescribe” (5) and, especially, the revealing internal discussions we refer to above, we encourage others to do so and make up their own minds.
Competing interests: We are the authors of the paper in question. Our competing interests are reported there.
Re: BMJ 2022;379:e070331
We are the Directors of the UK Medical Freedom Alliance (UKMFA) , an independent, not-for-profit organisation run by a team of medical professionals, academics, scientists and lawyers, and the UK’s most recognised and respected organisation advocating for every individual’s right to Informed Consent, Bodily Autonomy and Medical Choice.
The UKMFA were named in the above referenced article. We take issue with unsubstantiated and unreferenced allegations contained therein, concerning the UKMFA, which seek to undermine our contribution to a critical debate of national importance .
It is regrettable that the authors’ approach borders on the defamatory, is manifestly unscientific, and falls short of the editorial standards that your journal professes to uphold. Furthermore, we are disappointed not to have been offered the customary “right of reply” before publication.
Aside from the defamatory implication that the UKMFA occupies the far-right fringes of a political debate, for which the authors provide no evidence, we wish to clarify that the UKMFA is solely funded through modest donations from the public, which cover website and administrative costs, and is staffed by unpaid volunteers.
The authors explicitly (and wrongly) claim, with no evidence cited, that the UKMFA has “opposed vaccination”. This is an obvious attempt to smear and discredit the UKMFA with the pejorative “anti-vax” label. Our publications to date on the topic of vaccines are solely concerned with Covid vaccines , products for which the long-term safety remains unverified, and on which the medical community should surely welcome an open debate. Although we have always campaigned for Covid vaccines not to be administered to healthy children , we have only recently called for the entire Covid vaccine rollout to be halted, based on glaring safety signals and overwhelming evidence of harm from thousands of published papers, real world data, and official safety databases from around the world  .
A key remit of the UKMFA is to provide evidence-based information for individuals and healthcare professionals, to aid the process of informed consent in line with well-established principles of medical ethics and law . All the material we publish is evidence-based and fully referenced  , which the article’s authors fail to acknowledge, apparently preferring ad hominem attack. We would be delighted to engage the authors in a debate on the science, should they find time away from writing propaganda pieces.
This article seeks to promote and enforce one ideology in a totalitarian way, by smearing and seeking to outlaw any other viewpoint. This should have made it unsuitable for publication in a respected scientific journal such as the BMJ. We can assure you that in a climate of extreme censorship of opposing views, the UKMFA have had no mainstream media voice, as opposed to the Government’s constant voice in the press and media.
In an open society, which upholds principles of free speech and rational debate, dissenting and minority voices will play a vital role in making a full and honest assessment of the radical policies implemented during the pandemic, to avoid repeating the same mistakes in the future. It is wrong of the authors to suggest that all the experts are on the side of the mainstream Public Health view, and that there are no experts in their respective fields who disagree with the decisions made. There are many such experts around the world, and they must not be silenced.
We sincerely hope that the authors will retract their article and issue an apology, considering the above.
Dr Elizabeth Evans, MA(Cantab), MBBS(Hons), DRCOG - CEO, UK Medical Freedom Alliance
Dr Jon Rogers, MBChB, MRCGP, DRCOG – Director, UK Medical Freedom Alliance
Dr Sarah Myhill, MBBS – Director, UK Medical Freedom Alliance
Adrienne Benjamin, MBA, BSc – Director, UK Medical Freedom Alliance
Competing interests: No competing interests
Yuxi Wang and colleagues’ analysis , 'Understanding and neutralising covid-19 misinformation and disinformation' suggests directions to the UK Covid Inquiry . The authors draw parallels between the tobacco industry and the organisations Children’s Health Defence, Health Advisory and Recovery Team (HART), UK Medical Freedom Alliance, and UsForThem.
First they tell us that, like tobacco industry history of distorting science, these groups have distorted the science by taking an opposite stances to the governmental ones, such ask on mask mandates, or COVID-19 vaccination in children. What multi-billion dollar interests these organisations have in flagging up possible harm signals from COVID-19 vaccine post-marketing data, in providing a reasoned view on the harm/benefit balance of COVID-19 vaccination in children, or in pointing out how the evidence around mask effectiveness is far from settled?
The tobacco industry has spent decades telling adults and children that cigarette smoking was safe and effective. Health benefits of cigarette smoking were promoted, especially around cognitive function and in the treatment of neurological disorders . I do not see how this can compare to any of the actions of the groups that the authors of the article have highlighted.
Second, as court orders were instrumental for obtaining tobacco companies’ internal documents and communications, the analysis advocates for the Covid Inquiry to take into accounts tweets and existing organisations’ leaked internal messages that, in the authors’ opinion, demonstrate lobbying and influencing governmental agencies involved in COVID-19 policy making. It seems unfair to compare this to the internal memos and millions of dollars spent in advertising and enrollment of healthcare professionals and governmental officials in the promotion of tobacco products .
The tobacco industry commands about a trillion US dollar of yearly revenue , and has a high level of litigation initiated by both side of the fence . The authors seems to advocate for litigation against groups like the organisations mentioned. In the authors’ opinion, these groups, through false or misleading COVID-19 narratives discrediting public health measures, including non-pharmacological interventions, may have contributed to preventable illness and death.
The authors refer to increasing long covid cases in children, citing people self-reported statistics gathered by the Office of National Statistics . They seem to imply that this could have been prevented if the actions of the organisations above had not lobbied against children vaccination through undue influence on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI). A recent systematic review shows that there is low grade evidence for reduction of long covid for infection after vaccination, and inconsistent evidence for vaccination after infection. COVID-19 vaccination for prevention of long covid is not evidence based.
The elephant in the room is a much better fitting parallel to the tobacco industry. It is that industry which commands a worldwide total revenue of 1.42 trillion US dollars, spends 3% of its income in litigation, keeps the facts form its customers and regulators, market its products and research programmes to children, lobbies governmental organisations, sponsors training and healthcare professional events, and funds selected charity and patients advocacy groups. A follow up analysis could advocate for the Covid Inquiry to seek this industry’s internal communication and that with governmental agencies, along with the non-redacted contracts it stipulated with our government, the full data set it holds about its COVID-19 related products, and the after marketing data of the effect of its safe and effective products on its customers.
Marco Tullio Suadoni
Competing interests: No competing interests
I was shocked to read Dr Wang's article, which seems to be calling for censorship and an end to scientific discourse. As the lead author of a series of letters to the MHRA, the JCVI, the CMOs and the GMC regarding covid-19 vaccines for children, I was particularly disturbed to find that the authors class all this as ‘misinformation’. The colleagues who have signed these letters come from all specialities and all corners of the UK.
I have emailed Dr Wang to enquire whether she has read any of our publications. The latest letter to the last Prime Minster  provides links to all the previous letters, dating back to May 2021 prior to the conditional marketing authorisation for children, with numerous references from high impact journals. It would be very helpful if the authors could look through these and provide details of any statements they disagree with. Certainly, the last thing I would wish would be to put any child at risk with incorrect interpretation of scientific information.
It is very clear from minutes of the JCVI meetings in summer 2021  that some of their members shared our concerns, particularly about the lack of follow-up information on adolescents with post-vaccine myocarditis. Shamez Ladhani from UKHSA has also expressed doubts. The Director of the Danish National Board of Health recently went on record to say that if he had known last year what he knows now, he would not have recommended vaccinating children.
Incidentally, as far as I know, I am the only link between UsForThem and HART. I worked with UsForThem as a grandparent volunteer during the initial school closures prior to being invited to join HART in my capacity as a retired consultant paediatrician. Hardly a conspiracy. Perhaps their researcher and journalist could have made a simple phone call or email to clarify this, rather than relying on the ByLine Times for evidence. Also using the label 'anti-vax' to shut down discussion is not in the best interests of the open scientific debate normally championed in the pages of the BMJ. Having spent my entire career recommending vaccination to all my patients, I find the label particularly misleading.
It is good to see that the BMJ is still prepared to publish questions raised around the potential risks of mRNA vaccines or indeed the wisdom of rolling out a drug to millions of healthy children world-wide before completing basic safety investigations.
 https://boriquagato.substack.com/p/danish-national-board-of-health-admits (translated from Danish)
Competing interests: Convenor of the Children's Covid Vaccines Advisory Council. This group of over a hundred experienced health professionals and academics came together in 2021, to collate evidence on the risks and benefits of covid-19 vaccines for healthy children. We have no funding, working entirely in our own time. Our opinions do not necessarily represent those of our employing institutions.
HART comprises a group of volunteer professionals, doctors and scientists unequivocally committed to evidence-based policy making and the precautionary principle. We have no external funding. We believe that high quality science is aided by debate and argument and thank the BMJ for the opportunity to respond. We found the employment of baseless smears, innuendo and guilt by association against HART and others to be disappointing, unhelpful and unprofessional.
We formed HART in response to the dominant narrative that coalesced early during the pandemic before much data was available. Our goal is to test, challenge and question aspects of that narrative in the highest traditions of scientific discourse. We fully support effective and safe vaccines. We are in favour of practical and evidence-based public health measures.
We have publicly raised concerns about vaccination mandates and certificates, the public health impact of lockdown measures, zero-covid targets, masking effectiveness and harms, vaccination of post-infected persons, school closures and vaccinating children to protect adults, amongst other issues that should give pause to serious policy makers planning for future pandemics. We have been surprised to have been met with highly personalised attempts to discredit us rather than mature scientific debate.
We believe many of our concerns will turn out to be justified in the long term, and possibly sooner. As in any scientific debate, we of course recognise that some of our genuine concerns may turn out to have been misplaced as further evidence emerges. We disagree with the proposal that any “contrarian messages” should not “be able to influence policy”. We further disagree with the idea of “revoking the license [sic] to practise” in order to “punish doctors” who raise questions about public health policy, in good faith, in public discourse.
We regard the article as a transparent and quite unsubtle paradigm of a technique they themselves unashamedly promote called “prebunking” (the use of “persuasive but false argument to trigger the [informational] ‘immune system’”). It is littered with evangelism, invective, hysteria and hyperbole constituting, ironically, misinformation in our view. We trust that cooler heads will prevail at the formal inquiry.
For the avoidance of doubt, and with a gentle eye-roll, we point out that we have not made any claims about “bioweapons facilities” in Wuhan, “5G technology having deleterious effects”, or that Bill Gates had “foreknowledge of the pandemic” nor claimed “miracle cures” for covid exist.
HART were among the first to raise concerns about vaccine side effects (including myo/pericarditis, clotting issues and death), overdiagnosis in the post-infectious period and the failure of vaccines to prevent infection. These were all smeared as “misinformation” - all are now widely accepted as true.
We deplore abandoning core ethical principles such as adults having a duty to protect children, informed consent and bodily autonomy. We do not understand why the expert formal UK pandemic plan, effectively implemented by Sweden, was swiftly abandoned and replaced by snap decision-making predicated on panic and fear.
We recall the Health Secretary stating in the House of Commons: “This vaccine will not be used on children, it hasn’t been tested on children and the reason is that the likelihood of children having significant detriment if they catch covid is very very low.” 
We are not sure why this sensible policy was subsequently ditched.
In conclusion, we again thank the BMJ for the opportunity to refute the groundless allegations made in the article above and invite readers to draw their own conclusions as to the credibility of authors who struggle to evidence many of the, frankly, wild claims they make against HART group and others.
1 Covid-19 Update - Hansard - UK Parliament. https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2020-11-10/debates/FB5296EC-628D-4... (accessed 27 Nov 2022).
Competing interests: No competing interests