A registered nurse from AltaMed Health Services administers the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine in Los Angeles, California on August 17, 2021 ( AFP / Frederic J. BROWN)

Research summary misleadingly cited as evidence Covid-19 shots are dangerous

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A preliminary summary of research in an American Heart Association (AHA) journal claiming that common Covid-19 vaccines more than double the risk of heart problems is being cited as evidence the shots are dangerous. But the AHA says there are potential errors in the research, which has not been peer reviewed, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and an expert raised questions about its conclusion and methodology.

"Mrna COVID Vaccines Dramatically Increase Endothelial Inflammatory Markers and ACS Risk as Measured by the PULS Cardiac Test: a Warning," says the title of the abstract, which was published on November 8, 2021 on the website of the AHA journal Circulation.

The summary -- known as an abstract -- of the research by heart surgeon Steven Gundry says there is an increased five-year risk of Acute Coronary Syndrome (ACS) in patients, from 11 percent pre-vaccination to 25 percent after vaccination.

The abstract has been cited in multiple online articles raising concerns about the shots, and has also circulated on social media.

A screenshot of the headline of a blog article taken on December 8, 2021

The research focuses on mRNA shots, which use technology that differs from traditional vaccines, and have been the subject of a number of inaccurate claims debunked by AFP Fact Check.

Shortly after the publication of the abstract, the AHA issued an expression of concern about the research by Gundry, who declined through a spokeswoman to comment on the issue.

"Soon after publication of the above abstract in Circulation, it was brought to the American Heart Association Committee on Scientific Sessions Program's attention that there are potential errors in the abstract," the AHA said.

"Specifically, there are several typographical errors, there is no data in the abstract regarding myocardial T-cell infiltration, there are no statistical analyses for significance provided, and the author is not clear that only anecdotal data was used," it added.

Michelle Kirkwood, the AHA's media relations director, told AFP that abstracts are not peer reviewed, meaning they have not been assessed by other scientists prior to publication.

"Statements and conclusions are always solely those of the study authors and do not necessarily reflect the Association's institutional policy or position," and AHA is currently reviewing the existing abstract submission process, she said.

"The American Heart Association itself has been unequivocal in its belief in and support of vaccination as the best available public health strategy to address the pandemic," Kirkwood added.

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) spokeswoman Martha Sharan told AFP that the agency has no information indicating that Gundry's research is accurate.

"CDC is not aware of any evidence that would suggest that the risk of developing heart diseases increases from 11 percent to 25 percent in patients who receive the Covid-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna using the new mRNA technology or that mRNA vaccines dramatically increase inflammation on the endothelium and T-cell infiltration of cardiac muscle," she said on December 8.

"We are not able to substantiate these claims as factual correct or indicative in any way of any kind of a vaccine safety problem," Sharan added.

And Ann Marie Navar, associate professor of medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center, told AFP on December 7 that "based on what I can tell, the research presented by Dr Gundry in the abstract is fundamentally flawed and should have never been accepted even in the abstract form."

The PULS score -- from the test referenced by Gundry in his abstract -- is "not widely used nor accepted by the general cardiology community; we have much better tools to predict someone's risk of heart disease," she said, adding: "It is both scientifically incorrect and medically irresponsible to extrapolate changes in the PULS score to long-term heart risk or cardiac inflammation."

"As a cardiologist, I am much more afraid of Covid-19 infection than I am Covid vaccine-related side effects in the heart...There is a rare side effect of inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis) that we have seen in people after Covid-19 infection, but the risk is extremely low," Navar said.

Despite the serious questions about the validity of Gundry's research, rare cases of heart inflammation have been linked to mRNA shots.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning on June 25 that mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna may "increase risks of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle)."

The CDC is actively monitoring the situation and says: "Myocarditis and pericarditis have rarely been reported, especially in adolescents and young adult males within several days after Covid-19 vaccination," but it continues to recommend vaccination for everyone ages 5 years and older.

As of December 7, more than 8 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines had been administered worldwide.