What is true in the “scandal” of Pfizer documents on the anti-Covid vaccine

For several weeks, alleged revelations about the danger of Pfizer’s Covid vaccine, apparently leaked by the same company, have been circulating online. A series of documents, a sort of “Pfizer papers” flaunted by the international anti-vaccination front, which would list the risks of administering the serum in particularly at risk subjects, such as pregnant women or during breastfeeding. But what’s true?

In a long debunking article, Agence France presse (AFP) explains why this is nothing scandalous. This is not a real hoax in the sense that some information is actually true. But the data cited on the internet have been largely decontextualized, if not distorted, at least as an emblematic case of disinformation.

Pfizer documents

On social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, you can read phrases such as: “You have been sold a 95% efficacy of the injection (of the vaccine, ed), but Pfizer documents reveal an efficacy of 12% in the first 7 days and then 1% “. Or again: “Pfizer documents show that their vaccine is not recommended for pregnant and lactating women.” And, of course, “Pfizer knew its vaccines would kill.”

Let’s start from the context. As usual, thousands of pages relating to Pfizer – BioNTech serum, authorized in late 2020 by the FDA, the American drug agency, are being published on the website of the non-governmental organization Public Health and Medical Professionals for Transparency. With each batch of documents that is published, therefore, a series of information emerges that is reproposed to the public in a misleading way by different users, many of which have already been refuted by various scientists and debunkers around the world. As of May 10, 238 of these documents have been published.

According to several publications on the net, the documents in question would list up to 9 pages of troubling side effects, including ailments and diseases: from skin rashes and swollen tongue to venous thrombosis, edema, stroke or facial paralysis. But, as confirmed to the AFP by various pharmacovigilance experts, the list is an appendix to a broader document in which it deals with “adverse events of particular interest” that are theoretically possible and should therefore be subject to special surveillance. , but which have been observed with previous vaccines (without being able to establish a causal link between vaccine and reaction) and are not linked to the specific anti-Covid serum.

Then there is the question of mortality during drug experiments: it seems that 1223 people died in the experimentation phase. Comparing this figure to that of the total reports of side effects (especially headache, fatigue and fever) mentioned in the documents in question (just over 42 thousand cases), therefore, various Internet users have come to the conclusion that there was a mortality rate directly linked to vaccination of about 3%.

However, there are at least two problems with this obviously arbitrary extrapolation. On the one hand, the data cited comes from reports sent to Pfizer by the health authorities of various countries, without a direct causal link with the vaccine having been established. But, above all, the mortality rate of vaccination is not calculated in this way: instead of considering them as a percentage of adverse reactions, the deaths must be compared to the total number of doses administered. The FDA is not authorized to disclose the latter figure, since it is confidential commercial information, but it is useful to take as a reference the number of doses produced in 2021 by the company alone: ​​3 billion.

The effectiveness

But it doesn’t stop there. After clinical trials, Pfizer said its vaccine was 95% effective. The World Health Organization explains that this figure is calculated by comparing the number of cases of the disease in the vaccinated group with those in the control group, whose members were given a placebo. Thus, a potential efficacy of 80% means that those who receive the vaccine are 80% less likely to contract the disease than those who do not get vaccinated, but it does not mean that 20% of those who are vaccinated will get sick.

Yet, several publications offer different figures, including 1%. But even here there has been confusion, probably mixing together distinct numbers that come from different measurements. In fact, there are two ways to evaluate the efficacy of a vaccine: the reduction of the “relative risk” and that of the “absolute risk” can be calculated. Both are statistically valid, but they refer to very different orders of magnitude. For Pfizer serum, 95% efficacy is about relative risk reduction. As for the absolute risk, its reduction is around 0.85%: probably, therefore, it is from this figure that, rounded up, we have reached the 1% we mentioned earlier.

But where do these numbers come from? Pfizer tested the second dose of the vaccine on an audience of 36,000 people, divided into two groups of about 18,000 people: one received the vaccine, the other the placebo. The results published by the company speak for themselves: in the first group, only 8 participants contracted Sars-CoV-2 infection, compared to 162 in the second group. Now, comparing these figures to the number of people in the respective groups, we will find that 0.89% of the placebo group got sick (162 out of 18 thousand), compared to 0.04% of the vaccinated group. The difference between the risk of contracting the disease for those who are not vaccinated and those who are (that is, the absolute risk reduction) is therefore 0.85% (0.89–0.04).

Pregnant women

Another central issue concerns the alleged danger of vaccination for certain demographic categories, specifically pregnant and lactating women. In reality, this part of the fake news about Pfizer serum is not even based on documents from the company, but on some recommendations from the British drug agency (Mhra) dating back to December 2020, when the United Kingdom was starting its campaign. vaccinal.

The MHRA wrote at the time that the Pfizer vaccine “is not recommended during pregnancy” and “should not be used during breastfeeding,” but also specified that such cautions were dictated by the lack of sufficient data on the subject. As is customary in the protocols of many countries, the United Kingdom has also advised against the vaccine for these categories with a “specific profile” as a precaution, only to not only authorize it but even recommend it due to the particular risks that this population runs if it contracts the Covid-19 (for example that of a premature birth).

This is because various studies have been conducted around the world on the outcomes of vaccinations during pregnancy, with the specific aim of identifying any safety problems before or after childbirth: well, from these studies no statistically significant problems emerged. Indeed, the Pfizer vaccine (as well as the Moderna) is even indicated as safer than others by the NHS, the British health system.

Contagion of the vaccine

Two other false myths ridden by no-vaxes concern on the one hand the possibility that vaccinated people spread the virus received with the anti-Covid serum and, on the other, Pfizer’s alleged will to hide the data on natural immunity to the coronavirus. In the first case, a document from the pharmaceutical company was distorted to support the already widely disproved theory that the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 can be expelled from a vaccinated person simply by sneezing or coughing, eventually contaminating other people. .

But this is impossible, since no spike protein of the virus is “injected” into the vaccinated: rather, the vaccine stimulates the spontaneous production by our body of “harmless” spike proteins, to train the body to recognize and fight the virus. in case of a serious infection. These proteins are quickly destroyed by the human body, they are not “pieces of virus” and cannot contaminate others. Covid vaccines do not contain any Sars-CoV-2 viruses, not even in an attenuated or inactive form.

Finally, there is no “explosive revelation” about natural immunity in the Pfizer documents. The implication of these sensationalisms is that the vaccine is useless, the pharmaceutical company knew this and tried to cover it up (however, putting it in black and white on documents that should be made public by practice…). Nobody, neither Pfizer nor independent scientists, has ever claimed that natural immunity doesn’t work. Indeed: the very principle on which vaccines are based is to help the immune system respond quickly and effectively to pathogens, since natural immunity is often not enough.

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