Peter McCullough
Peter McCullough, who has spread false claims about the COVID vaccine, is one of the authors. Image by Jason O'BRIEN/AAP PHOTOS

Retracted study provides ‘greatest hits’ of vaccine misinfo

William Summers March 12, 2024

A peer-reviewed study proves COVID-19 vaccines are more harmful than beneficial.


False. The study includes numerous false claims about COVID vaccines and has since been retracted.

Vaccine sceptics are excited by the publication of a journal paper that claims to prove COVID-19 jabs have an overall negative impact on health and should be withdrawn from use. 

The claim is false. The January 2024 study is authored by people who have previously spread incorrect information about COVID vaccines and it repeats several debunked falsehoods about the jabs.

The study was retracted by the journal that published it in February, with the publisher citing multiple issues with data and citations and saying its conclusions were “unreliable”.

The study, COVID-19 mRNA Vaccines: Lessons Learned from the Registrational Trials and Global Vaccination Campaign, was published in an online-only medical journal called Cureus.

Cureus is an ‘open access’ (free-to-read) journal that markets itself as having a fast submission to publication turnaround time.

The study was shared multiple times on Facebook in posts, including a video (13.25) by an Australian conspiracy theorist.

Facebook post
 Facebook users shared the now-retracted study and quoted its unsupported conclusions. 

Four of the seven study co-authors – Stephanie Seneff, Jessica Rose, Steve Kirsch, and Peter McCullough – have previously used data to make claims about COVID-19 and vaccines that were debunked by AAP FactCheck and other fact-checkers.

Several scientists flagged concerns about the study following its publication on January 24, including here, here, here and here.

One of those critics, oncologist and pseudoscience debunker David Gorski described the study as a “greatest hits” collection of anti-vax talking points.

Cureus editors formally retracted the article on February 26, saying the conclusions were “considered to be unreliable” due to “a misrepresentation of the cited references and available data”.

According to a blog post by Mr Kirsch, Springer Nature told the study authors it had “a significant number of concerns” about their research and conclusions.

Among those concerns, the publisher said the article included incorrect statements about the vaccines containing high levels of DNA, misrepresented the findings of other studies and included an already-disproven claim that vaccines contain toxic spike proteins that linger in the body.

Other claims in the study have already been debunked by AAP FactCheck and other fact-checking organisations.

For example, the study claims there has been a ten-fold increase in cardiac arrests among athletes since the vaccine rollout and cites as its source a 2022 academic letter co-authored by Dr McCullough, which claims 1598 athletes suffered cardiac arrest between January 2021 and December 2022.

That letter took the 1598 figure from a list of alleged cardiac arrests suffered by “athletes” published on a vaccine-sceptic website run by an anonymous team of “investigators, news editors, journalists and truth seekers”.

The list includes reports of deaths and injuries suffered by professional and amateur athletes around the world, including recreational runners and was previously debunked in this January 2023 fact-check.

It also includes people known to have died from causes other than cardiac arrests, including soccer legend Pelé, who died aged 81 after battling colon cancer; two Russian athletes who reportedly died in a speeding car; and an amateur runner who fell off a cliff.

 The study falsely claimed Brazil soccer great Pele, who died from cancer, as a vaccine victim. 

The study also claims COVID-19 vaccination caused 17 million excess deaths, citing a 2023 analysis co-authored by Canadian former physics professor Denis Rancourt.

However, as explained in a September 2023 fact check, the 17 million figure relied on the questionable assumption that spikes in excess mortality during the pandemic were due to increased vaccination rather than surges in the COVID virus.

Amesh Adalja from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security told AFP FactCheck in October 2023 that the findings “represent a major distortion of the actual data”.

Jeffrey Morris, a biostatistics professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, previously told AAP FactCheck that the claim COVID vaccines caused large numbers of deaths could be tested by comparing non-COVID mortality rates between people who have and haven’t had the jab.

Studies comparing the two groups, such as here and here, have found mortality was the same or lower among people who had the jab, indicating vaccines did not significantly increase the risk of death.

The Verdict

The claim that a peer-reviewed journal study proves COVID-19 vaccines are more harmful than beneficial is false. 

Some authors of the study are anti-COVID-vaccine advocates who have spread misinformation about vaccines previously. The study repeats a number of false claims about COVID vaccines that have already been debunked. 

The publisher of the journal in which the study appeared has retracted the study, saying numerous issues had been found that made its conclusions unreliable.

False – The claim is inaccurate.

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