CheckMate is a weekly newsletter from RMIT FactLab which recaps the latest in the world of fact checking and misinformation, drawing on the work of FactLab and its sister organisation, RMIT ABC Fact Check.
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CheckMate August 12, 2022
This week, CheckMate investigates whether COVID-19 vaccines have caused a surge in miscarriages which authorities sought to hide.
We also bring you a spicy take on astronomy, and debunk claims that monkeypox is actually vaccine-induced “super shingles”.
‘No evidence’ COVID-19 vaccines cause miscarriage, despite Queensland doctor claim
Viral posts about the risk of miscarriage after COVID-19 vaccination have lit up social media, sparked by claims that a Brisbane doctor was sacked in an effort to cover up his findings.
“Dr Luke McLindon, fertility specialist at Brisbane’s Mater hospital has collected data which reveals a disturbing 74 per cent miscarriage post inject[ion],” read one widely shared tweet.
“In an attempt to silence him he was fired last Friday!!”
Telegram, too, was flooded with claims that Dr McLindon “just got sacked on Friday for not getting the jab and for trying to release his data on miscarriages”.
So, what’s the story?
According to a spokeswoman for Mater Health, which runs the hospital where Dr McLindon worked, the obstetrician and gynaecologist “no longer practises at Mater and has not done so since November last year”.
She added: “Mater has not observed any change in the rate of miscarriage over the last five years or specifically since the introduction of COVID-19 vaccinations.”
Other experts also poured cold water on the suggestion that COVID-19 vaccines were unsafe during pregnancy.
Shaun Brennecke, who leads the Department of Maternal-Fetal Medicine and the Pregnancy Research Centre at Melbourne’s Royal Women’s Hospital, told CheckMate via email that the published data “indicate that such vaccination does NOT increase the risk of or cause miscarriage”.
As evidence, he pointed to the numerous peer-reviewed articles in respected medical journals, whose studies “include many tens of thousands of pregnancies in all, and come from many countries (USA, Norway, China, Switzerland, Romania, etc)”.
“Miscarriage is unfortunately a relatively common pregnancy problem, occurring in approximately 25 per cent of all pregnancies, so there will be cases of women experiencing miscarriage around the time of receiving their COVID vaccination,” Professor Brennecke said.
“However, this association is coincidental, not causal, given the published data indicate the risk of miscarriage is similar in both vaccinated and unvaccinated women.”
According to an unverified online article, which purportedly quotes “a colleague” of Dr McLindon, the data behind the 74 per cent figure was based on a sample of 38 “high-risk” pregnancies.
Critically, though, these numbers have not been published in a formal study or subject to the scrutiny of peer review.
Meanwhile, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the peak body for the profession, strongly advises pregnant women to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“There is no evidence of an increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm birth or other adverse pregnancy outcomes,” it said in a December 2021 statement.
“Conversely, infection with COVID-19 is associated with an increased risk of severe disease, hospitalisation, admission to intensive care, mechanical ventilation, and death, in pregnant women, and an increased risk of prematurity and stillbirth.”
CheckMate tried to contact Dr McLindon to confirm the origins of the online claims but did not receive a reply before publication. He is, however, no longer consulting privately out of Mater’s private specialist suites. Google’s cached files show that his website, currently offline, was active as recently as July 9.
No, monkeypox is not a COVID vaccine-induced form of shingles in people who have HIV
Shingles, HIV, COVID-19 vaccines and monkeypox have been linked in a conspiracy theory shared across social media after appearing on a website previously found by fact checkers to have shared misleading information.
The theory relies on speculation and an unreliable study to make three unfounded claims: that monkeypox is actually shingles; that it’s a side effect of the COVID-19 vaccines; and that it’s only affecting people who are HIV-positive.
RMIT FactLab this week found those claims to be false.
Diagnostic testing has revealed that the two viruses, shingles and monkeypox, are distinctly different, and some symptoms of the monkeypox virus — swollen lymph nodes, for example — aren’t present in shingles.
Further, no definitive link has been found between COVID-19 vaccines and the development of shingles, and there is no correlation between being HIV-positive and contracting monkeypox.
In the current monkeypox outbreak, there have been people who have contracted the virus who are not HIV-positive, including children.
Spiced-up astronomical tale a case of expert just being a silly sausage
A French scientist has apologised after he tweeted a close-up photo of a slice of chorizo alongside a caption suggesting the image had been taken by the James Webb Telescope.
“This level of detail … a new world is revealed every day,” tweeted Etienne Klein, a director at France’s Atomic Energy Commission, suggesting the image showed Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Sun.
But in what became a lesson in being “wary of arguments from authority”, as Dr Klein himself put it in a subsequent tweet, the image was actually that of a slice of spicy Spanish sausage.
“According to contemporary cosmology, no object belonging to Spanish charcuterie exists anywhere but on Earth.”
According to Dr Klein, who spoke to French news outlet Le Point, the viral tweet “also illustrates the fact that on this type of social network, fake news is always more successful than real news”.
Is Australia the ‘largest non-NATO contributor’ to Ukraine?
With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine now entering its fifth month, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has urged the international community to do more to support his beleaguered nation.
During a visit to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese answered the call by promising further military aid and extending sanctions and travel bans on Russian companies and individuals.
Speaking to Sky News on July 7 on his return to Sydney, Mr Albanese declared that Australia had been “the largest non-NATO contributor” to Ukraine.
But RMIT ABC Fact Check this week found the claim didn’t stack up.
Experts told Fact Check that such comparisons were complicated by a lack of data, varied definitions of what constituted a “contribution” and difficulties in making direct comparisons between countries.
The best available data breaks down single-government donations on the basis of humanitarian, financial and military aid, and also quantifies joint donations from members of the European Union made via multilateral funds.
When the euro value of these types of aid is combined, Australia’s contribution actually ranks sixth among the 14 non-NATO donors in the data set.
Measured as a proportion of GDP, Australia slips to seventh most generous.
Looking at individual metrics, Australia’s ranking ranges from first (for the euro value of its military aid) to equal last (for offering no financial aid).
But when calculated as a proportion of GDP, Sweden’s military aid alone is more than two times that of Australia’s.
In addition, counting only aid provided via bilateral military agreements excludes multilateral contributions made by non-NATO members such as Sweden to Ukraine’s military via the EU.
Even when accounting only for single country contributions, experts questioned the value of comparing military aid alone when a non-NATO donor such as Japan — which has constitutional constraints on military spending — gave almost three times as much as Australia, but chiefly in the form of financial aid.
There are other factors such as economic sanctions and the cost of hosting refugees that could also be considered a “contribution”. However, these forms of support are not readily quantifiable and, therefore, difficult to compare country to country.
Edited by Ellen McCutchan and David Campbell