NIH Director Violated Agency Policy By ‘Intentionally’ Misrepresenting Natural COVID Immunity Study, Watchdog Alleges

Andrew Kerr

National Institutes of “intentionally misrepresented” the conclusions of an August study on people with natural immunity from COVID-19 in violation of his agency’s scientific integrity policy, a watchdog group alleged in a complaint Wednesday.

The watchdog group, Protect the Public’s Trust, alleged in its complaint that Collins violated his agency’s policies and procedures when he said on Fox News on Aug. 12 that the study, which reviewed infection rates among Kentucky residents during May and June, proved definitively that people who have natural immunity from COVID-19 are more than twice as likely to become reinfected than those who have received the COVID-19 vaccination.

Protect the Public’s Trust also alleged that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention violated its scientific integrity policy by promoting a similar conclusion from the study. The group urged the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct an investigation into the statements from Collins and the CDC.

Multiple health experts criticized the study and said Collins’s characterization of its conclusion was misleading.

“On natural immunity, @NIHDirector Francis Collins is misleading the public,” Harvard Medical School epidemiologist Martin Kulldorff tweeted in reaction to Collins’s statement on Fox News. “Kentucky study shows less reinfections after COVID disease plus vaccine than COVID only (both very low). He falsely claims less reinfections after vaccine than after COVID disease.”

And John Hopkins University surgical professor Marty Makary accused the study of “fishing” for its desired conclusion by cherry-picking data from just one state during a limited timeframe.

“The rate of getting a subsequent infection in those with natural immunity was 0.09%. Those who were vaccinated in that time period it was 0.03%. The conclusion is it’s extremely rare in both groups,” Makary said on Fox News. “Not that it’s higher among those with natural immunity by 2.3-fold.”

“Why did they pick Kentucky? They’ve got data on all 50 states,” Makary added. “They only reported Kentucky because they were using a statistical method called ‘fishing’ where you run the data on all 50 states and the one state that gives you the signal that’s consistent with what you want to say is the state you report out.”

The study itself noted that its findings are hampered by its limited scope.

“This is a retrospective study design using data from a single state during a 2-month period; therefore, these findings cannot be used to infer causation. Additional prospective studies with larger populations are warranted to support these findings,” the study states.

Makary later noted in a Washington Post op-ed that more than 15 studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of natural immunity against COVID-19, including a 700,000-person study from Israel that found that those with prior infections were 27 times less likely to come down with a second symptomatic infection than vaccinated individuals.

“Given the substantive intellectual criticism of the CDC and NIH’s public statements, there is an increasing public perception that the agency’s credibility has been undermined and its intellectual honesty placed in doubt,” Protect the Public’s Trust said in its complaint filed Wednesday. “To be clear, scientific integrity policies cannot always prevent a violation from occurring; however, they should always be relied on to police those violations that have been identified. This appears to be such an occasion.”

“We request that you open an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the public communications highlighted in this letter,” the complaint added. “Part of the inquiry should explore the decisions by agency officials to continue promoting what appears to be a scientifically unsound conclusion given the relevant data and academic literature available, along with the Kentucky study’s methodological infirmities.”

The NIH and CDC did not immediately return requests for comment.

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