Facebook Twitter Tumblr Close Skip to main content
A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center
SciCheck’s COVID-19/Vaccination Project

Review Article By Misinformation Spreaders Misleads About mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines 

This article is available in both English and Español

SciCheck Digest

The mRNA COVID-19 vaccines have a good safety record and have saved millions of lives. But viral posts claim the contrary, citing a recent peer-reviewed article authored by known COVID-19 misinformation spreaders and published in a controversial journal. The paper repeats previously debunked claims.

Full Story

The safety of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna is supported by the rigorous clinical trials run prior to their release and numerous studies conducted since. Hundreds of millions of people have been vaccinated in the U.S., many with multiple doses, and serious side effects are rare.

COVID-19 vaccines have also been shown to be effective in reducing the risk of severe forms of the disease. Multiple studies have estimated that the COVID-19 vaccines saved millions of lives across the globe.

But an article — written by misinformation spreaders who oppose COVID-19 vaccination — that claims to have reviewed the original trials and “other relevant studies” largely ignores this body of evidence. Instead, the review, which calls for a “global moratorium” on the mRNA vaccines, cites multiple flawed or criticized studies — many of which we’ve written about before — to falsely claim the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines have caused “extensive, well-documented” serious adverse events and have killed nearly 14 times as many people as they saved.

The article was peer-reviewed and published in Cureus, an open-access online medical journal that prioritizes fast publication and has published problematic studies before, as we will explain.

Update, Feb. 19: In a Substack post, one of the paper’s authors announced that he had been informed by the journal that the editors had decided to retract the article, based on an internal review that found multiple instances of data misrepresentation and incorrect or unsubstantiated claims.

Update, Feb. 26: Cureus retracted the paper on Feb. 26. “Upon further review, the Editors-in-Chief found that the conclusions of this narrative review are considered to be unreliable due to the concerns with the validity of some of the cited references that support the conclusions and a misrepresentation of the cited references and available data,” the journal said.

Social media posts that share the incorrect conclusions of the review have gone viral. 

“mRNA COVID-19 vaccines caused more deaths than saved: study,” reads a Feb. 4 Instagram post that shared a screenshot of a headline by the Epoch Times. 

One author of the review — as well as other social media users — are also using the fact that the paper was published as proof that the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are unsafe.

“People have said I’m a misinformation spreader because since May 2021, I have been publicly saying the COVID vaccines are not safe. Now the medical peer-reviewed literature shows I was right. Do you believe me now?” Steve Kirsch, a review co-author and a former tech entrepreneur who lacks biomedical training, said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Jan. 30 (emphasis is his). 

“!! TRUST THE #SCIENCE !!,” the author of a viral post wrote on Instagram on Feb. 7. The post included a screenshot of a news story titled “Mainstream science mulls ‘global moratorium’ on COVID vaccines as cancers rise, boosters flub,” and the statement “Covid vaccines *may* cause cancer. You don’t say.” 

Just because a paper is published does not make it correct. While peer review is useful in weeding out bad science, it’s not foolproof, and the rigor and processes vary by journal. This review, which many experts have criticized, is an outlier, not “mainstream science.” And as we’ve written, there’s no evidence mRNA COVID-19 vaccines cause cancer and resulted in millions of deaths. 

Anti-Vaccine Authors and Debunked Claims

Many of the review’s authors have a history of spreading COVID-19 or vaccine misinformation. This includes Kirsch, who has repeatedly pushed the incorrect idea that the COVID-19 vaccines have killed millions of people worldwide, as well as Dr. Peter McCullough, Stephanie Seneff and Jessica Rose.

McCullough still recommends treating COVID-19 patients with hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, even though both have been shown not to work against the disease. He also promotes and sells “spike protein detoxification” products for people who have been vaccinated, despite no evidence that vaccinated people need any such detox.

Seneff is a computer scientist who has promoted the false notion that vaccines cause autism. She previously co-authored a review paper with McCullough, which the Cureus review cites, that misused data from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System to baselessly claim the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines suppress the innate immune system, as we reported. Rose has also been accused of misusing VAERS data to claim vaccines are not safe — a common deception among the anti-vaccination community.

The Cureus review cites and even republishes a figure from one of Rose’s Substack posts about the supposedly alarming number of VAERS reports for “autoimmune disorders” following COVID-19 vaccination compared with influenza vaccines. The review claims the increased reporting “represents an immense safety signal.” But as we’ve explained before, the higher number of VAERS reports for the COVID-19 vaccines can be explained by multiple factors, such as increased awareness and stricter reporting requirements – and does not in and of itself constitute a safety signal. A report can be submitted by anyone and does not mean that a vaccine caused a particular problem.

The review paper, titled “COVID-19 mRNA Vaccines: Lessons Learned from the Registrational Trials and Global Vaccination Campaign,” repeats many claims we’ve already written about, based on studies or analyses that have been widely criticized or debunked. 

To claim the vaccines cause “serious harms to humans,” for example, the review draws on a problematic reanalysis of the adverse events reported in the original trials that was published in the journal Vaccine in 2022. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Dr. Joseph Ladapo, the state’s surgeon general, have cited the paper to argue that the vaccines are too risky. But as we’ve written — and is detailed in a commentary article published in the same journal — the paper has multiple methodological flaws, including how it counted the adverse events.

The review also uncritically cites an unpublished analysis by former physics professor Denis Rancourt that alleged that some 17 million people died from the COVID-19 vaccines. We recently explained that the report erroneously ignored deaths from COVID-19 and that such estimates are implausible. And the review recycles unsupported claims about “high levels of DNA contamination” in the mRNA vaccines and the possibility that such DNA fragments “will integrate into the human genome” and cause cancer. As we’ve detailed, trace amounts of residual DNA are expected in vaccines, but there is no evidence the DNA can alter a person’s DNA or cause cancer.

Photo by Visoot Uthairam via Getty Images.

Finally, the review highlighted findings from a Cleveland Clinic observational study that it called the “best evidence for the failure of the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine’s ability to confer protection against COVID-19.” The study, which identified a correlation between more COVID-19 vaccine doses and a higher rate of testing positive for a coronavirus infection, has frequently been cited by those opposed to vaccination. But as we’ve explained, the finding runs counter to that of many other studies, which have generally found increased protection with more doses. And the paper did not demonstrate that more doses actually cause an increased risk of infection. In fact, many experts suspect that the association is likely the result of other differences between people who received a different number of doses. Moreover, the primary purpose of vaccination is to protect against severe disease — and there is abundant evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines have been very successful on that front.

“Lessons learned? More like conspiracies spun,” wrote surgical oncologist Dr. David Gorski in a post about the review in his blog Respectful Insolence.

The authors of the review have also been criticized for citing their own studies in the review and for including non-scientific publications as primary sources. 

“BTW, the McCullough, Kirsch, etc. Cureus paper that is purportedly a scientific review article references trialsitetnews, epoch times, brownstone, the spectator, children’s health defense, and conservative review as primary sources for some of their points, as well as 11 substack articles/blogs, a youtube/twitter video, and 2 explicit anti-vaccine books, plus a large number of self-citations from the review authors,” Jeffrey S. Morris, director of the division of biostatistics in the department of biostatistics, epidemiology and informatics at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, wrote on X on Feb. 1.

Peer Review Doesn’t Guarantee Scientific Quality

Much of the complimentary coverage of the review paper by some of the usual misinformation spreaders has emphasized that it was published in a peer-reviewed journal.

“A review paper published last week in the journal Cureus is the first peer-reviewed paper to call for a global moratorium on the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines,” declared a Jan. 29 article published on Robert F. Kennedy’s anti-vaccine website, Children’s Health Defense. The story also received attention on social media.

Peer review, or the process of having fellow scientists provide feedback on a manuscript and whether it is good enough to publish, can be immensely helpful in ensuring that a given paper does not contain major flaws or errors. But peer review is only as good as the feedback provided — and it does not automatically mean the paper can be trusted. Nor are all peer-reviewed journals the same, since each has different standards and reputations.

Cureus is unusual in that it focuses on publishing papers quickly and advertises “efficient” peer review and a “hassle-free” publishing experience. The journal’s metrics for the last six months indicate that the average time from submission to publication is 33 days and that the acceptance rate is 51%. For context, the prestigious journal Nature — which some posts have misleadingly likened Cureus to, as they share the same parent publisher — has a median time of 267 days for submission to acceptance and an 8% acceptance rate. Per the article information for this review paper, the peer-review process took 77 days.

In 2015, responding to concerns about the journal and its fast peer-review process, the founder, president and co-editor-in-chief of Cureus, Dr. John R. Adler, said that “by design peer rejection is not a big part of our review process,” and that the journal also relies on post-publication review to “sort out what is quality/important.”

A paper by Emory University librarians that was presented at a 2022 conference classified Cureus as potentially “untrustworthy or predatory.” The journal is available on PubMed Central, the National Institutes of Health’s database of biomedical research, but is not indexed on MEDLINE, which requires some vetting for inclusion. (A paper’s appearance in either database does not imply any kind of endorsement by the NIH.)

Cureus, notably, published two problematic studies about ivermectin for COVID-19 in 2022. As we reported at the time, the results of the studies were inconsistent with stronger studies that did not find any benefit of using ivermectin for COVID-19. Both studies had methodological flaws and were authored by ivermectin activists —  a fact that was not disclosed at the time of publication.

Although even the best journals occasionally retract published studies, Cureus has ended up multiple times in the pages of Retraction Watch, a blog and online database of retractions — most recently on Jan. 26 for 56 studies retracted for faked authorship nearly two years after they were first flagged. In 2022, Retraction Watch reported that a study retracted by Frontiers in Medicine was later updated and published in Cureus.

Editor’s note: SciCheck’s articles providing accurate health information and correcting health misinformation are made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation has no control over FactCheck.org’s editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation.


Safety of COVID-19 Vaccines.” CDC. Accessed 15 Feb 2024. 

Selected Adverse Events Reported after COVID-19 Vaccination”. CDC. Accessed 15 Feb 2024. 

COVID-19 Vaccine Effectiveness Update.” CDC. Accessed 15 Feb 2024.

Van Beusekom, Mary. “Global COVID vaccination saved 2.4 million lives in first 8 months, study estimates.” CIDRAP, University of Minnesota. 31 Oct 2023. 

Watson, Oliver J., et al. “Global impact of the first year of COVID-19 vaccination: a mathematical modelling study.” Infectious Diseases. 23 Jun 2022. 

Trang, Brittany. “Covid vaccines averted 3 million deaths in U.S., according to new study.” Stat. 13 Dec 2022. 

COVID-19 vaccinations have saved more than 1.4 million lives in the WHO European Region, a new study finds.” WHO. Press release. 16 Jan 2024. 

Mead, M. Nathaniel, et al. “COVID-19 mRNA Vaccines: Lessons Learned from the Registrational Trials and Global Vaccination Campaign.” Cureus. 24 Jan 2024. 

Yandell, Kate. “Tucker Carlson Video Spreads Falsehoods on COVID-19 Vaccines, WHO Accord.” FactCheck.org. 12 Jan 2024. 

Yandell, Kate. “Faulty Science Underpins Florida Surgeon General’s Call to Halt mRNA COVID-19 Vaccination.” FactCheck.org. 5 Jan 2024. 

Jaramillo, Catalina. “mRNA Vaccines Protect Against COVID-19 Mortality, Contrary to Misleading Posts.” FactCheck.org. 26 May 2023. 

Jaramillo, Catalina. “COVID-19 Vaccine Benefits Outweigh Small Risks, Contrary to Flawed Claim From U.K. Cardiologist.” FactCheck.org. 8 May 2023. 

Yandell, Kate. “Cleveland Clinic Study Did Not Show Vaccines Increase COVID-19 Risk.” FactCheck.org. 16 Jun 2023. 

Jaramillo, Catalina. “Autopsy Study Doesn’t Show COVID-19 Vaccines Are Unsafe.” FactCheck.org. 21 Dec 2022. 

Swann, Sara. “Experts say mRNA COVID-19 vaccines have saved millions of lives, not caused mass deaths.” PolitiFact. 9 Feb 2024. 

Wong, Adrian. “COVID-19 mRNA Vaccines Lessons Learned Fact Check!” Techarp. 30 Jan 2024. 

Gorski, David. “Antivaxxers write about “lessons learned” but know nothing.” Respectful Insolence. 26 Jan 2024. 

McDonald, Jessica. “Flawed Analysis of New Zealand Data Doesn’t Show COVID-19 Vaccines Killed Millions.” FactCheck.org. 15 Dec 2024. 

Yandell, Kate. “COVID-19 Vaccines Save Lives, Are Not More Lethal Than COVID-19.”  FactCheck.org. 6 Nov 2023. 

Yandell, Kate. “Posts Push Unproven ‘Spike Protein Detoxification’ Regimen.” FactCheck.org. 21 Sep 2023. 

Jaramillo, Catalina. “Clinical Trials Show Ivermectin Does Not Benefit COVID-19 Patients, Contrary to Social Media Claims.” FactCheck.org. 15 Sep 2022. 

Robertson, Lori. “No New Revelation on Hydroxychloroquine and COVID-19.” FactCheck.org. 2 Jul 2021. 

McDonald, Jessica. “COVID-19 Vaccination Increases Immunity, Contrary to Immune Suppression Claims.” FactCheck.org. 29 Jul 2022. 

Gorski, David. “2021: The year the weaponization of VAERS went mainstream.” Respectful Insolence. 27 Dec 2021. 

McDonald, Jessica. “What VAERS Can and Can’t Do, and How Anti-Vaccination Groups Habitually Misuse Its Data.” FactCheck.org. 6 Jun 2023. 

Fraiman, Joseph. “Serious adverse events of special interest following mRNA COVID-19 vaccination in randomized trials in adults.” Vaccine. 22 Sep 2022. 

McDonald, Jessica, and Catalina Jaramillo. “DeSantis’ Dubious COVID-19 Vaccine Claims.” FactCheck.org. 2 May 2023. 

Black, Steven, and Stephen Evans. “Serious adverse events following mRNA vaccination in randomized trials in adults.” Vaccine. 26 May 2023. 

Yandell, Kate. “Posts Spread False Claim About Moderna Patent Application.” FactCheck.org. 22 Nov 2023. 

Yandell, Kate. “COVID-19 Vaccines Have Not Been Shown to Alter DNA, Cause Cancer.” FactCheck.org. 26 Oct 2023. 

Yandell, Kate. “Faulty Science Underpins Florida Surgeon General’s Call to Halt mRNA COVID-19 Vaccination.” FactCheck.org. 5 Jan 2024. 

Jaramillo, Catalina, and Kate Yandell. “RFK Jr.’s COVID-19 Deceptions.” FactCheck.org. 11 Aug 2023. 

Morris, Jeffrey (@jsm2334) “BTW, the McCullough, Kirsch, etc. Cureus paper that is purportedly a scientific review article references trialsitetnews, epoch times, brownstone, the spectator, children’s health defense, and conservative review as primary sources for some of their points, as well as 11 substack articles/blogs, a youtube/twitter video, and 2 explicit anti-vaccine books, plus a large number of self-citations from the review authors.” X. 1 Feb 2024. 

Scrutinizing science: Peer review.” Understanding Science 101. Accessed 15 Feb 2024. 

Crossley, Merlin. “When to trust (and not to trust) peer reviewed science.” The Conversation. 12 Jul 2018.

Reviewer Guide.” Cureus. Accessed 15 Feb 2024. 

About Cureus.” Cureus. Accessed 15 Feb 2024. 

Journal Metrics.” Nature. Accessed 15 Feb 2024. 

Editorial criteria and processes.” Nature. Accessed 15 Feb 2024. 

Sparks, Katie, and Kimberly R. Powell. “Assessing Predatory Journal Publishing Within Health Sciences Authors.” SLA conference. 31 Jul 2022.  

MEDLINE, PubMed, and PMC (PubMed Central): How are they different?” NIH. 28 Dec 2023.

Disclaimer.” National Library of Medicine. Accessed 15 Feb 2024. 

Some Strange Goings On at Cureus.” Emerald City Journal. 20 Aug 2016.

Oransky, Ivan. “Journal retracts more than 50 studies from Saudi Arabia for faked authorship.” Retraction Watch. 26 Jan 2024. 

Kincaid, Ellie. “Researcher attacks journal for retracting his paper on COVID-19 drug.” Retraction Watch. 26 Jan 2024. 10 Jun 2022.

Jaramillo, Catalina. “Evidence Still Lacking to Support Ivermectin as Treatment for COVID-19.” FactCheck.org. 6 Jun 2022.

Jaramillo, Catalina. “Clinical Trials Show Ivermectin Does Not Benefit COVID-19 Patients, Contrary to Social Media Claims.” FactCheck.org. 15 Sep 2022.

Kerr, Lucy, et al. “Correction: Ivermectin Prophylaxis Used for COVID-19: A Citywide, Prospective, Observational Study of 223,128 Subjects Using Propensity Score Matching.” Cureus. 24 Mar 2022.