Dispatch writer and fact checker Khaya Himmelman, pictured. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and Barnard College.

The Dispatch Misstates Vaccine Infertility Risk

  • The Pfizer/BioNTech Vaccine may cause Infertility
  • Dispatch Fact-Checker falsely claims that the Pfizer vaccine does not cause female infertility when there is neither the evidence nor data to back up such a claim. 
  • The largest problem within the article is that lack of investigation and clear bias leads the fact-checker to lie about the nature of the Pfizer Vaccine. 

OUR RATING: 3 = #FakeNews. This is what you’d expect on CNN playing to an empty airport. 

Indicted Outlet: Khaya Himmelman | The Dispatch | Link | Archive

When vaccine risks are unknown, the fact checkers at the Dispatch rely on their own prejudice to inaccurately declare risks false.

Journalists have an obligation to avoid premature conclusions, avoid superficial investigations, and certainly to avoid coming to conclusions unsupported by evidence. These are bedrock principles for journalism, and they are violated within the supposed fact check by The Dispatch.

Writer Himmelman has deemed false the claim that 1) the Pfizer Vaccine causes infertility and 2) that the head of Pfizer research has said made the same claim. The COVID-19 vaccine does not cause female sterilization and the head of Pfizer made no such claim. Himmelman’s article claims are both pernicious and her research poorly done, ultimately showing the author’s bias in favor of the Pfizer vaccine despite the lack of evidence that it is safe for pregnant women. The best Himmelman should say is that it is “unlikely” the vaccine causes female infertility, but that would still be a leap of faith for Pfizer. Himmelman’s fact check is false and misleading to readers. 

Major Violations:

  • Premature conclusions
  • Superficial investigation
  • No evidence to support conclusions 

Himmelman’s article and argument hinges on the evidence she gives that the vaccine does not attack syncytin-1, vital to building the female’s placenta. Himmelman’s “fact check” here is particularly pernicious because she chooses one aspect of the Pfizer vaccine and “debunks” that (though, we will see, with superficial and one-sided evidence), and then goes on to claim that the Pfizer vaccine definitively does not cause infertility. Himmelman ignores the large gaps in knowledge about the vaccine’s effect on fertility. Thus, she makes it seem as though she’s used science to prove the claim wrong, while in reality she has chosen a straw man to debunk. 

Himmelman: “The COVID-19 vaccine does not cause female sterilization…”

Even a summary look at Pfizer’s website makes the ambiguity of this issue obvious. From Pfizer’s website: “There are no data to suggest that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine causes infertility. It has been incorrectly suggested that COVID-19 vaccines will cause infertility because of a very short amino acid sequence in the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 that is partly shared with a protein in the placenta called syncytin-1. From a scientific perspective, the differences between the two sequences are quite significant, making it very unlikely our vaccine could generate a response that would harm the placenta.” (Emphasis added). Unlikely does not mean impossible, though one wouldn’t know that from Himmelman’s “fact check.”

This is a very common journalistic sleight of hand trick: say that the absence of data means that something is not true. This is analogous to saying just because there’s no available evidence of a crime, that the crime therefore definitively did not happen.

Footnoted in that quote from the Pfizer website is a link to the CDC website.[1] The information found here reveals the startling lack of evidence and premature conclusions made by Himmelman in claiming that the vaccine does not cause female infertility. According to the CDC website: “There are limited data about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines for people who are pregnant…Based on how mRNA vaccines work, experts believe they are unlikely to pose a specific risk for people who are pregnant. However, the actual risks of mRNA vaccines to the pregnant person and her fetus are unknown because these vaccines have not been studied in pregnant women.” It’s being very charitable here to say that she engaged in a superficial investigation.

This is vital context missing in Himmelman’s article: the data is missing, so the risks are unknown, and the unknown risks have not been studied

If she was doing her job competently, Himmelman would not have missed such an important detail. There is no evidence to support Himmelman’s conclusions.

Himmelman waxes disingenuous and pushes a downright lie. There is not enough evidence to definitively say the vaccine does not have negative side effects on pregnant women, but Himmelman presents her readers with a definitive conclusion: the vaccine is safe. Himmelman’s decisive claim is based upon the investigation made by Pfizer, who has an enormous profit motive to skew the research. And this research all rests on the sum of one professor from Ohio University who said it is unlikely that the vaccine would attack syncytin-1, and one study Pfizer quoted that showed the SARS-CoV-2 did not cause adverse outcomes for pregnant women. First off, this study does not even address the vaccine. Secondly, if one looks closer into that one, singular study, one will find in the “Limitations” section this important piece of information: “This study has limitations that should be addressed. It did not have power to detect differences in individual adverse outcomes; thus, conclusions made from these comparisons may not be generalizable.”[2] If I were pregnant, I would surely want more evidence than that to risk the life of my child. 

So, Himmelman’s evidence is one university professor and a study that does not even address the vaccine. This is a major misrepresentation.

Perhaps the most revealing of all is that Himmelman rhetorically puts the petition written by former Pfizer employee, Dr. Michael Yeadon, and Dr. Wolfgang Wodarg for the European Medicines Agency on the side of those claiming the vaccine causes infertility.[3] She claims they are the origin of the rumors. The two doctors, at least in the petition, promoted no such thing. As such, this is a major misrepresentation. Rather, they called for a halt on the vaccine until certain adjustments were made to the clinical trials of the vaccine. Himmelman notes this in her article, but only after laying the blame of the “false information” at their feet. Revealing her own biases, Himmelman couldn’t stop herself from adding that Yeadon “was previously criticized for writing an op-ed in October for a U.K.-based blog that downplayed the severity of COVID-19 and opposed restrictions by the government.” Somehow criticizing the establishment view on COVID-19 and the government response bears upon Yeadon’s credibility as a scientist. 

Fact-Checkers have an extra responsibility to be accurate since they are holding out to their readers what is true and what is not. They have a higher obligation to be precise in their wording, and to accurately convey what is being claimed, and what the evidence shows. Khaya Himmelman, writing in the Dispatch, had a higher standard to meet and, instead, she gave her readers information that was wrong.

Our Rating: #FakeNews


1 ]  https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/recommendations/pregnancy.html

2 ]  https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2773105

3 ]  https://www.scribd.com/document/487135032/Wodarg-Yeadon-EMA-Petition-Pfizer-Trial-FINAL-01DEC2020-en-Unsigned-With-Exhibits


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