A post-doctoral student’s op-ed criticizing flu vaccines provided grist for the medical disinformation blog mill in 2013 — a position he embraced again in 2021.
In May 2013, Peter Doshi — then a post-doctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine — published an article in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) claiming that that the vaccines could be less beneficial and less safe than once believed, and that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has overstated the threat of influenza.
Doshi, who is not an epidemiologist, claimed:
The vaccine might be less beneficial and less safe than has been claimed, and the threat of influenza appears overstated.
He also attempted to cast doubt on the CDC’s statement that the vaccinations had an effectiveness rate of 62 percent against the disease, writing that the statistic “certainly does not hold true for all subpopulations.”
Despite not containing any original research on the part of Doshi, his opinion piece was quickly picked up by right-wing blogs, and as Steven Salzberg reported in a piece for Forbes magazine that July, Doshi also spoke at a conference hosted the anti-vaccination group NVIC.
Salzberg, a professor of Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Computer Science, and Biostatistics at Johns Hopkins, wrote:
Doshi’s argument against the flu vaccine boils down to this: the vaccine is much less than 100 percent effective, and it doesn’t work for everyone. This is undeniably true, and the research community makes no secret of it. In fact, many of us have repeatedly called for more research into better vaccines, in the effort to create a vaccine that is not only more effective, but that (like most other vaccines) only needs to be taken once for lifetime immunity. We’re just not there yet. Meanwhile, though, the annual flu vaccine is usually effective: a recent study showed, for example, that it reduced children’s risk of ending up in a pediatric intensive care unit by 74 percent.
Moreover, the university policy itself states that “every staff and faculty member, resident, postdoctoral fellow, medical student and volunteer who works with patients or works in a patient care area or building must receive a flu vaccination.” Johns Hopkins also released a statement rejecting attempts to paint Doshi as a member of its faculty:
Johns Hopkins Medicine in no way endorses an article published in July 2013 by a former fellow at our school of medicine questioning the validity of the annual flu vaccine. The writer has no scientific affiliation with Johns Hopkins, nor is he employed by any of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone over the age of 6 months get vaccinated for influenza. At Johns Hopkins, we are confident that the benefits of the flu vaccine to individuals and to public health are very strong.
In January 2021 Doshi, by this point an associate editor at the BMJ, published a separate opinion piece sharing “new concerns” about the trials for vaccinations against COVID-19.
Update 5/10/2021, 3:50pm: This article has been revamped and updated. You can review the original here.