A mysterious outbreak of hepatitis has already affected at least 169 children in 12 countries, as I covered for Forbes April 26. It is mysterious because its cause is not yet clearly established. But guess what some on social media tried to blame for the outbreak. Here’s a hint: it’s something that does not turns you into a gigantic magnet and does not stick the keys to your forehead. Yes, anonymous social media accounts have attempted to link the hepatitis outbreak that has claimed at least one child death and 17 needing liver transplants to Covid-19 vaccines, drum roll please. And some of these accounts as well as a website called The Presentation cited two “studies”, saying they serve as evidence.
For example, here’s a tweet from an account called the Donald J. Trump Tracker:
Now, it is not clear who the “Deputy Minister” is and whether he is similar to the “Vice President” of an organization or the “Assistant Secretary” of a government agency. But when claiming someone said something, at least provide the person’s real name or a link to the source. You may follow Trump, but others must know where you get your information from.
Plus, there’s a tiny bit of a problem blaming Covid-19 vaccines for the hepatitis outbreak. A World Health Organization (WHO) report from April 23 made it clear that “assumptions related to side effects of Covid-19 vaccines are currently unsupported as the vast majority of affected children have not received the Covid-19 vaccine”. So how exactly can a child get hepatitis from a Covid-19 vaccine when that child hasn’t even received a Covid-19 vaccine? It would be like blaming Madonna for making you late for work when you haven’t even met Madonna.
So what about the two so-called “studies” that some have started? For example, take a look at the following tweet which used a fire emoji and offered a post on the The Presentation:
Well, the so-called references to the Pizer study in this tweet are actually something published in Current issues in molecular biology February 25, 2022, long before the WHO announced the hepatitis epidemic. All this study showed was that when human liver cells in a test tube are exposed to the components of the Pfizer Covid-19 mRNA vaccine, the liver cells take up the vaccine components fairly quickly. Of course, unless you’re a giant test tube, that doesn’t necessarily mean that when you get the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine, all of the vaccine components will immediately go to your liver. And just because vaccine components can enter liver cells does not mean that Covid-19 vaccines are responsible for the hepatitis epidemic. For example, you can show that having 50 marmots in your bed can keep you up all night, especially if you have to play parcheesi with them. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that groundhogs are responsible for the lack of sleep that Americans have in general.
Then there was this other “new study” offered by a tweet from another anonymous social media account and another post on The Presentation:
This so-called study is actually not a formal study but rather a case report published in the Journal of Hepatology April 21, 2022. The case report describes what happened to a 52-year-old man in Germany who developed acute hepatitis two to three weeks after receiving the Pfizer Covid-19 mRNA vaccine. Samples of his liver showed signs of inflammation as well as the presence of T cells. T cells, also known as T cells, are white blood cells that perform various immune protective functions for your body. The presence of T cells strongly suggested that the inflammation of the man’s liver could be due to his immune system’s response to the Covid-19 vaccination. Doctors deemed these findings to be “consistent with probable autoimmune hepatitis” and treated him with oral budesonide and possibly steroids plus ursodeoxycholic acid. Eventually, within eight weeks, the man’s liver enzyme levels returned to normal.
So, yes, this case was proof that acute hepatitis could potentially be a side effect of the Pfizer Covid-19 mRNA vaccine. Again, however, a key distinction is that this was a case report and not a study. He showed what happened to a single man (in this case, single in number, not marital status) after being vaccinated. A case report cannot tell you the frequency or likelihood of an event. For example, last month I covered for Forbes a case report of a woman who ended up having a glass beaker lodged in her bladder for four years. Such a rare occurrence doesn’t necessarily mean you should never use a glass goblet again or run around screaming every time someone tries to pour you a drink. Similarly, a case report or even multiple reports of acute hepatitis after Covid-19 vaccination should not be a reason on its own to avoid Covid-19 vaccines. So far, there is no evidence that acute hepatitis is anything other than a very rare potential side effect.
Also, not all cases of acute hepatitis are the same. Acute hepatitis is a very broad term for sudden inflammation of the liver. The man in the case report survived his bout with acute hepatitis apparently without any permanent damage. This was nowhere near the damage seen in some of the children affected by the ongoing hepatitis outbreak.
At this point, the primary culprit in the hepatitis outbreak is adenovirus type 41, possibly in association with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), as I have described it for Forbes previously. There are now many different types of adenoviruses. While some types are more likely to cause cold symptoms or breathing problems, adenovirus type 41 is usually spread through the fecal-oral route (which is a good way to say poop in the mouth). It usually affects your gut, leading to gastroenteritis.
The Covid-19 vaccines use different types of adenovirus with Astra-Zeneca’s using a chimpanzee adenovirus and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine using a type 26 adenovirus. In both cases the adenovirus is inactivated so that it cannot cause disease. Nevertheless, some anonymous social media accounts have taken to the whole adenovirus affair, claiming that the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson adenovirus-based Covid-19 vaccines are proven to be linked to the epidemic of adenovirus. hepatitis:
Again, such claims overlook the small problem that most children affected by the hepatitis outbreak have not received Covid-19 vaccines, whether the vaccines are adenovirus-based or not. This fact would make it difficult for any assertions about the involvement of Covid-19 vaccines to stick like keys to a forehead.