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January 21, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) —A “frustrating and embarrassing” process has led a team of New Zealand researchers to retract a 2018 study that claimed the HPV vaccine significantly lessened chances of preterm birth and pre-eclampsia. 

The paper, “Association of prior HPV vaccination with reduced preterm birth: A population based study,” was published in the journal Vaccine.

The retraction notice reads as follows:

This paper is being retracted at the request of the authors. The authors report that there was an incorrect interpretation of the odds ratio meaning that instead of HPV vaccination potentially being protective, there may be an associated increased risk of preterm delivery. The authors believe that an increased risk of preterm delivery is unlikely and not consistent with the evidence to date. Further, the authors have not been able to access the original source data as per protocol to check the data validity. The authors wish to repeat the study to reassure themselves that there were no data processing or other errors in the databases in order to reach definitive conclusions.

Sociologist and author Mark Regnerus clarified just how misleading both the interpretation of data and the retraction notice were on his Facebook page.

 “[It] Appears the effect was the reverse of what was reported, that is, HPV vaccine didn't modestly reduce preterm birth, but instead increased risk of it (odds increase of 13%, I believe). In the retraction notice, the authors attempt to downplay the (statistical and substantive) significance of what they had previously chosen to highlight, before offering an unacceptable explanation that they couldn't access the data anymore,” Regnerus said. 

Dr. Noelyn Hung, of the University of Otago, Dunedin School of Medicine and the senior author of the paper, told that a reader pointed out the erroneous statistics, triggering a review of the paper. 

“[E]ssentially we had a rather inexperienced person (a statistics PhD candidate) who did the analysis – and probably inverted a data set – and then we couldn’t verify and start again with the raw data because our source declined to give it to us again. We complained. And complained to ethics. But to no avail. We decided to retract when we couldn’t start again with the raw data and guarantee the results,” Dr. Hung said. 

A second reason for the paper’s retraction is that Beverley Lawton, one of the authors, has received conference and educational grants from pharmaceutical company CSL Biotherapies, which sells the HPV vaccine in New Zealand. 

According to the retraction notice the conflict of interest statement containing this information was only added to the paper “after acceptance and was not made visible to the editor or reviewers prior to acceptance. The authors state that there was no input to the methodology, implementation and results of this study by any commercial entity.”