US defence data showing rise in diseases in 2021 was produced in error

18 February 2022
What was claimed

Data from the US military shows a sharp rise in the incidence of various diseases in 2021.

Our verdict

The data supporting this claim is flawed, and has been withdrawn by officials.

Articles claiming that data from the US military shows sharp rises in the incidence of various illnesses in 2021 have been shared on Facebook. 

The articles report on comments made by Dr Robert Malone, a scientist who was involved in the development of mRNA technology used in some Covid-19 vaccines but who has promoted several false and misleading claims about vaccines and Covid-19 during the pandemic.

During an online talk show, Dr Malone referenced data from the Defense Medical Epidemiology Database (DMED), brought to attention by some “whistleblowers” in the US military.

He said: “They were seeing signals that were unusual, and so they consulted the DMED database and were shocked to find enormous increases in 2021, when the vaccine mandates were implemented to the military, compared to 2020 in a wide variety of diseases, including cancers, things related to reproduction and female reproductive health.”

The suggestion made is that these rises are due to Covid-19 vaccines, which are required for US military personnel (though reportedly some still haven’t been vaccinated). 

As we have written before, the data used is not reliable, and has now been withdrawn. The DMED is a publicly-accessible resource containing both current and historical data on diseases and medical events experienced by members of the US military. 

Due to a glitch in the database, this data underreported the five year average so appeared to show that various illnesses increased in 2021 when they did not.

Peter Graves, spokesperson for the Defense Health Agency’s Armed Forces Surveillance Division, told fact checking organisation PolitiFact that “in response to concerns mentioned in news reports” the division reviewed data in the DMED “and found that the data was incorrect for the years 2016-2020”.

The error in the data was the result of the correct 2021 figures on the incidence of health conditions being compared to an inaccurate five-year average, which “represented only a small fraction of actual medical diagnoses” and so gave the false impression of a significant  increase in 2021.

Some of the claimed rises in certain conditions were “completely implausible from a biologic standpoint” according to oncologist and editor of the blog Science-Based Medicine, Dr David Gorski

The data claimed to show the incidence of testicular cancer had risen by 395%, the incidence of oesophageal cancer had risen by 894% and the incidence of breast cancer had risen 487%. 

Dr Gorski wrote: “Cancer is the culmination of a process that, in general, takes years, from the initial insult that resulted in cellular transformation to the development of a cancerous tumor detectable by symptoms, physical exam, or screening tests. 

“Even if there had been a spike in these cancers from roughly four- to ten-fold in just one year (for an overall increase in total cancer diagnoses from 36,050 to 114,645 from 2020 to 2021), it could not possibly have been due to [...] COVID-19 vaccines.”

Photo by Joel Rivera-Camacho on Unsplash

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