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Why did Frontiers publish a flawed study massively exaggerating Covid risk to children?

Updated: Oct 3, 2022



Updated 3 Oct 2022


<Note: Before publishing this article we sent it to the Editors of Frontiers in Pediatrics asking if they wished to correct any inaccuracies or provide any updates, giving them several days to respond. They did not acknowledge or respond.>

In September 2021 Frontiers in Pediatrics published this article by members of the Indonesian Pediatrician Association (IDAI) claiming that the case fatality rate (CFR) for children with ‘suspected’ Covid in Indonesia was 1.4% (i.e. 1 in 71) with a CFR of 0.46% (1 in 217) for those with ‘confirmed’ Covid. No such high Covid fatality rates for children have been observed elsewhere in the world. In fact, worldwide the infection fatality rate was estimated (at the time the IDAI paper was published) to be 1 in 37,000 for those aged under 20.


The IDAI authors also made the startling claim that, of the 175 ‘confirmed Covid deaths’ of children in their study, 62 had no existing comorbidities. But again, elsewhere in the world cases of covid death in children without serious comorbidities are almost unheard of. For example, in the whole of England and Wales between Feb 2020 until end Dec 2021, of the 136,000 deaths classified as Covid, only three aged less than 20 had Covid as the only cause of death.


An article by Ted Hilbert written shortly after the IDAI article was published highlighted the major problems with the study. While the claims in the paper were startling, in June 2021 the IDAI (through its chairman) exaggerated the paper’s findings even further, claiming to the media that Indonesia has the highest child mortality rate (CFR) in the world, 3% to 5%. This article provides the full details of the obviously fraudulent claim and includes the police report that was filed in response.


However, the massively exaggerated claim was used by IDAI to justify vaccinating children in Indonesia, and indeed a recommendation letter from IDAI to the government, based on the flawed study and claims about it, has been used as the main justification by the Indonesian government to issue the EUA and related policies for vaccinating children.


In the paper, the IDAI authors did not provide the raw data from which their conclusions were drawn, so Hilbert wrote to them requesting it. He received no reply (despite a statement by the authors that “The raw data supporting the conclusions of this article will be made available by the authors, without undue reservation”) and so wrote to the Editors of Frontiers on 23 Oct 2021 to request the data. The Editors finally replied on 11 Nov 2021 stating that they would contact the authors requesting the data and finally on 30 Nov 2021 the “Research Integrity Specialist” at Frontiers sent this link to the data.


After analysing the data with other experts including pathologists, a group of authors wrote an 8-page detailed response to Frontiers on 15 Dec 2021 pointing out multiple flaws in the study and inaccuracies in the data.


Hilbert has been promised several times that a review by the editors will take place but (as of today 14 July 2022) this has never happened despite several follow up requests by Hilbert. The paper, with its flawed conclusions that have led to Indonesia’s child vaccine policy, remains published and unchanged.


It is worth pointing out that Frontiers can hardly be accused of not responding to complaints about papers on Covid treatments. But it seems only complaints against papers showing benefits of alternative treatments are taken seriously. In May 2021 Frontiers in Pharmacology published an abstract of a study by Pierre Kory on ivermectin for COVID-19 that had passed peer review with an expert panel of reviewers including senior reviewers from the FDA; but shortly before the full paper was due to be published in a special issue edited by Robert Malone - it was pulled due to a third-party complaint,with no chance for resubmission.



UPDATE 3 Oct 2022


While Frontiers never replied to my own letter of complaint about the article they have now responded to Ted Hilbert as follows:


I am attaching the authors detailed final response and clarifications that was also provided to our editor. The editor has recommended correction for this manuscript and we will proceed with this shortly. Regarding your legal procedures, we will continue to respect the legal proceedings and the outcome and our journal will act accordingly.


Please let me know if you have any questions.


Best regards,


Vu Ha

Research Integrity Specialist


The authors' detailed final response is essentially an admission that the data on which the paper was based were flawed. In their own words they admit that it was based on:

"cherry-picked data"

and they concede, with respect to child deaths classified as COVID-19 that:

"We agree that the six examples illustration provided by the author did not show that these deaths were due to COVID-19 infection"

While the editor has "recommended correction of this manuscript" to the authors, there is now a very strong case for its retraction.



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