He was an early critic of the elimination strategy, which manifested through the Plan B group, which he founded. He has since pivoted towards criticisms of Covid-19 vaccines, and is a member of New Zealand Doctors Speaking Out With Science (NZDSOS), a group that, in its online postings, has become increasingly conspiracy-driven.
Simon Thornley retracts paper with false claims on vaccine and pregnancy
Toby Manhire | Editor-at-large
The withdrawal follows harsh criticisms of the controversial University of Auckland academic’s article by the head of the School of Population Health in which he works.
The contrarian epidemiologist and “Plan B” leader Simon Thornley has retracted a widely criticised paper that wrongly claimed there was a higher incidence of miscarriage among those who had received Covid vaccinations. It follows an email from Professor Robert Scragg, the head of the School of Population Health at Auckland University, which urged Thornley and his co-author, Aleisha Brook, to “immediately publicly retract their article”. Such an intervention is almost unheard of in academia.
Thornley told The Spinoff that he had issued a correction to the paper last week, but that “following the [Scragg] letter, I have decided to withdraw it”. He refused to comment further on the faulty methodology and the impact of the paper, published in a journal that regularly promotes anti-vaccination misinformation and which has been widely shared among anti-vaccination groups. The journal that published the article is edited by an American anti-vaccination campaigner who is a prominent advocate for the debunked theory that MMR vaccines can cause autism
In the letter to colleagues, Scragg wrote: “I am taking the extraordinary step in my regular Covid email to publicly criticise a recent publication by a member of staff, because of the public furore this article has created and to confirm with staff that I do not agree with the findings from the article.”
Scragg noted the story in the Sunday Star Times, headlined ‘A paper on vaccination in pregnancy co-authored by Simon Thornley has been panned by experts around the world’, which explained a fundamental mathematical failing involving the use of the wrong denominator, on which the findings hinged. That “major error”, wrote Scragg, “led them to conclude that 80-90% of pregnant women will miscarry if they have the Covid-19 vaccination”. The sound evidence, he noted, “indicates that the miscarriage percent in vaccinated women is no different to unvaccinated”.
He added: “Brock and Thornley should immediately publicly retract their article because of the anxiety it is creating for expectant parents and those planning to have a child.” The Thornley article, published in “a low ranking non-indexed journal” was utterly at odds with reliable research, he said. “The safety of Covid-19 in early pregnancy has been confirmed by a large study published by Jama by Kharbanda and colleagues.”
Thornley’s commentary on Covid-19 and vaccination has been roundly and routinely criticised by public health experts. He was keynote speaker at an event held by anti-vaccination group Voices for Freedom and has given evidence in support of a court case led by Nelson lawyer Sue Grey that sought to halt the vaccine rollout. In May, Thornley threatened legal action against The Spinoff and University of Auckland microbiologist and New Zealander of the Year Siouxsie Wiles over an opinion piece headlined “There’s a lot of vaccine BS around. Here’s why I won’t be debunking it”.
Covid-19 vaccination paper criticised as ‘disinformation’ is being withdrawn, co-author Simon Thornley says
Charlie Mitchell and Katie Kenny12:15, Nov 17 2021
A senior lecturer at the University of Auckland says he will retract a widely-criticised paper he co-authored after a head of department publicly rebuked him in an email to staff.
Dr Simon Thornley, an epidemiologist at the university, co-authored a paper in an anti-vaccination journal that was used to incorrectly claim a link between Covid-19 vaccination and miscarriages.
In an email to staff citing Stuff’s coverage of the paper, Professor Robert Scragg – the head of the School of Population Health, of which Thornley is a member – criticised Thornley and called on him to retract the paper “because of the anxiety it is creating for expectant parents and those planning to have a child”.
“I am taking the extraordinary step in my regular COVID email to publicly criticise a recent publication by a member of staff, because of the public furore this article has created and to confirm with staff that I do not agree with the findings from the article,” Scragg wrote.
Describing the paper as being published “in a low ranking non-indexed journal”, Scragg notes that studies have shown the miscarriage rate is the same for vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
Thornley confirmed to Stuff on Wednesday that he had sought for the paper to be withdrawn.