Research Roundup: HPV Vaccination And The (Not) Link Between Lockdown And ADHD.

There’s both good news and bad news from the world of research today; let’s start with the good.

STAT reports that HPV vaccines are so effective that it may require reviewing screening protocols for HPV. A new study that examined the occurrence of genital HPV eight years after vaccination found that "with gender-neutral vaccination, a 50% vaccination coverage per year cohort was sufficient to nearly eliminate the occurrence of high-oncogenic HPV types targeted by the vaccine."

That means that if the vaccine is given to everyone who is eligible, regardless of gender, the types of HPV that are most likely to cause cancer gets stopped in its tracks, which is simply incredible news.

The small catch with that one is that vaccination must be gender-neutral. The same study found that "when vaccines are administered exclusively to girls, the uptake needs to be extremely high to reach the same results."

Still, overall that’s great news, because it means eliminating something "thought to be responsible for more than 90% of anal and cervical cancers, about 70% of vaginal and vulvar cancers, and 60% of penile cancers" (CDC) is possible, and in relatively short order.

But when we get to neurodivergence — particularly when tied to a political talking point — some pretty damn spurious research gets passed off as valid by certain… less reputable sources.

Fox News breathlessly declared "COVID lockdowns increased ADHD risk among 10-year-old children, new study finds," with Fox News medical contributor Dr. Marc Siegel — who was not involved in the study — saying "Lockdowns and restrictions worsened kids’ ability to focus and worsened ADHD symptoms, as well as anxiety and depression."

Predictably, Fox did not link to the study (although I have), but that’s probably because the study doesn’t show anything like what they think it does. Clearly — as Siegel’s comments demonstrate — that this is meant to be a "told you so" about lockdown orders during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic (which, we must remember, is not over). But that isn’t what it says at all.

The researchers looked at children who had a "genetic vulnerability to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), in the form of polygenic risk scores," and what percentage of those children were diagnosed with ADHD. The researchers did this twice: once before lockdown, and once afterward.

Not the same children at two different times. They looked at one group of kids before lockdown, then a totally different group of kids after lockdown. María Hernández Lorca, lead author of the study and a researcher at the University of Copenhagen, said, "The children examined before and after the lockdown were not the same children. … Therefore, we cannot conclusively state that the lockdown increased mental health problems — rather, we observed more mental health problems."

This is the equivalent of looking at one class of fifth graders, then looking at a totally different class of fifth graders years later. Sure, you could notice that — for example — the first class had more left-handed people than the second, but that does NOT in any way show causation.

They didn’t need to focus on this study. There is plenty of evidence that living through the height of the pandemic is associated with mental health issues. In the same issue of Psychiatry Research the ADHD study is published in, there’s a study looking at the effect of the pandemic on the incidence of psychotic disorders in South London which found that "the pandemic was accompanied by a 45% spike in the rates of first-episode psychosis."

But that doesn’t fit neatly into the anti-lockdown narrative being peddled here; both in that you’re not going to scare suburban parents as much {1} and that it points at the pandemic, not just looking at lockdowns.

It may turn out that lockdown did have the effects that Fox and Siegel think it did, but the research they cite — but aren’t brave enough to even link to — is so poorly done that claiming there is a causal link instead of sampling error is just ludicrous.

Your sample sizes are small, your standard deviations are high, your conclusions mean nothing! It's a science insult. It's devastating. You're devastated right now.

Also, it’s more than mildly inconvenient for the anti-lockdown narrative that also in that same issue of Psychiatry Research is a study that found suicide rates decreased in Brazil during the pandemic’s height, and another showing that 42% of people with "high-severity" PTSD prior to the pandemic "reported exhibited clinically meaningful decreases" in their PTSD, "while 6% exhibited increases."

But when you’re putting your agenda ahead of things like science and facts, what do you expect to hear?

{1} Imagining one’s child — particularly if they’re getting on your nerves — as ADHD is palatable, but you really don’t consider that your kid is going to have a psychotic break.

Featured Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash