Pre-print vs. peer-reviewed: What does it mean for a COVID study?

Coronavirus

(NewsNation Now) — The CEO of Moderna said the company hopes to have a combined COVID-19 and flu vaccine ready sometime next year. But Dr. Anthony Fauci warned that the timeframe is still a ways off.

Moderna’s CEO said the goal is to require just a single, annual booster for people instead of multiple shots. But Fauci says it’s too soon to tell whether omicron will shift the COVID pandemic toward something more like the seasonal flu.

People are looking everywhere trying to find answers, and there’s a lot of misinformation out there.

Searching for clarity on the matter, one article’s headline referred to a pre-printed study.

Pre-print studies are studies that have been completed but haven’t gone through the peer-review process that most scientific journals require for publishing.

So how do we make sense of this? What is to be trusted in a document like this? What’s the difference between a pre-printed study versus peer-reviewed?

“This is such an important difference,” Dr. Kristin Englund, infectious disease specialist at Cleveland Clinic, said during an appearance on “Morning in America”.

Englund explains, “When we submit an article to a journal, an editor looks at that and then asks other peers to take a look at the article as well and review it. And these are peers who have no ties to the person who wrote the article, who are experts in the field, and go through very carefully and review the article and make recommendations whether it should be printed, whether it needs to be revised, or whether it’s perfectly acceptable.”

Englund says the amount of times that a study is initially accepted right off the bat for publication is pretty low.

“Usually there are revisions or explanations that need to be made,” she said.

Do studies with small sampling sizes and no peer review carry any significant weight?

“So oftentimes, what we’re trying to do now is get information out quickly,” Englund said of studies on a virus that, itself, has changed rapidly in the form of several different variants. “And that’s why journals or articles are coming out now in pre-print, and not peer-reviewed.”

“You have to read it kind of with a grain of salt,” Englund said. “You have to be able to take a look at it and say, well, the number is small. So that does not apply to a worldwide situation, or look at the data and say, yeah, this has not been looked at by other experts. So we may need to look for a better explanation or a deeper explanation.”

The headline of one recent pre-printed study stated that vaccinated people are more susceptible to omicron. There has also been a study out of Israel suggesting that that is the case, that the vaccine is not sufficiently effective at preventing the transmission of the omicron variant.

“It’s not true,” Englund said. “And what you’re looking at there from the Rogue Review is their evaluation of a study that is a pre-print.”

According to Englund, it’s kind of like the game of telephone, where you have information that then gets evaluated by somebody else and then disseminated. And so it’s ultimately somebody’s opinion of an article that’s not been peer-reviewed.

“It’s very difficult to make any kind of an estimate based upon that,” Englund said.

Watch the full interview with Dr. Kristin Englund in the video player at the top of the page.

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