Review Article

Analysis of the Types of Retracted COVID-19 Articles Published in PubMed-Listed Journals

Authors: Robert W. Alexander, BA, Shengping Yang, PhD, Christopher J. Peterson, MD, MS, Kenneth Nugent, MD


Objectives: Periodically, medical publications are retracted. The reasons vary from minor situations, such as author attributions, which do not undermine the validity of the data or the analysis in the article, to serious reasons, such as fraud. Understanding the reasons for retraction can provide important information for clinicians, educators, researchers, journals, and editorial boards.

Methods: The PubMed database was searched using the term “COVID-19” (coronavirus disease 2019) and the term limitation “retracted publication.” The characteristics of the journals with retracted articles, the types of article, and the reasons for retraction were analyzed.

Results: This search recovered 196 articles that had been retracted. These retractions were published in 179 different journals; 14 journals had >1 retracted article. The mean impact factor of these journals was 8.4, with a range of 0.32–168.9. The most frequent reasons for retractions were duplicate publication, concerns about data validity and analysis, concerns about peer review, author request, and the lack of permission or ethical violation. There were significant differences between the types of article and the reasons for retraction but no consistent pattern. A more detailed analysis of two particular retractions demonstrates the complexity and the effort required to make decisions about article retractions.

Conclusions: The retraction of published articles presents a significant challenge to journals, editorial boards, peer reviewers, and authors. This process has the potential to provide important benefits; it also has the potential to undermine confidence in both research and the editorial process.

This content is limited to qualifying members.

Existing members, please login first

If you have an existing account please login now to access this article or view purchase options.

Purchase only this article ($25)

Create a free account, then purchase this article to download or access it online for 24 hours.

Purchase an SMJ online subscription ($75)

Create a free account, then purchase a subscription to get complete access to all articles for a full year.

Purchase a membership plan (fees vary)

Premium members can access all articles plus recieve many more benefits. View all membership plans and benefit packages.


1. Alexander R, Peterson CJ, Yang S, et al. Article retraction rates in selected MeSH term categories in PubMed published between 2010 and 2020. Account Res 2023;October 20:12013;14.
2. Peterson CJ, Anderson C, Nugent K. Alternative publication metrics in the time of COVID-19. Proc (Bayl Univ Med Cent) 2022;35:432013;45.
3. Peterson CJ, Anderson C, Nugent K. Continued visibility of COVID-19 article removals. South Med J 2022;115:3712013;373.
4. Sharma P, Sharma B, Reza A, et al. A systematic review of retractions in biomedical research publications: reasons for retractions and their citations in Indian affiliations. Humanit Soc Sci Commun 2023;10:597.
5. Shi X, Abritis A, Patel RP, et al. Characteristics of retracted research articles about COVID-19 vs other topics. JAMA Netw Open 2022;5:e2234585.
6. Bae S, Kim MC, Kim JY, et al. Effectiveness of surgical and cotton masks in blocking SARS-CoV-2: a controlled comparison in 4 patients. Ann Intern Med 2020;173:W222013;W23.
7. Zhang N, Qi X, Chang H, et al. Combined effects of inflammation and coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) on the risks of anxiety and depression: a cross-sectional study based on UK Biobank. J Med Virol 2023;95:e28726.
8. Sun L, Jia H, Yang T. Chinese medical personnel after the COVID-19 pandemic. Lancet 2023;401:1000.
9. Funck-Brentano C, Salem JE. Chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19: why might they be hazardous? Lancet 2020;May 22:S0140- 6736(20)31174-0.
10. Mehra MR, Desai SS, Ruschitzka F, et al. RETRACTED: Hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine with or without a macrolide for treatment of COVID-19: a multinational registry analysis. Lancet 2020;May 22:S0140-6736(20)31180-6.
11. Temmerman M. Retraction–Family planning in COVID-19 times: access for all. Lancet Glob Health 2021;9:e1498.
12. Zeng Y, Zhen Y. Chinese medical staff request international medical assistance in fighting against COVID-19. Lancet Glob Health 2020;8:e995.
13. Kampf G. Withdrawal notice to: < [The Lancet Regional Health Europe 12 (2022) 100290]>. Lancet Reg Health Eur 2022;12:100298.
14. Mehra MR, Desai SS, Kuy S, et al. Cardiovascular disease, drug therapy, and mortality in Covid-19. N Engl J Med 2020;382:e102.
15. Noda Y, Sato A, Fujii K, et al. A pilot study of the effect of transcranial magnetic stimulation treatment on cognitive dysfunction associated with post COVID-19 condition. Psychiatry Clin Neurosci 2023;77:241–242.
16. Fischer C, Maponga TG, Yadouleton A, et al. RETRACTED: Gradual emergence followed by exponential spread of the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant in Africa. Science 2022;378:eadd8737.
17. Wang X, Xu W, Hu G, et al. RETRACTED ARTICLE: SARS-CoV-2 infects T lymphocytes through its spike protein-mediated membrane fusion. Cell Mol Immunol 2020;20:554.
18. McAlpine LS, Lifland B, Check JR, et al. Remission of subacute psychosis in a COVID-19 patient with an antineuronal autoantibody after treatment with intravenous immunoglobulin. Biol Psychiatry 2021;90:e232013;e26.
19. Funck-Brentano C, Nguyen LS, Salem JE. Retraction and republication: cardiac toxicity of hydroxychloroquine in COVID-19. Lancet 2020;396: e22013;e3.
20. Oransky I. A month after Surgisphere paper retraction, Lancet retracts, replaces hydroxychloroquine editorial. Published July 10, 2020. Accessed April 18, 2024.
21. Marcus A. Lancet, NEJM retract controversial COVID-19 studies based on Surgisphere data. Published June 4, 2020. Accessed April 18, 2024.
22. Anderson C, Nugent K, Peterson C. Academic journal retractions and the COVID-19 pandemic. J Prim Care Community Health 2021;12: 21501327211015592.
23. Frampton G, Woods L, Scott DA. Inconsistent and incomplete retraction of published research: a cross-sectional study on Covid-19 retractions and recommendations to mitigate risks for research, policy and practice. PLoS One 2021;16:e0258935.
24. Taros T, Zoppo C, Yee N, et al. Retracted Covid-19 articles: significantly more cited than other articles within their journal of origin. Scientometrics 2023;128:29352013;2943.
25. Piller C, Servick K. Two elite medical journal retract coronavirus papers over data integrity questions. Published June 4, 2020. Accessed April 18, 2024.
26. Piller C. Who’s to blame? These 3 scientists are at the heart of the Surgisphere COVID-19 scandal. Published June 8, 2020. Accessed April 18, 2024.
28. Xu SB, Evans N, Hu G, et al. What do retraction notices reveal about institutional investigations into allegations underlying retractions? Sci Eng Ethics 2023;29:25.
29. Xu SB, Hu G. Refine retraction notices to avoid damaging fallout. Nature 2023;614:624.