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Correcting this week’s misinformation: week of April 25, 2024

Is COVID vaccination causing pertussis outbreaks?

The Claim:

Gynecologist James Thorp claims that COVID vaccines cause immune system suppression causing a spike in pertussis rates.

The Facts:

The above tweet references an NBC News article that gives an explanation of the rise in pertussis cases, none of which have to do with COVID vaccination. While the article notes that pertussis (whooping cough) is surging in Europe and China, most of the U.S. is seeing fewer cases than before the pandemic. The article also points to people having missed pertussis vaccination during the pandemic, leaving more people vulnerable to the illness.

Vaccine-Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome (VAIDS) is not a real condition. The term appears to have been coined by a blogger in 2021 and cannot be found in any medical literature. AIDS, or Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome, is caused by Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), a virus that attacks and destroys immune cells, leaving people vulnerable to other diseases.

With over 13 billion doses of COVID vaccine given, we can feel certain that the vaccine cannot destroy or weaken the immune system. In fact, COVID vaccines have been found to boost the immune system against COVID infection for months. Waning immunity is specific to the virus that causes COVID and is not a problem with the entire immune system.

study published last year found that even mild cases of COVID-19 can weaken the immune system, especially impacting T-cells, which are crucial for long-term virus protection. The research compared T-cell responses among three groups: unvaccinated individuals who had COVID, those vaccinated with two doses of the vaccine without prior infection, and people vaccinated post-recovery from COVID. They discovered that the vaccinated individuals who had recovered from COVID showed significantly lower levels of CD8 or killer T-cells, which are essential for eliminating infected cells, compared to those vaccinated without prior infection. This suggests that COVID might cause lasting damage to this part of the immune system.

And apparently we have to say again, mRNA vaccines cannot change your genetics since mRNA cannot reach the nucleus of the cell, where DNA is found.

Was a pro-vaxxer left speechless by vaccine claims?

The Claim:

A widely circulating video of a conversation between “Pushing the Limits” host Brian Shapiro and cardiologist Peter McCullough purports to show the host being silenced because he was unable to refute the claims of the cardiologist, including that the COVID vaccine does not reduce the severity of the illness, that people are more likely to get COVID and be hospitalized if they are vaccinated, and that the vaccine is causing death.

The Facts:

One tactic of the anti-vaccine activist is the Gish Gallop, which refers to a debate technique where someone overwhelms their opponent by presenting a large number of arguments in a short amount of time. (Learn more about social media “debate tactics” in our Toolkit on Social Media Advocacy.)

The idea is that it’s impossible for the opponent to respond to each point one by one due to the limited time, even if the points are weak or have inaccuracies. This tactic can make it look like the person using this technique has a stronger position because their opponent couldn’t address every single point they made. In fact, this video has been edited not to demonstrate any reply by the host, but the full video is available online.

Let’s start with the most incredible claim, that 550,000 Americans died after the vaccine. To believe that, we would need to believe that every death happening within days of the vaccine is caused by the vaccine. We would also need to believe that side effects are underreported by a factor of about 30 (a claim from this analysis).

But it’s wrong to conclude that every death is a vaccine death without any evidence that the vaccine caused these deaths.

Using VAERS to support this claim is unreliable. In fact, the government required any death after COVID vaccination to be reported as a function of the emergency use authorization, regardless of causation. Deaths clearly not caused by the vaccine are included in these reports.

Comparing the total number of deaths after vaccination, no matter the cause, with the number of deaths caused by the vaccine itself is misleading and incorrect. Moreover, assuming that the rate of reporting adverse events to VAERS after vaccination accurately reflects the true occurrence of adverse events is not accurate since these reports are unconfirmed.

Another claim is that “With every single injection, one is more and more likely to get COVID-19.” They are referencing this study, which looked at whether people who are up-to-date on their COVID vaccines (meaning they got at least one dose of the new COVID bivalent vaccine) are less likely to get COVID compared to those who are not up-to-date. They studied employees of the Cleveland Clinic during the time when a new version of the COVID virus (XBB lineages) was common.

Read the whole study, we have come to a different conclusion. What it really found was that the bivalent COVID-19 vaccine actually lowers the risk of infection.

The misunderstanding comes from misreading the figures contained in the study. This is called a Table 2 fallacy. Often, epidemiologists need to pool together data to come up with an estimate of risk, known as an adjusted effect estimate. A Table 2 fallacy results from multiple adjusted effect estimates from a single model presented in a single table. Problems arise when different types of estimates are presented on the same table. This fallacy is like saying that carrying a lighter makes you more likely to get lung cancer without considering whether the person smokes. In studies, it’s important to adjust for the right things.

This one tweet makes many more claims, as tends to be with a Gish Gallop. We always recommend stopping at fact-checking after a couple of points, but we will cover the others next week.

Do vaccines cause blood clots, cancer, and infertility?

The Claim:

A British holistic doctor claims that COVID vaccines are causing blood clots, cancer, and infertility.

The Facts:

Anti-vaccine activists have used prior concerns about a particular type of blood clot associated with adenovirus vector vaccines. mRNA vaccines, like Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, have a minimal risk of blood clots, unlike COVID itself, which significantly increases the risk of blood clots and stroke.

Dr. Paul Offit explains that it’s virtually impossible for DNA fragments in COVID mRNA vaccines to cause harm, such as cancers or autoimmune diseases.

He outlines three protective mechanisms in our cells that prevent these DNA fragments from causing harm: the cytoplasm’s immune mechanisms and enzymes destroy foreign DNA; the DNA fragments lack a necessary signal to enter the nucleus; and they also lack the integrase enzyme needed to integrate into our DNA There is no scientific evidence or plausible mechanism suggesting that these DNA fragments would alter our genome to cause cancer.

Lastly, a study with 32 women found that neither getting COVID nor getting the vaccine had any bad effects on their ovaries. So, these worries about the vaccine affecting fertility are not supported by the evidence.

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