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Correcting this week’s misinformation: week of December 21, 2023

2023 in Review, Part One

We bring 2023 to a close with you by reviewing your favorite Just the Facts stories of the year in a two-part series (see part 2 here). These stories were chosen by counting up the most-clicked links of the year.

Our donors help us keep the momentum alive into 2024. Consider Voices for Vaccines for your year-end giving to stick it to infectious diseases.

Do mRNA vaccines cause antiphospholipid syndrome?

The Claim:

The self-proclaimed inventor of the optical mouse once again captured your curiosity with a claim about blood clots and mRNA vaccines. According to this tech enthusiast, the vaccines induce antiphospholipid syndrome, a condition where your immune system gets confused and starts attacking the healthy proteins found in your blood.

The Facts:

One of your second favorite links this year is the Yale study at the end of our debunking. Read on!

Frightening anecdotes are always difficult to counter because we never have all the information we need from the medical records to form a complete opinion about the causes and features of a person’s health experience. We do know, from the linked article, that the doctors treating the child during his medical emergencies did not see vaccines as the cause of his blood clots or autoimmune issues. The family received a second opinion from a doctor in Florida who made a name for himself by treating COVID patients with Ivermectin, an ineffective treatment favored by agents of disinformation.

In one study of American veterans aged 45 and older, researchers discovered a slight increase in the risk of VTE (blood clots in the veins) following COVID vaccination with both viral vector and mRNA vaccines. This increase amounted to only 0.10%, or roughly 1.4 additional VTE cases per 1,000,000 vaccinated people, reaffirming the overall safety of these vaccines and the extremely low risk of blood clots.

We do know that COVID infection is far more likely to lead to autoimmune problems. New research from Yale indicates that COVID mRNA vaccines do not lead to the development of autoantibodies, which are self-attacking antibodies commonly found in COVID patients. This finding suggests that vaccination is associated with a substantially lower risk of autoimmune diseases compared to getting infected with the virus. The study highlights the benefits of vaccination in generating protective immunity without the risk of autoantibody development, making vaccination a safer choice for reducing the risk of autoimmune responses.

What about excess deaths?

The Claim:

In the world of misinformation, up is down, the Grinch is Santa, and the sky is crisscrossed with chemtrails. On that Earth, the vaccine caused 120,000 excess deaths in children. And you were dubious.

The Facts:

The overall claim is based on data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OEC) and their table of excess deaths for people under the age of 45 from 2020-2023. The dataset doesn’t include the type of death.

Excess deaths refers to the difference between the expected number of deaths and the actual number of deaths in a specific time period and includes all deaths from all causes. The specific claim that almost 120,000 of these deaths are sudden deaths due to the COVID vaccine is completely unfounded, and they offer no evidence to back up this claim. Rather, the CDC indicates that many of these excess deaths are due to COVID infection itself.

If this claim were true to any degree, we would expect more deaths in areas with higher vaccination rates. However, higher excess deaths were seen in areas with lower vaccination rates.

What is SV40 and is it causing cancer?

The Claim:

Multiple stories sparked curiosity related to COVID vaccines causing cancers through rogue DNA doing bad stuff in people’s cells. Not only did you want this misinformation debunk, but this story was on of the top-Googled pages on our website.

The Facts:

The DNA many misinformed have claimed is running amock in mRNA vaccines is from a virus named SV40, a simian virus that is most commonly found in the kidneys of several kinds of monkeys. It can also sometimes infect humans and can potentially cause cancer via tumor (T) antigens.

Unfortunately, early batches of the polio vaccine became contaminated with SV40, and the methods used to inactivate the poliovirus did not reliably inactivate SV40. Importantly, epidemiological studies have found no increased cancer risk in those who received these vaccines.

Since then, a promoter gene (a DNA sequence that starts RNA transcription) of SV40 has been found to promote a high level of gene expression for producing proteins and has been used in DNA vaccines. The sequence used is just the promoter gene and does not include any part of the DNA sequence that encodes for the T antigen of SV40. While promoters like the SV40 promoter are used in the manufacturing of mRNA vaccines, they are not considered an ingredient in the vaccines as the vast majority of it is removed during production.

Manufacturing vaccines for a small batch for a trial is a very different process than manufacturing thousands of doses at a time. Process 1 is the small batch process, while process 2 is the scaled-up version.

Although the processes are different, they are both held to the same safety and quality standards.

Original claims that DNA plasmids were found in mRNA vaccines at a higher proportion of mRNA to DNA than is allowed by FDA guidelines stem from a previous preprint paper acknowledging that one limitation of the study is the “unknown provenance of the vaccine vials under study.”

They also note that the vaccines arrived without proper cold chain processes and were all expired. They follow up that paper with this preprint, where the authors obtained and tested “24 unopened expired vials” and “three vials of in-date remnants”. As mRNA degrades much faster than DNA, especially when held in suboptimal conditions, any proportion of trace amounts of DNA used in manufacturing would be amplified in expired vials, as these were,  or ones not held in optimal conditions.

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