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Correcting this week’s misinformation: week of January 26, 2023

Death by someone else's vaccine

The Claim:

The family of a YouTube political pundit is claiming that the heart failure that killed her was caused by COVID-19 vaccine shedding.

The Facts:

Despite the sister’s claims that the COVID vaccine caused this YouTube star’s death, the death certificate attributed it to heart disease due to high blood pressure.

Why does the family believe this ardent anti-vaxxer might have sustained this alleged damage from a vaccine she never took? According to the sister, the cause was vaccine shedding, a concept often misunderstood by many. Shedding happens when a live virus replicates in your body and then spreads to others. That’s why viruses are contagious.

Some specific vaccines use live but weakened viruses that usually do not cause illness. These can also shed in very specific ways and usually don’t cause illness in people with functioning immune systems. COVID vaccines, however, aren’t live vaccines and do not shed, as there is no virus to shed. People aren’t dying suddenly from the COVID vaccine itself, let alone from vaccine shedding.

Experimental and risky

The Claim:

In a recent video, the self-described “inventor of mRNA vaccines” claims that COVID vaccines are experimental gene therapy and that they “provide no benefits and only risk for the young and healthy.

The Facts:

While the doctor in the video has claimed he is the inventor of mRNA vaccines, he is not.

While COVID is less likely to be serious for those who are younger, becoming infected is not risk-free. Fortunately, studies have shown that vaccines do mitigate some of that risk, for example, by lowering the risk of hospitalization due to omicron in children ages 5-11 by two-thirds.

The vaccines are not gene therapy. mRNA is delivered to the cell but does not cross the nuclear membrane where a cell keeps its DNA. Therefore, mRNA cannot alter this DNA. As to the claim that they are experimental, these vaccines are fully authorized by the FDA.

Fertility and pap smears

The Claim:

An OB-GYN is making a name for herself by claiming that the COVID vaccine is tied to a 50% decrease in fertility, a 50% increase in miscarriages, and a 25% increase in abnormal pap smears.

The Facts:

Like many vaccine naysayers, this doctor connects her personal experiences to vaccination, making the supposed correlation do a lot of heavy lifting as proof of causation. As a scientist, she should know that anecdotes do not make for proof and correlation does not imply causation.

Behind these claims may be real evidence that vaccination (and COVID disease) may slightly and temporarily lengthen someone’s menstrual cycle. Despite these findings and the suggestions of the naysayers, COVID vaccines do not make anyone of any gender less likely to conceive a baby and they do not cause miscarriages.

As to the pap smear claims, most abnormal pap smears are caused by HPV, which is, of course, vaccine-preventable. Those abnormal results not caused by HPV are caused by sexually transmitted diseases or bacterial or yeast infections. Vaccines cannot cause any of those things.

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