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Correcting this week’s misinformation: week of October 12, 2023

Was the approved vaccine the same as the one given?

The Claim:

conspiracy theorist is claiming that COVID vaccines were approved even after a “trial within a trial” took place where people received a DNA-plasmid contaminated vaccine. The 252 trial subjects were given a different injection than what they signed up for.

The Facts:

This claim stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the vaccine manufacturing process. Manufacturing vaccines for a small batch for a trial is a very different process than manufacturing of 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.

As for the plasmids that were found, while these 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.

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 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. As mRNA degrades much faster than DNA, especially when held in suboptimal conditions  (not in cold storage), any proportion of trace amounts of DNA used in manufacturing would be amplified in expired vials not held at the proper temperatures.

Do COVID vaccines contain fetal cells?

The Claim:

An old Project Veritas video is again making the rounds, spreading the false claim that COVID vaccines are made from the cells of aborted fetuses.

The Facts:

Viruses are obligate intracellular parasites that need host cells to grow. Since human cells are sometimes best for growing human viruses, some vaccines use cell lines derived from two elective pregnancy terminations back in the 60s. Because these cell lines are practically immortal, manufacturers can continue using this cell line; there are no new sources of human fetal cells.

While the viral vector COVID vaccine does use fetal cells in vaccine production, the mRNA vaccines do not. Because we are only synthesizing the mRNA, and not growing the virus, plasmids are used instead of human or other animal cells. Human cell lines were used in the early stages of mRNA technology development only to research that they would theoretically work. However, these cells are not used in mRNA vaccine production.

Even with the remoteness of the issue of abortion to the vaccines in use, some people still have moral questions.

The Vatican advised adherents in 2005  about the acceptability of receiving some live, attenuated vaccines. To further clarify that statement, the Vatican issued another statement in 2017, which reads: “The moral obligation to guarantee the vaccination coverage necessary for the safety of others is no less urgent.”

Pope Francis, who was vaccinated in January 2021, is quoted as saying“I believe that morally everyone must take the vaccine.” Given the moral obligation to protect one’s community and the unlikelihood that people will get to choose vaccines the way they choose toppings at Subway, people of all faiths should take the vaccine they are offered.

Of course, people of other faiths may have their own hesitations about vaccines for similar reasons, so it is important for us all to build bridges with the faith-based organizations in our communities.

Are adjuvants and preservatives in vaccines safe?

The Claim:

A prolific Twitter account is claiming that no studies showing aluminum adjuvants (per a FOIA) or thimerosal to be safe exist and that a secret CDC meeting proves that the government is trying to keep this secret from us.

The Facts:

Most of these claims are based on conspiracy theories featuring Simpsonwood and FOIA requests. Let’s take those first before handling the science.

The 2000 Simpsonwood CDC conference was a two-day meeting organized by the CDC to discuss data from the Vaccine Safety Datalink regarding the possible link between the mercury compound thimerosal in vaccines and neurological issues in vaccinated children. Attendees included experts in various fields, public health organizations, and pharmaceutical companies. The conference gained notoriety in the anti-vaccination movement when RFK Jr. wrote an article in 2005 alleging a conspiracy to withhold vaccine safety information. However, the article contained numerous factual errors, leading to its retraction.

In 2007, the Senate HELP Committee reviewed the allegations against the CDC and found they had mostly no merit. It was found that the CDC did not interfere with vaccine safety studies, and the review groups did not rely on manipulated studies. However, four other allegations were not substantiated, including claims that the CDC convened the Simpsonwood Conference to cover up findings, pressured Dr. Thomas Verstraeten to change his findings, hid the Vaccine Safety Datalink, or organized public health organizations to hide a link between vaccines and autism. And we know that vaccines do not cause autism.

Most vaccines are for single use, meaning one vial equals one dose for one person. However, a few vaccines are multi-dose and require preservatives to prevent contamination. Thimerosal, a mercury compound used today in some flu vaccines, has caused concern due to its name being confused with a harmful type of mercury. Thimerosal contains ethylmercury, which is safe and quickly leaves the body. It’s different from harmful methylmercury found in some fish. Thimerosal has been used safely in vaccines, drugs, and contact solutions since the 1930s. Nowadays, most vaccines use single-use vials, and thimerosal-free vaccines are available for those still concerned.

As for the aluminum FOIA requests, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is meant to access government records, not to ask agencies questions or investigate scientific matters. The fact that lawyers keep using FOIA for such purposes implies that they might be aware of this but are being misleading or dishonest. This misleading tactic can be effective, which is why it’s important to set the record straight.

Adjuvants aid your immune response for better protection against diseases. They’ve been used in vaccines since the 1930s, and millions of American children have safely received them. Adjuvants, like aluminum, are found naturally in foods. The amount in vaccines is safe, with infants getting less aluminum from vaccines in six months than from breast milk in the same time. Vaccines with adjuvants are rigorously tested for safety and monitored by health authorities like the CDC and FDA.

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