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

Did the HPV vaccine in India harm girls?

The Claim:

viral video claims that Bollywood teamed up with the Gates Foundation to give girls in India HPV vaccines which ended up causing cancer and death and led to the Indian Parliament kicking Gates out of India.

The Facts:

Between 2006-2011, PATH, a public health nonprofit funded by the Gates Foundation, conducted HPV vaccination programs in 4 low- to middle-income countries, including India, to guide future cervical cancer prevention program planning. These were neither clinical nor safety trials, as the video suggests, since the HPV vaccine had been approved in India in 2008.

This video also makes an unsubstantiated claim that many of the 24,000 girls vaccinated in India were seriously injured, from seizures to cancer itself. It does not cite any credible sources or detail documented instances.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in New Delhi suspended the project in 2010 after the deaths of 7 girls following the vaccine. However, 5 of those deaths were completely unrelated to the vaccine (drowning, snake bite, pesticides, and malaria), and the other two were unlikely related to the vaccine.

Allegations by a parliamentary panel that oversees India’s health ministry were that the project had breached medical ethics and violated Indian regulations on clinical trials, as these deaths were not investigated by PATH. Since “clinical trials had already established the safety of HPV vaccines through clinical trials and the vaccine had been approved in India in 2008, they were not collecting safety data at the time. The disagreement may have opened the door to anti-vaccine claims.

HPV causes the deaths of nearly 73,000 women by cervical cancer in India each year.

Are COVID vaccines designed to cause blood clots?

The Claim:

Anti-vaxxers on Twitter claim that a former pharmaceutical VP has revealed that COVID mRNA vaccines were designed to cause blood clots on purpose.

The Facts:

Of note, this former VP doubts that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, ever existed, so you have to consider the veracity of the source.

The video describes what they claim are the mechanisms of mRNA vaccines: he claims that any cell that uptakes and produces the spike protein will be recognized by our immune systems and destroyed. While some of this is accurate, it displays a fundamental misunderstanding of how and why vaccines work.

Vaccines, in general, work by introducing bits of pathogen, called antigens, to your body, so it can learn to fight the real pathogen. With mRNA vaccines, instead of supplying the antigen itself, the vaccine supplies the instructions for your body to build the antigen itself. The vaccine does not enter the bloodstream directly. So it’s less likely to interact with components of the blood that can lead to clotting.

The vaccine is administered in the deltoid muscle. The vast majority of the vaccine is taken up by the cells of the muscle and by dendritic cells, immune cells that present foreign antigens to the immune system. This immune response is highly specific to the spike protein and does not affect the blood’s coagulation system or clotting factors.

The vaccine contains a finite amount of mRNA, and only a finite number of cells interact with the vaccine. The vaccine is designed to stimulate the immune system in a controlled way, and the disease replicates uncontrolled and infects almost every cell of your body.

With over 600 million doses of mRNA vaccine given in the US, there has been no indication of an increased risk of blood clots.

Are COVID vaccines particularly dangerous for athletes?

The Claim:

Twitter influencer claims that COVID vaccines are particularly dangerous for athletes and people who are in peak physical condition.

The Facts:

Anti-vaxxers seem to think that unexpected cardiac deaths in athletes are caused only by the COVID vaccine. Their assumptions are wrong.

Sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of exercise-related death. That’s why the claims about the vaccine required finding 16 cases from 6 different countries worldwide to make the leap from “no known cause” to vaccines were the cause.

There’s a lot unknown about these 16 cases. We don’t know their vaccination status or if they’ve ever had COVID, something, which is known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Without more information, these anecdotes do not overrule the scientific evidence concerning the safety of COVID vaccines.

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