As you may have seen, anti-vaxxers have been going crazy over the new mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines. Statements like “it’s not a vaccine” (if you’re an anti-vaxxer, wouldn’t that be a good thing?), “its gene therapy”, and “it will modify your DNA”, are just a few of the most common claims I’ve come across. This comes at an unfortunate time, of course. With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, it is more important than ever that people understand how this new technology works, understand the risks (yes, there are some actual risks, but they are very rare), and feel comfortable getting the COVID vaccine, which is our best chance at controlling the spread and getting back to normal lives.
I had a personal encounter with this recently, when a family member shared an article by a Dr. Mercola stating all of the theories I mentioned above, and more. The article understandably made a few of my other family members nervous, because it referenced published articles, used medical terminology, and sounded very authoritative. This made me very nervous - I have family members who are in high risk groups for COVID complications, and I didn’t want them to put off the vaccine, or decide not to get it at all, because of an article based almost entirely on lies. In response, I made a list of many of the important statements in the article, and tried to explain why each one was right or wrong, with links to high quality sources whenever possible.
Quite a few people who have seen it thought my reply was very informative, and so I thought I’d publish it here. I hope this can be as helpful for you, your loved ones, or anyone else you know that is nervous about the vaccine, or just curious. Enjoy!
Note: I spent a good bit of time researching this, and I am a scientist, but I am not a virologist, epidemiologist, or biochemist! So please, if you find any details I may have missed, feel free to comment. I’d like to make this as accurate and as useful as possible.
Summary of the article
The article states that the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) are not vaccines, are actively killing people, and child vaccine trials should not start because children don't need the vaccine and also there are significant long term side effects that we don't know about. (Interesting how he can know there are long term side effects... but we don't know them yet.)
Validity of the article
The substantive portions of this article are misleading or completely false.
I go through each of the five summary lines at the top of the article in detail, and show where they are correct, where they are misleading, and where they are incorrect. After that, I address a few other problematic/wrong statements made through the body of the article, and explain how the mRNA vaccines work.
Background of the author
First, its important to point out that Dr. Mercola is a known pseudo-science based, alternative-medicine practitioner and a fraud. He is widely discredited by both the practicing and the research medical communities, and has multiple times been found to be telling outright lies, and selling products with no zero efficacy for what he claimed they were good for. Look at the following link for a good description of all of the scams he has participated in, including COVID-based ones: Dr. Mercola's history. You should be skeptical of anything from him or his website.
However, statements are true or false independent of the person who says them, so I will address them all.
Summary statements at the top of the article
Statement 1: COVID-19 “vaccines” do not impart immunity or inhibit transmissibility of the disease. In other words, they are not designed to keep you from getting sick with SARS-CoV-2; they only are supposed to lessen your infection symptoms if or when you get infected. As such, these products do not meet the medical definition of a vaccine.
First, the definition of what a vaccine is: A product that stimulates a person’s immune system to produce immunity to a specific disease, protecting the person from that disease. Vaccines are usually administered through needle injections, but can also be administered by mouth or sprayed into the nose.
There are three ways that this statement is incorrect. First, vaccines provide different TYPES of immunity. 1) Some prevent you from ever building up a large amount of the virus and then spreading it (this is called sterilizing immunity. A good example is the Measles vaccine). 2) Some allow you to have some load of virus, but reduce the symptoms you feel, and reduce spread 3) Some only reduce the symptoms you feel, but don’t reduce the viral load or how likely you are to shed (spread) the virus (Hepatitis B. for instance).
All of the vaccines we use today for kids and adults fall into one of those categories. Many of them fall into the first category, but certain vaccines fall into category 2 or 3. And all of these are still medically and legally vaccines, and all are important.
Second way that statement is incorrect: The vaccines were designed to “stop the spread” as much as any other vaccine. However, to test that claim, it has to be released into the public and monitored in the wild. Because those results were not ready when the vaccines were analyzed for emergency approval, Pfizer and Moderna could not legally make any statement about whether or not they stopped the spread. They just didn’t know. The trials only focused on safety and efficacy (in other words, is the vaccine safe, and does it reduce the number of people showing symptoms).
Third way, and most importantly: The vaccines DO actually stop the spread of the disease, so the entire premise is incorrect: You can find some info at this link.
Statement 2: As of February 4, 2021, the U.S. Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) has received 12,697 injury reports following COVID-19 vaccination and 653 deaths
This one is misleading: VAERS is an unauthenticated and unverified early reporting system where anyone, without any medical knowledge, can report whatever they want. It's used as an early warning system, but none of the data is verified. As of right now, there has been ZERO deaths linked directly to the covid vaccine.
An actual placebo controlled trial where you can see side effects are basically at the same level of frequency between Pfizer vaccine and placebo, except for fevers and “local reactions” (soreness at the injection shot)
There IS a very small risk when getting the vaccine of anaphylactic shock (the same sort of reaction someone with a peanut allergy gets when they eat a peanut). It is a very serious reaction. However, 90% of incidents happen within ~15 minutes of injection (and the pharmacist/med tech makes you wait around to see if it happens), and all it requires is an epinephrine shot.
Currently only a few hundred people have had an anaphylactic reaction to the shot in the United States, and NONE have died. Thats a few hundred out of 40 Million. Here are the stats for Pfizer, and Here are the stats for Moderna.
So a few hundred serious complications out 40M+ people who have been vaccinated, and zero deaths, compared to 500K+ deaths out of 30M+ cases. The benefits significantly outweigh the small risks of the vaccine.
Statement 3 & 4: starting COVID vaccine trials on children across the globe
Yes this is true, and because of all of our experience with other vaccines, and all of the evidence we currently have to the safety of the COVID vaccines, there is no reason not to. Vaccines are metabolized extremely quickly. Side effects happen in minutes-to-weeks (up to 2 months generally) timeframes. The long term problems like autism that people are worried about are not caused by vaccines, the evidence is VERY clear (this is for autism, but the other things antivax people cite all have similar results when studied systematically). So it is as safe as any other drug to start child trials.
Statement 5: Children do not need a COVID-19 vaccine as they are at extremely low risk of severe COVID-19 and are not a significant vector of infection
“Extremely low” is relative. And the risk of severe complication for children is much higher than risk of severe side effect from the vaccine (1 in 1,000 compared to 1 in 100,000 or 1,000,000). Also, any child who does get COVID is then at risk of spreading it to other individuals in their household or community who is immunocompromised or unvaccinated, so its important for everyone, including children, to get the vaccine to reduce community spread.
Unfortunately, we are also seeing that for any kids that do end up in the hospital, the rate of admittance to the ICU is equal to that of all other age groups. In other words, if you’re someone who gets severe COVID symptoms, your risk of serious complications (including death, if you want to consider that a complication) is approximately equal between all age groups. Its just that younger age groups are less likely to get severe COVID (but again, that rate is rising steadily too).
Other statements made throughout the article that don't fit in with the above points
Deaths from mRNA vaccines
Its important to reiterate: NO ONE has been confirmed to have died directly from the vaccines. And this is something the FDA are watching and investigating very carefully, because they want to know if there are any severe side effects from the vaccines. Anyone can add a report to the VAERS results, and every one of the cases that has been investigated by professionals has been found to have not been caused by the vaccine.
Report all COVID-10 Vaccine Side Effects
The author is saying report all side effects from the vaccine to VAERS. However, its important to remember that just because something happens after you get a vaccine, doesn't mean it was caused by the vaccine. That's why scientists use placebo controlled trials to measure the actual rate of side effects due to the active ingredients in the vaccine. (Here are the FDA approval packages with side effect rates reported by Pfizer and Moderna)
Nick's personal note: actual side effects of the vaccine
Besides the rare cases of anaphylaxis, the vaccines have typical vaccine side effects of vaccines, such as fever, weakness, pain at the injection point, headache, myalgia, nausea, and chills. It should also be noted that the rate of some of these are very similar between the vaccine group and the control group, suggesting that they may be rare side effects or not caused by the vaccine at all.
Children do not need this vaccine
Currently, about 50 out of 100,000 0-4 year olds in the United States have been hospitalized due to COVID. (See the links from Statement 5 above). This is about 50x the rate of all confirmed serious side effects of the vaccines. 30 out of 100,000 5-17 year olds have been hospitalized. Again, 30x the rate of all confirmed serious side effects. So children are 30-50x more likely to become seriously ill (or even die) getting COVID than they are getting the vaccine.
Adverse effects may take years to develop
This is the same argument used for Autism and other long term issues "caused" by other vaccines. Here is the link again, showing how vaccines don't cause autism. Again, the same is true for other long term effects that vaccines are sometimes accused of.
This is not to say that vaccines have no strange or serious side effects. In fact, many have side effects, even ones that can be very scary. However, the rate of these side effects are tiny - if they weren't, the vaccines would be pulled from the market. The CDC and FDA monitors these rates yearly. Each vaccine is safer than contracting the disease they protect against, even for diseases as "mild" as the yearly flu.
However, this part of the article is specifically saying that mRNA vaccines may cause prion diseases. The most famous prion disease is bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), Mad Cow Disease. This is caused by a misfolded protein in the brain and neural tissues. The misfolded proteins cause further proteins to misfold, and they clump together, rapidly degrading, and always killing the infected animal/individual.
First, its important to note that the paper referenced in the article is published in what appears to be a predatory journal - these are journals that provide no actual peer review, are not actually read by the serious scientific community, and charge the author a lot of money to publish. Basically, this article had no quality control, and the author was desperate enough to pay a lot of money to get it published somewhere.
This article provides a good history of the idea that vaccines can transmit/cause prion diseases (started in the UK Mad Cow outbreak, if you care to know). It also shows that the article is hugely flawed, and makes several logical and methodological errors. Most importantly, he's focusing on a naturally occurring RNA binding protein thats found in natural, healthy cells. He then makes an unexplained leap to saying that the mRNA vaccine may cause these proteins to mis-fold. He provides no methods of how he came to this conclusion. No methods are obvious to professional readers of the paper either. He provides none of the sequence alignments he claims are problematic. And he doesn't explain why some of these sequences, which are very common in normal mRNA in your everyday cells, would cause problems when identical sequences are given in a vaccine. In fact, many of the papers he cites, show that what he claims could happen is basically impossible.
This paper was cited as fact by Dr. Mercola, but is so flawed as to be essentially worthless. There is currently no good evidence that the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines have a strong chance of causing prions, and no mechanism is readily apparent to the professionals who work in the field.
Finally - prion diseases are diseases of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). COVID vaccines are injected into the muscle tissue. So the point seems even more moot.
mRNA vaccines are actually gene therapies
No. Not in the way anyone reading this would think. Gene therapies modify the DNA of a cell, by inserting, fixing or removing genes from the genome. This is used to correct genetic disorders. mRNA vaccines never enter the nucleus of a cell (where the DNA is located). Instead, when the mRNA enters the cell from the outside, it stays in the cytoplasm, before a ribosome binds to it, creates the spike protein encoded by it, and then gets metabolized (broken down) by the normal cell processes. There is no permanent modification of the DNA of a cell, and once the mRNA has been read and produced the spike protein, it gets destroyed.
Unlike real vaccines, which use an antigen of the disease you're trying to prevent, the COVID-10 injections contain synthetic RNA fragments encapsulated in a nanolipid carrier compound, the sole purpose of which is to lessen clinical symptoms associated with the S-1 spike protein, not the actual virus
This is, frankly, nonsense. Many vaccines don't include a full virus, just parts of them. That doesn't mean they don't protect against the full virus. All it has to do is present a part of the virus that T-cells (a specific type of white blood cell) can bind to when they encounter the virus (essentially, anything on the outer surface of the viral envelope. Like the spike protein.)
They do not actually impart immunity
Again, this is wrong. Here is the link again. Even if it wasn't, it would still save many lives just by reducing symptoms.
Its a gene therapy that turns your cells into little bioreactors that spit out immune system activating proteins and have no off switch
Again, this is nonsense, and leads me to believe he knows he's lying. No one with an intro college course in biology, much less a doctorate, would make this mistake. mRNA in a cell is rapidly degraded by enzymes that exist naturally in the cytoplasm. The mRNA will only "live" for a very short amount of time in the cell before it gets broken down and can no longer be used to produce the antigen.
mRNA vaccines are not good because they cause inflammation
Any vaccine causes inflammation. The reaction of the immune system to the antigen is inflammation, it is necessary to generate the immune response that then creates the long term protection.
Short term inflammation is not bad for you. In fact, its good for you. You get short bursts of "inflammation" like signals after exercise, or when you get sick, for instance. Chronic, long-term inflammation, like that caused from consistent bad sleep or uncontrolled anxiety and stress are the things that lead to severe health problems.
His suggestions for other remedies
All of the "treatments" I see listed on his website, when studies using well designed, placebo controlled trials, have shown zero or tiny efficacy. Whereas the mRNA vaccines have over 90% efficacy of preventing sickness at all.
(I'm sorry I am not including as many citations anymore, but the amount of incorrect statements is quite impressive, and I have been writing this for 3 hours now.)
How do mRNA vaccines work
mRNA vaccines are very simple. They are a mixture of a few salts, like sodium chloride (table salt), an emulsifier (like the stuff used to keep vinaigrettes from separating into oil and vinegar), a sugar (to protect the mRNA-lipid compound in the ultra-cold temperatures for storage), a few fats (lipids) like the ones that form all the cell membranes in your body, and a strand of messenger RNA. The lipids form a protective coating over the mRNA molecule. When the lipid coating touches a cell's membrane in your body, it merges (imagine two soap bubbles merging into one), spitting the mRNA into the cytoplasm of the cell. The mRNA then stays in the cell until a ribosome picks it up, and produces the spike protein. This may happen zero, one, or a few more times, but pretty soon, the mRNA is consumed by an enzyme called an RNA-ase, and no more spike proteins are made. The spike protein then enters the blood stream, where the normal vaccine process of creating antibodies from the antigens occur.
This process can take a few days total, but at the end, nothing is left from the vaccine, except the antibodies, and you are now safer than you were before :) (and again, no DNA has been modified)
Hope this helps!