With over 30% of the U.S. population fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of May 6, and the CDC’s recent changes to the agency’s outdoor mask guidance, there have been multiple social media claims alleging that those who have received the vaccine can somehow cause harm to people who are unvaccinated.
VERIFY viewer Michael asked in April if vaccinated individuals can shed spike proteins from the vaccine that may cause adverse reactions to people who have not been vaccinated.
Can people who have received the COVID-19 vaccine shed spike proteins from the vaccine that cause adverse effects to unvaccinated people?
Dr. Krishana Sankar: Biological scientist, science communicator and interim project manager for the #ScienceUpFirst anti-misinformation campaign
No, people who have received the COVID-19 vaccine cannot shed spike proteins from the vaccine that cause adverse effects to unvaccinated people.
WHAT WE FOUND
“Vaccine shedding is a term being used in misinformation circles to perpetuate inaccuracies around the vaccine ‘dropping or discharging’ its components, e.g. shedding the spike protein or the ‘virus,’” biological scientist Dr. Krishana Sankar told the VERIFY team by email.
Sankar is a member of the steering committee and the interim project manager for #ScienceUpFirst, a social media movement developed by a team of independent scientists, health care providers and science communicators working to stop the spread of misinformation around COVID-19.
Sankar explained that vaccine shedding claims are “completely false.”
“The genetic instructions in the vaccines are used to create the spike protein within the cell and are degraded shortly after," said Sankar. "None of the components of the vaccines ‘circulate’ or move around or out of the body. Additionally, there is no ‘shedding’ of any live virus, especially since none of the vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. and Canada contain a live virus."
A CDC spokesperson confirmed Sankar’s statements and went further into detail on how COVID-19 vaccines work:
“There is no way for a COVID-19 vaccinated person to ‘shed vaccine.’ COVID-19 vaccines give instructions to teach our cells how to make a protein—or even just a piece of a protein—that triggers an immune response inside our bodies. After the protein piece is made, the cell breaks down the instructions and gets rid of them. The immune response, which produces antibodies, is what protects us from getting infected if the real virus enters our bodies. COVID-19 vaccines do not use the live virus that causes COVID-19 and cannot cause COVID-19. Therefore, people who receive a COVID-19 vaccine cannot shed the virus or the vaccine.”
When asked if it is safe for unvaccinated people to stand near individuals who have received the COVID-19 vaccine, and if it’s safe for vaccinated people to hold or be near unvaccinated children, Sankar explained that “this is a conspiracy theory created to spread fear and foster distrust in the vaccines.”
“There is no evidence to suggest that vaccinated people pose any harm or threat to unvaccinated people,” said Sankar. “The vaccines went through clinical trial testing and a thorough regulatory and safety review process. They have been found to be safe and efficacious. Over 1 billion people have been vaccinated to date and real-world data continue to show that the vaccines are effective in reducing severe disease, hospitalization and death. Additionally, the vaccines and any potential side effects continue to be monitored around the world.”
On its website, the CDC dispels several myths and facts about the COVID-19 vaccines. #ScienceUpFirst also shares expert-vetted posts dispelling any misinformation about the vaccines on its social media accounts.
SOURCE OF MISINFORMATION
Where is some of the misinformation about COVID-19 and the COVID-19 vaccines coming from? According to an article titled "Let's Amplify the Real Front-line Physicians," which was published on August 5, 2020, writer Stephanie Quinn, the senior vice president of Advocacy, Practice, Advancement and Policy at the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), calls out a group called America's Frontline Doctors.
Quinn says in July 2020, the group shared a video of "outrageous claims, including another false plug for hydroxychloroquine as an effective COVID-19 treatment. The content was removed, but not before receiving millions of views and reviving conversation about a drug that both the FDA and the NIH have said is ineffective against the SARS-CoV-2 virus."
In the article, Quinn makes it clear that the AAFP is "in no way affiliated with this group. We are a partner in America’s Frontline Physicians — the Group of Six — a coalition that advocates for evidence-based care."
Quinn says the AAFP with America's Frontline Physicians wrote a joint letter to former Vice President Mike Pence and former HHS Secretary Alex Azar last July, stating that "the growing sense of misinformation and mistrust in the U.S. will be exacerbated by policies that limit transparency and undermine public confidence in the accuracy of government information about of the true impact of this pandemic."
MedPage Today has also written articles calling out members of America's Frontline Doctors. In July 2020, they wrote that the physicians group "had little to no experience treating COVID-19 patients." On Jan. 5, 2021, staff writer Amanda D' Ambrosio wrote that the group was back in the spotlight "sowing doubt about the vaccine."
So what exactly is America's Frontline Doctors? A conservative doctors' group founded by Dr. Simone Gold with help from the Tea Party Patriots organization, according to The Guardian. Earlier this year, Gold was charged for her role in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, news reports say.
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