(KXAN) — Misinformation alert: A video that’s currently circulating social media claims the spike proteins contained in COVID-19 vaccines kill or damage your body’s cells—but medical experts say there’s no evidence to support the statement.
That video from a Canadian talk radio show purports to reveal that spike proteins in the vaccines break down cells, letting the proteins bind and infect the vaccinated. Some such claims are even made by Dr. Robert Malone, the self-proclaimed “inventor of mRNA technology.”
But recent fact-checks by experts—published by the Poynter Institute’s PolitiFact, Reuters, and the Associated Press—dismantle the video’s claims, which rely heavily on input from Canadian viral immunologist Dr. Byram Bridle. He claimed COVID vaccines produce “toxins” that can travel to the brain.
In an oft-cited quote, Bridle said, “We made a big mistake. We didn’t realize it until now, we thought the spike protein was a great target antigen.” But countless researchers dispute this.
The biggest strike against the claim is simple: None of the vaccines currently authorized in the U.S. (Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson) even contain live COVID-19 or its spike proteins. Instead, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use messenger RNA (mRNA) to tell the body how to attack spike proteins by creating small amounts afterward. Medical researchers and doctors say these amounts are nearly insignificant and not unlike other existing vaccines.
Another of Bridle’s claims is that the vaccines—and the proteins experts agree they don’t have—can travel from the shoulder and to other areas of the body, causing damage.
“What was said in the radio show was completely inaccurate,” said Dr. Adam Ratner, pediatric infectious disease specialist at NYU Langone Health. “The amounts [of spike proteins] that are made after the mRNA is injected are very small and it almost exclusively stays locally. It is nowhere near the amount he was talking about.”
Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains: “Our immune systems recognize that the protein doesn’t belong there and begin building an immune response and making antibodies, like what happens in natural infection against COVID-19. At the end of the process, our bodies have learned how to protect against future infection.”
Viral anti-vaccine video
A Facebook search for “spike proteins” and “toxic” retrieved hundreds and hundreds of variations on the video’s claims, including others advancing the theory, claiming the spike proteins are a “bioweapon.” That video has over 51,000 views.
Several photos of a Nature Neuroscience study are widely shared on Facebook and other platforms feature a fake title of the study, “The S1 protein of SARS-CoV-2 crosses the blood–brain barrier in mice,” and instead is doctored to read, “Spike as Toxin.” The mice study from December 2020 is real, but found that proteins from the virus—not the vaccine— could enter the brain of mice injected with SARS-CoV-2.
The study’s lead author, Dr. William A. Banks, concluded that this could possibly add more context as to why COVID-19 patients have trouble breathing, saying that the virus—not the vaccine—likely enters respiratory centers in the brain. Banks also explained to the peer-reviewed Psychiatric Times that protein entry could also explain why some recovered COVID-19 patients experience brain fog.
Based on recent data, researchers are increasingly understanding how COVID-19 infection affects the brain—though some more recent findings suggest it can be more difficult for the virus to access the brain than previously thought.
On YouTube, the debunked spike protein video currently has about 3.5 million views. Facebook has flagged several postings of the video and labeled it as “misinformation.” Meanwhile, postings parroting its claims proliferate. One such Facebook post reads:
That claim refers to Malone saying he sent “manuscripts” to the Food and Drug Administration about spike protein threat. The FDA says it determined his claim didn’t have enough proof to back it up.
As for Malone, while he was certainly instrumental in mRNA tech development, research shows he did not exactly act alone in the research. In an August 12 article for the Atlantic, author Tom Bartlett lays out some less-known elements of Malone’s backstory, including allegations from fellow mRNA research icon Katalin Karikó that Malone threatened her via email after she received notoriety for her work in helping produce the COVID-19 vaccine.
Karikó asserts that Malone’s ownership of the title of “inventor” of mRNA tech is overinflated, saying “hundreds of scientists” contributed more to mRNA vaccines than he did. Over the years, and especially through the pandemic, he’s become increasingly polarizing among his peers, with many noting his seeming hunger for the spotlight, personal grievances, and/or sensationalist views.
Malone, who insists he is not antivaccination, denies he meant his statements to Karikó as a threat.
Fighting fake news
While conspiracy theories and false claims will continue to replicate across the internet, there are several actions readers can take to stop it.
Cornell University Library has an entire section of resources in its Fake News, Propaganda, and Disinformation: Learning to Critically Evaluate Media Sources, which offers a wealth of material to consider.
The university explains that one of the first items to check is the URL. Is it unusual? URLs ending with .com.co or l-o aren’t likely to be legitimate news sites. How “good” does the site look? Evaluate whether the website you’re looking at appears professional. Additionally, any real news article will list its sources.
- Read more than the headline: Sometimes headlines are sensational and don’t represent the whole story. Other times, complex stories are hard to distill in such a short amount of space
- Do your own research: “Your own research” should include investigating a site’s trustworthiness and biases, identifying where the author’s information came from, finding out who the author is
- Know before you share: Just because a family member, friend or someone you consider to be too smart to fall for fake news shares something doesn’t mean you can trust it
- Look within: Do you have your own biases or preconceived notions about the topic? Ask yourself if you’re open to changing your opinion
- Find expert opinions: While your mom, your spouse, or your best friend may give great advice, if they’re not an expert, get a second opinion!
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