Fact check: COVID-19 vaccines don’t cause death, won’t decimate world’s population
The claim: Coronavirus vaccines are killing people and will decimate the world’s population
Several widely shared videos and blog posts on Facebook say the COVID-19 vaccines are a matter of life and death – but not because of the risk of the disease.
In an article published April 22 and later taken down, a website called Red Pill University (a reference to the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory) wrote that COVID-19 vaccines “will decimate world’s population.” As evidence, it cites a video featuring Dr. Sucharit Bhakdi.
Bhakdi is a microbiologist who has promoted ideas that run counter to the scientific consensus about the coronavirus pandemic, including the claim that face masks don’t protect against infection. In the video, which originally was published by the New American, a conservative magazine, Bhakdi says COVID-19 vaccines are deadly.
“They are forcing vaccination on people, and I believe they are killing people with this vaccination,” he says during the video, which has more than 268,000 views on Rumble, a video-sharing platform.
“Guys, don’t get a third or fourth or fifth (shot), because if you do that, you are going to contribute to the decimation of the world’s population,” he says later.
Over the course of the 40-minute clip, Bhakdi calls the pandemic “a fake,” says wearing masks and quarantining is “absolutely ridiculous nonsense,” and coronavirus tests don’t work. In this fact-check, we’re focusing on the claim that COVID-19 vaccines are killing people.
That claim sounds scary coming from a scientist, but it's not accurate.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved three coronavirus vaccines for emergency use in the United States. Clinical trials involving tens of thousands of participants found the vaccines were safe and effective at preventing coronavirus infection, and millions of Americans have safely received them.
There’s no evidence the vaccines cause death, or that they will depopulate the planet – and clear evidence to the contrary.
USA TODAY reached out to Red Pill University and the New American for comment.
Coronavirus vaccines are safe, effective
The three COVID-19 vaccines approved for emergency use in the U.S. are one from Pfizer-BioNTech, one from Moderna and one from Janssen, a pharmaceutical company owned by Johnson & Johnson. Public health officials say all are safe and effective at preventing COVID-19.
Over the course of several months in 2020, more than 100,000 people participated in clinical trials for the coronavirus vaccines as a group. None of those trials found that the vaccines caused death. The FDA approved the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in December and the Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine in February.
Since then, more than 144 million Americans have received at least one vaccine dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If the vaccines were as deadly as Bhakdi says, we would surely see widespread and mounting deaths in the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), a federally managed database of self-reported vaccine side effects. There are reports of vaccine-related deaths in the VAERS database, but because anyone – from doctors and nurses to patients and parents – can submit cases, the CDC says those reports are unverified and may be inaccurate.
“COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective,” the CDC says on its website. “To date, VAERS has not detected patterns in cause of death that would indicate a safety problem with COVID-19 vaccines.”
No evidence of autoimmune responses
Bhakdi says in the video that the vaccines can kill people by causing autoimmune responses. He says that’s because messenger RNA (mRNA) “packages” – genetic strands in the Pfizer and Moderna shots that tell your body how to defend itself against the coronavirus – don’t leave the bloodstream and could cause your immune system to attack healthy cells.
That’s wrong on both fronts.
Fact-checkers have repeatedly debunked the notion that COVID-19 vaccines cause autoimmune disorders. There is no evidence to suggest they do, and Bhakdi’s rationale for the claim – that mRNA never leaves the bloodstream – isn’t accurate. Here’s how it works:
When someone receives a vaccine from Pfizer or Moderna, mRNA strands program cells to produce spike proteins similar to those on the surface of the coronavirus. The body recognizes those proteins as invaders and produces antibodies to block them. Those antibodies prevent future coronavirus infections.
Once that process is completed, mRNA doesn’t linger in the bloodstream.
“The cell breaks down and gets rid of the mRNA soon after it is finished using the instructions,” the CDC says on its website.
Blood clot cases extremely rare
According to Bhakdi, another way COVID-19 vaccines are killing people is through the formation of deadly blood clots. That’s an inaccurate spin on recent news about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
In mid-April, the CDC and the FDA recommended a pause in Johnson & Johnson shots after six cases of a rare type of blood clot were reported in women ages 18 to 48 among the nearly 7 million people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the time. One woman in Virginia died.
After a review of the vaccine’s safety, public health officials recommended April 23 that Johnson & Johnson shots resume nationwide.
“A review of all available data at this time shows that the J&J/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine’s known and potential benefits outweigh its known and potential risks,” the CDC says on its website. “However, women younger than 50 years old especially should be aware of the rare but increased risk of this adverse event and that there are other COVID-19 vaccine options available for which this risk has not been seen.”
Our rating: False
The claim that coronavirus vaccines are killing people and will decimate the world’s population is FALSE, based on our research. Public health officials say all three coronavirus vaccines approved for emergency use in the U.S. are safe and effective at preventing infection. There is no evidence the vaccines cause deadly autoimmune disorders, and reports of blood clots following the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are extremely rare.
Our fact-check sources:
- Associated Press, Jan. 5, No evidence COVID-19 vaccines lead to autoimmune disease
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed April 30, COVID Data Tracker
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 4, mRNA Vaccines
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 27, Reported Adverse Events
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 13, Joint CDC and FDA Statement on Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 25, J&J/Janssen Update
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 23, FDA and CDC Lift Recommended Pause on Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) COVID-19 Vaccine Use Following Thorough Safety Review
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 7, Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System
- Food and Drug Administration, accessed April 29, COVID-19 Vaccines
- Food and Drug Administration, Dec. 10, FDA Briefing Document: Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine
- Food and Drug Administration, Dec. 17, FDA Briefing Document: Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine
- Food and Drug Administration, Feb. 26, FDA Briefing Document: Janssen Ad26.COV2.S Vaccine for the Prevention of COVID-19
- Karina Reiss and Sucharit Bhakdi, Corona, False Alarm?: Facts and Figures
- National Human Genome Research Institute, accessed April 30, Messenger RNA (mRNA)
- The New American, April 15, Rumble video
- The New York Times, April 13, Johnson & Johnson Vaccinations Paused After Rare Clotting Cases Emerge
- PolitiFact, March 4, COVID-19 vaccine does not cause death, autoimmune diseases
- PolitiFact, April 1, The COVID-19 vaccine is not an ‘operating system’ run by Bill Gates
- Teyit via Poynter, Jan. 2, FALSE: Dr. Sucharit Bhakdi’s multiple coronavirus allegations
- Red Pill University, April 22, Microbiologist Says Vaccines will Decimate World’s Population
- USA TODAY, March 5, How mRNA vaccines work
- Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, accessed April 30, VAERS Data
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Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.