There are many claims about the potential negative side effects of the vaccine. This guide seeks to fact check common claims made about the safety of vaccines, and provide a guide to understanding if those claims come from reputable sources.
In order to go about fact checking this information, this guide will use the Four Moves and a Habit process as a tool to help us fact check by focusing on the following steps and habits:
For more information about fact checking generally, see the Fact Checking tab.
Do Vaccines Cause Autism?
The Claim: Many have claimed that the measles mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine causes children to develop autism.
Go Upstream: The claim that vaccines cause autism originated with a study published by Andrew Wakefield and others in 1998. This study looked at a sample of 12 children and found that there was a correlation between the time when some of the children received a MMR vaccine and the onset of intestinal problems and then later a delayed onset of autism. This study was conducted by asking the children's parents about the children's symptoms and by testing the children's urine for methylmalonic-acid (which can be an indicator for intestinal problems). From the data they collected the authors claimed that their work "support[s] the hypothesis that the consequences of an inflamed or dysfunctional intestine may play a part in behavioural changes in some children." In common terms, they were suggesting that the MMR vaccine might lead to intestinal inflammation, which might lead to behavioral problems like Autism. The Lancet, the journal that originally published the study has since retracted the study because:
Further investigations by the British General Medical Council found that Wakefield had been both dishonest in his research and that he had mistreated his patients.
Other research has been conducted on this same issue. To highlight a few articles, one study looked at 537,303 children across Denmark (a lot more children than the 12 that Wakefield looked at), and found that "There was no association between the age at the time of vaccination [for MMR], the time since vaccination, or the date of vaccination and the development of autistic disorder." Another article tested the mechanism of Wakefield's claims--the argument that MMR vaccines lead to intestinal issues which cause autism. This article studied over 500 children and found that "No evidence was found that children with autism were more likely than children without autism to have had defined gastrointestinal disorders at any time before their diagnosis of autism."
Another way to fact check is to explore possible motives and the background of the author of a study or article. Research on Wakefield's motivations and background has reveled that he was paid $800,000 from a personal injury lawyer, Richard Barr, to support his research. Additionally, five of the eight autistic children involved in Wakefield's study were clients of Barr. Given this, we know that Wakefield had a huge financial incentive to produce research that showed a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, and we know that this research could lead to a huge injury settlement claim for both Richard Barr, and to the parents who provided "data" for the study.
Check Your Emotions:
Part of why this myth grew so quickly is because of the fear many parents had of their children developing autism. Many factors can contribute to causing autism including genetic, non-genetic, and environmental influences. For some parents, avoiding vaccines may have seemed like an easy way to prevent Autism- even though there is no research to support that. For other parents, who's children do have autism, vaccines might have become a way to assign blame for their children's condition. Furthermore, this myth has been amplified by several big name celebrities, that individuals might look up to for other reasons (their acting, appearance, etc.), however being famous does not necessarily make these people experts on health issues.
Conclusion: The MMR vaccine and other vaccines do not cause autism or other developmental complications in children.
Does COVID-19 Vaccine Affect Women’s Fertility?
Claim: COVID-19 vaccines could cause infertility in women because of an ingredient that interferes with the development of the placenta.
Go Upstream: In regard to claims that COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility, these claims co-originated by Wolfgang Wodarg, a German politician and physician who has been skeptical about the need for vaccines in other pandemics. On December 1, 2021, Wodarg teamed up with a former Pfizer employee, Michael Yeadon, to petition the European Medicines Agency (Europe’s version of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) to delay the study and approval of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer-BioNTech.
COVID-19 vaccine encourages the body to create copies of the spike protein found on the coronavirus’s surface. This “teaches” the body’s immune system to fight the virus that has that specific spike protein on it. Wodarg speculated (without providing any evidence) that because the vaccine triggers disease-fighting antibodies to the coronavirus spike protein, it might trigger an immune response against a protein called syncytin-1, which is involved in the formation of the human placenta. No placenta means no pregnancy, which means infertility. In short, it was claimed that the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and syncytin-1 are so similar that immunity against one would cross-react with the other.
The claim originated with the post titled, "Head of Pfizer Research: Covid vaccine is female sterilization," on a blog called “Health and Money News.” Social media users are widely sharing a screenshot of the title of the post to claim the vaccine results in sterilization of women.
Read Laterally and What Experts Say: Many experts in the medical field have said that there is no evidence that the Pfizer vaccine would result in sterilization of women. Rebecca Dutch, chair of University of Kentucky’s department of molecular and cellular biochemistry said that while syncytin-1 and the spike protein broadly share some features, they are quite different in the details that antibodies recognize. Additionally, Brent Stockwell, a professor studying disease networks and chemical and biological tools at Columbia University said that "any hint of similarity between syncytin-1 and the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein (which is used as part of the vaccine) is extremely remote. There are hardly any parts of the two proteins that are even vaguely similar, and they are far more distinct than would be needed for cross-reactivity of immune responses."
Albert Hsu, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist at MU Health Care, said while there is no reason to believe the vaccine poses a risk to women who are pregnant or are trying to conceive, there is evidence about the danger of COVID-19 infection to pregnant women, which is a reason they should embrace rather than avoid vaccination. Furthermore, regarding the assumption that the vaccine could cause the body to attack syncytin-1, Hsu has claimed it to be false and said, “There is one small similarity, but the overall construction of the protein is so completely different, your immune system is way too smart to be confused by that.”
A research study conducted by Randy R. Morris included a sample of 143 women who had received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. All patients underwent embryo transfer using a single expanded blastocyst in a hormone-prepared uterus. Frozen embryo transfer was used as a model for comparing the implantation rates between SARS-CoV-2 vaccine seropositive, infection seropositive, and seronegative women. The results of the study indicated that “seropositivity to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, whether from vaccination or infection, does not prevent embryo implantation or early pregnancy development.” The researcher further recommended that physicians and public health personnel can counsel women of reproductive age that neither previous illness with COVID-19 nor antibodies produced from vaccination to COVID-19 will cause sterility.
Circle Back: Another way to fact check is to explore the background of Wolfgang Wodarg, originator of the myth: Wodarg is a German physician and former member of the German Parliament for the Social Democratic Party. In 2010, he called H1N1 swine flu pandemic "fake" - because the virus isn't very different from existing strains. He also suggested that big pharma coaxed WHO (World Health Organization) into declaring a pandemic so that it could produce and sell vaccine.
Germany has a thriving anti-vaccination movement that is riddled with Anti-Semitism. A World Jewish Congress survey found that 27 percent of Germans hold anti-Semitic beliefs; researchers think that these sentiments are increasing. Approximately one-third of Germans believe in conspiracist narratives. One current battleground of conspiracism is the COVID-19 vaccine. Although Wodarg has not explicitly made anti-Semitic remarks, he works closely with German media and personalities who have expressed these beliefs, and these relationships are tight enough that his former employer Transparency International has distanced itself from him.
Check Your Emotions: There is no scientific evidence behind the claim that COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility. This falsehood, is a very clever way to try to dissuade people from becoming vaccinated - part of a coordinated anti-vax misinformation campaign. This claim is especially effective because it combines COVID vaccination worries with deep-seated fears that many women have about their fertility and future ability to become pregnant. Therefore, women should be cautious when coming across misrepresentations on social media platforms.
Conclusion: There is no similarity between the coronavirus ‘spike’ protein and placental syncytin-1 and therefore, COVID-19 vaccines do not cause infertility in women.
Does a COVID -19 Vaccine Implant a Microchip, 5G or Tracking Device into the Vaccine Recipient?
What's the Claim? In March or 2021, posts on social media and YouTube started circulating the idea that Bill Gates was going to launch human implants using "quantum dot dye" alongside the vaccine, which would include a "digital certificate" showing who has been vaccinated for COVID. Additional claims sprung from this claim about how these implants would be used by Bill Gates and the Government to track people.
Go Upstream- Where did this claim come from? This claim was originally described in an article on Biohackinfo News. This news article describes how Bill Gates stated in a Reddit post that "Eventually we will have... digital certificates to show... who has received [the vaccine]". The article then goes on to describe the "quantum-dot" technology funded by the Gates Foundation, implying that this is how the information will be implanted.
Go Upstream & Read Laterally- What did Bill Gates Really say, and What is "quantum-dot" technology? We investigate Biohackinfo's conclusions, by reading Bill Gate's original statements, and by conducting additional research through other sources on both his statements and the "quantum-dot" technology. The Biohackinfo article did correctly quote Bill Gates, which we can check by reading Bill Gate's own publication on the event, and by reading the original Reddit post. However, the quote was applied out of context to unrelated research funded by the Bill and Melinda Gate's Foundation on quantom-dot technology.
Bill Gates clarified the intent of his quote by sharing with multiple news sources including the BBC and Reuters the following statement: "The reference to ‘digital certificates’ relates to efforts to create an open source digital platform with the goal of expanding access to safe, home-based testing.” Nothing about either of his statements suggests anything about this information being "implanted" in to people.
Circle Back, Go Upstream & Read Laterally- What is "quantum-dot" technology? We can learn more about Quantum-dot-technology by reading information from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) about their research into it. Quantum dot technology could be used to store information about when a patient received a vaccine. However, this product is still in the research phase and it is not being used in any COVID-19 vaccines. This technology does not contain any sort of 5G service nor tracking device, rather it is a patch full of microneedles made from sugar, and a PVA Polymer. The microneedles eventually dissolve leaving a pattern in the skin that can't be viewed by the human eye, but which can be viewed by cameras that pick up on different light waves.
By reading laterally, we can learn that this PVA Polymer is a type of alcohol that is considered safe for medical purposes, and for that reason it is frequently used in eyedrops and contact lenses.
Check Your Emotions: This vaccine myth may feel particularly threatening because it builds up fear about what may be injected into us without our knowledge, and there are components of this myth that are true which may lead us to jump to conclusions quickly. Acknowledging these emotions and then continuing through the four moves process is a good way to learn more about the roots of this myth.
Conclusion: COVID-19 Vaccines in the United States do not implant a Microchip, 5G or a Tracking Device into the Vaccine Recipient.
While you can always fact check sources yourself, there are many reputable options available to see if someone else has already done some fact checking that you can read for a start. Here are a few examples from FactCheck.org and the CDC:
Multiple Facts and Myths, addressed by CDC
Bleach as a Vaccine Substitute