Spike protein produced by vaccine not toxic
CLAIM: COVID-19 vaccines make people produce a spike protein that is a toxin and can spread to other parts of the body and damage organs.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. COVID-19 vaccines instruct the body to produce spike proteins that teach the immune system to combat the spikes on the coronavirus, and experts say these proteins are not toxic.
THE FACTS: A recent radio interview with an Ontario professor is being shared widely online to mislead social media users about COVID-19 vaccines.
In an episode that aired in May, Canadian radio host Alex Pierson interviewed Dr. Byram Bridle, an associate professor in viral immunology at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College, about whether the vaccine was safe for children.
On the show, Bridle says that he is pro-vaccine, but goes on to discuss a fringe theory that the spike protein that the body produces from the vaccine is toxic and can damage certain organs.
“We made a big mistake. We didn’t realize it until now, we thought the spike protein was a great target antigen. We never knew the spike protein itself was a toxin and was a pathogenic protein so by vaccinating people we are inadvertently inoculating them with a toxin,” he says.
Though Bridle used the term “we” there is no indication that he was involved in any way in developing COVID-19 vaccines. Other scientists refute Bridle’s characterization of the spike protein.
“The spike protein is immunogenic, meaning it causes an immune response, but it is not a toxin,” said William Matchett, a vaccine researcher at the University of Minnesota Medical School.
All the vaccines that received emergency use authorization in the U.S. do not contain actual spike protein from COVID-19 or the live COVID-19 virus. The spike proteins that coat the coronavirus allow the virus to easily infect the human cell and replicate. However, the vaccine works by teaching the immune system to fight off the spike protein in the body and get rid of it.
Dr. Dan Kaul, an infectious disease expert at the University of Michigan, said that the vaccines have been proven safe and effective through clinical trials and the millions of people who have so far received the vaccines in the U.S.
“In terms of the spike protein itself being pathogenic in some way that’s just simply not true,” he said in response to Bridle’s claims.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines rely on messenger RNA, often referred to as mRNA, that delivers a set of instructions to create that spike protein so your body can learn to identify and fight off the virus. The Johnson & Johnson is a vaccine that carries its genetic instructions for the spike protein through a modified adenovirus.
Posts online shared quotes of Bridle’s interview to further push the false narrative that COVID-19 vaccines are dangerous and attack the body.
In the interview, Bridle says that the spike proteins generated by the vaccines don’t stay in the shoulder muscle, but spread and are “causing so much damage in other parts of the bodies of the vaccinated.” But Dr. Adam Ratner, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at NYU Langone Health, said that vaccines are mostly concentrated at the site of injection or the local lymph nodes.
“What was said in the radio show was completely inaccurate,” Ratner said. “There is no spike protein in the vaccines first of all. The amounts 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.”
In the radio interview, Bridle mentions a study of 13 health care workers that he said confirmed that the spike in protein was found in their blood. But experts say they found nothing of concern from that same study, which was conducted by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and appeared in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases in May.
Bridle left out key details of the study, which relied on an ultrasensitive detection tool, said Matchett, of University of Minnesota.
“The spike became undetectable by 14 days after the first dose of the vaccine,” Matchett said of the study. “After the second dose, they could not detect the spike protein in the blood of any of the participants because the participants had all generated anti-spike antibodies.”
Bridle also mentioned a Japanese study to support his claims about the spike protein. But the study, which is written in Japanese, does not look at spike proteins from the vaccine, Matchett said.
Bridle did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press. An auto-reply email from his account said that a more comprehensive report on his comments would soon be published.
“My answer to the question posed by the host was objective and founded on multiple reliable scientific sources,” he said in the auto-reply.
This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.
Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536