Baseless claims about safety of mRNA vaccines circulate online
CLAIM: Humans and other mammals injected with an mRNA vaccine die within five years.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. There is no scientific evidence to suggest humans or other mammals given an mRNA vaccine die within five years, experts told The Associated Press. In fact, there’s ample evidence that mRNA vaccines, including those to prevent COVID-19, are safe and effective.
THE FACTS: Social media users are reviving concerns that mRNA-based vaccines, including those that are used to combat COVID-19, are extremely deadly.
The latest claim is that anyone injected with the immunization will die within five years.
“No mammal injected with mRNA has ever survived longer than 5 years. The die-off has begun,” one user on Twitter wrote in a post that’s been liked or shared more than 17,000 times as of Tuesday.
But there’s no scientific proof that the mRNA vaccination shortens life expectancy or has led to mass die offs in humans or other mammals since research began on them decades ago, experts told the AP
“Nothing of the scale suggested has happened,” Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, chief of infectious diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told the AP. “The vast majority of the millions who have been injected are doing just fine.”
Vaccines utilizing messenger RNA, or mRNA, teach cells how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response that protects a person from becoming seriously ill from a disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The molecule was first discovered in the early 1960s and research into its uses in medical treatment progressed into the 1970s and 1980s, according to Johns Hopkins University’s School of Public Health.
A flu vaccine based on mRNA was tested on mice in the 1990s, but the first vaccines for rabies and influenza weren’t tested on humans until recently. Kuritzkes said no deaths from those vaccines were reported in those trials.
Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of people worldwide have been inoculated against COVID-19 in the last couple of years and reports of death after vaccination remain rare.
Healthcare providers are required to report any death after a COVID-19 shot to the federal government’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), even if it’s unclear whether the vaccine was the cause.
More than 600 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the U.S. from December 2020 through last week, according to the CDC.
During that time, there have been more than 16,500 preliminary reports of death, or 0.0027% of those that have received a COVID-19 vaccine.
Of those, the CDC has identified just nine deaths causally associated with rare blood clots caused by the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is not mRNA based like those produced by Pfizer and Moderna.
Kuritzkes also notes that mRNA only lasts in the body for a short period of time before rapidly degrading, making it unlikely that it would cause long term effects.
“The fact that we’re just now getting to the five-year mark for some of the earliest studies is not evidence that people die from the vaccines,” he said. “Just evidence that five years have yet to elapse for many trials. Sort of like saying nobody who voted in the 2020 presidential election has lived more than five years.”
Dr. Stuart Ray, an assistant dean at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, suggests social media users might be conflating the fact that animal test subjects are generally euthanized after a scientific experiment has run its course.
Mice, which are typically the first mammals used in clinical studies, also tend to live only around three years, he said.
“We have ample evidence that the mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 in particular have saved countless lives,” he said in an email. “Healthcare workers and biomedical researchers have been quick to accept mRNA vaccination, suggesting that their knowledge of the risks and benefits hasn’t dampened their willingness to receive mRNA vaccines.”
This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP