Corvelva and “Vaccinegate”: Italian antivaxers produce a dubious “scientific report” on fetal DNA in vaccines

Antivaccine misinformation never dies. It’s just continuously recycled into another form. As I like to say, whenever you think you’ve seen the last of a particular bogus antivaccine claim, think of the end of a 1980s slasher film and what happens to the killer at the end, you know, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, or Freddie Krueger. YOu know what happens. It looks for all the world as though the killer is dead or otherwise eliminated, but he always—always!—comes back to kill more teenagers in the sequel. So it is with antivaccine claims. This time around, I’ve been sensing a stirring in the antivaccine crankosphere, with a particular bit of antivaccine pseudoscience appearing in multiple places. I first saw it late last week at Health Impact News. Then I saw it on Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s repository of antivaccine propaganda, Children’s Health Defense. Then I saw it it at Mike Adam’s repository of conspiracy theories, quackery and vileness. (I had missed it there because I rarely bother to check out Natural News any more.) Basically, it’s a new spin on the claim that there are “fetal cells” in vaccines involving the MRC-5 cell line, and it’s a really dumb one, courtesy of an Italian group called Corvelva.

I, of course, have discussed the deception of the “aborted fetal cells” (which all too often morphs into “aborted fetal tissue” when antivaccine ignoramuses tell the tale) in vaccines. The origin of this particular antivaccine trope comes from a grain of truth, which antivaxers twist beyond recognition. In brief, viruses used to make certain vaccines are cultured in human cell lines derived from aborted fetuses, like the WI-38 cell line, which is a human diploid fibroblast cell line derived from the lung of a three month old fetus aborted therapeutically in 1962, while the MRC-5 cell line was derived from lung tissue of a 14 week old aborted caucasian male fetus in 1966. Of course, there’s a huge difference between a cell line that was derived from a fetus 57 or 53 years ago and actual “fetal cells.” While it’s correct to say that WI-38 and MRC-5 cells were derived from aborted fetuses, they are many generations (replications) removed from the original cells from the original fetuses used. Even though that most anti-abortion of religions, the Catholic Church, although not thrilled with vaccines made in these cell lines, recognizes the great good vaccines do and concludes that the extreme good of protecting children’s lives from deadly diseases far outweighs the distant evil—vaccines using fetal cells to grow virus have saved millions of lives and prevented billions of cases of disease—that created the cell lines, urging its members to vaccinate their children. This, of course, does not stop antivaxers from trying to appeal to those whose religions condemn abortion by claiming that there are “fetal parts” or “fetal cells” in vaccines and therefore vaccinating is against their religion.

The claim that fetal “parts” are in vaccines serves another purpose to antivaxers. A major strategy used by antivaxers to frighten parents into refusing vaccines is to portray vaccines as somehow “dirty,” “contaminated,” or just plain yucky. To that end, they like to claim that there are all sorts of horrendous “toxins” in vaccines, ignoring the adage that the dose makes the poison and that one of these “toxins” (formaldehyde) is a normal product of human metabolism and harmless in small amounts. Another tactic is to describe vaccines as being made using cultured cells and cell lines from chickens, dogs, monkeys, hamsters and insects. The “fetal parts” gambit has morphed into a variety of subclaims designed to portray vaccines as dirty, the most prominent of which is the claim that DNA from the fetal cells contaminates the vaccine, somehow gets into human neurons, recombines with the DNA there, producing foreign proteins that show up on the surface of the neurons and provoke an immune response (autoimmunity), thus damaging the neurons. I’ve already explained in my usual painful detail how utterly ignorant of biology and homologous recombination one has to be to accept this hypothesis as anything other than incredibly implausible at best, with no evidence to support it, to boot. Hilariously, one of the most cited (by antivaxers) articles pushing this idea left a typo in about “homologous recombinaltion tiniker” when it meant homologous recombination, the process by which DNA strands can break and recombine when stretches of DNA with the same sequence come together. In the minds of antivaxers, these minute bits of DNA from the fetal cell line used to grow certain vaccines truly have magical properties; they can do almost anything!

Which brings us to MRC-5. To amuse myself, let me let Mike Adams be the first to tell you the claim, just because it’s so far over the top. Basically, a laboratory in Italy has apparently sequenced the genome of the MRC-5 cell line, and, according to Adams:

What’s clear from this genetic sequencing is that the vaccine industry is inoculating children with engineered cancer.

Adams gets this from Child Health Defense, which got it from a report by these Italian scientists. Basically, the Corvelva group claims to have found a complete human MRC-5 genome in a lot of Priorix Tetra vaccine (A71CB256A). Priorix Tetra is an MMRV (measles-mumps-rubella-varicella) vaccine made by GlaxoSmithKline. The rubella and varicella viral stocks for this vaccine are grown in MRC-5 cells, while the other two are grown in chick embryo cells. Here’s how RFK Jr.’s fever swamp described the findings:

The Corvelva team summarized their findings as follows:
  1. The fetal cell line was found to belong to a male fetus.
  2. The cell line presents itself in such a way that it is likely to be very old, thus consistent with the declared line of the 1960s.
  3. The fetal human DNA represented in this vaccine is a complete individual genome, that is, the genomic DNA of all the chromosomes of an individual is present in the vaccine.
  4. The human genomic DNA contained in this vaccine is clearly, undoubtedly abnormal, presenting important inconsistencies with a typical human genome, that is, with that of a healthy individual.
  5. 560 genes known to be associated with forms of cancer were tested and all underwent major modifications.
  6. There are variations whose consequences are not even known, not yet appearing in the literature, but which still affect genes involved in the induction of human cancer.
  7. What is also clearly abnormal is the genome excess showing changes in the number of copies and structural variants.

I’ll get to the report (PDF here) in a minute, although I will mention right here that this is not an article reporting medical research in the peer-reviewed medical literature. It wasn’t even published in a bottom-feeding predatory journal. Rather, it was published as a monography. (I wonder why.) I’ll also note that this group called it “Vaccinegate,” and that this isn’t Corvelva’s first antivaccine rodeo. As Vaxopedia described, late last year, the group published a highly dubious analysis of Infanrix Hexa and claimed to have found “65 signs of chemical contaminants of which only 35% is known” and “7 chemical toxins.” Basically, the scientists there are unnamed, and the group has a history of producing dubious “science” for Italian antivaxers.

Before I look at the findings and explain why they don’t say what Corvelva, RFK Jr., and Mike Adams think they say, I also feel obligated to note that Corvelva’s report includes nothing in the way of detailed methods, so that scientists can evaluate their findings. This is about all we get:

New generation sequencing have become the preferred tool for in-depth analysis in the field of biology and medical science, especially high precision ones. Thanks to these tools, we can approach in a more modern and comprehensive way a number of applications such as de novo sequencing, metagenomic and epigenomic studies, transcriptome sequencing and genome re-sequencing.

This last one (re-sequencing) is largely used in human field, both for research and diagnostic purposes and consists of NGS – Next Generation Sequencing of an entire single genome, to map the Single Nucleotide mutations (SNP), insertions and deletions of more or less long sequences that have occurred in certain locations of the genome, and variations in the number of copies of genomic portions/genes (CNV, Copy Number Variants).

This procedure helps to understand the development mechanism of some pathologies, in order to identify the directions for a future clinical treatment as in the case of cancer for example. Indeed, by this method the genetic heritage of a cancer patient can be fully decoded in both normal and cancerous tissue, thus allowing us to comprehend what exactly has changed within the genome, and, if possible, how to intervene with targeted measures.

I think they mean next generation sequencing (NGS), not “new generation sequencing,” but I’ll let it pass because English is clearly not their first language. Yes, NGS is a powerful tool that allows sequencing of whole genomes in a tiny fraction of the time that it used to take. In a study like this, methods matter. They matter a lot. How did Corvelva prepare the sample for NGS? How did it initially discover that there were human DNA sequences detectable? How did they amplify the DNA? (There’s an amplification step for NGS that can introduce noise.) How were the reads done? The sequencing analysis and computational methods? How did the authors make sure there wasn’t any cross contamination? These are all critical questions for which there are no answers. The “scientists” at Corvelva seem to think we should just trust that they know what they’re doing. Here’s the thing, though. In science, we never trust that other scientists know what they’re doing. They have to show us that they do, and part of the way they show us is by giving us the methods.

Here’s all they say:

This same procedure has been performed on the human genome in Priorix​® Tetra lot n. A71CB256A, genome which belongs to cell line MRC-5 (of fetal origin); the work has been carried out by a company in the USA, that routinely deals with human genome re-sequencing analysis. *


* the name of the laboratory that has performed the analysis will be included in the next formal complaint we will file at the Public Prosecutor of Rome and as well at the Italian and European regulatory bodies. The associations who are filing the analysis funded by Corvelva will be promptly kept up to date with these shocking results too. We are no denying that we feel, especially as parents, distressed by these results we are reporting – as if what we have found out so far was not enough to worry about.

So basically Corvelva sent a sample to a lab in the US, paid it to do the work, and accepted whatever came back. That is not impressive, and there is no reason not to name the laboratory here in this report. Also, they only looked at one lot of vaccine. Replication is important, and there’s no way of knowing whether this result was just a fluke.

Let’s go back and look at point #4, though, the “finding” that the allegedly MRC-5 human genome sequenced was “clearly, undoubtedly abnormal, presenting important inconsistencies with a typical human genome.” Let’s for the moment accept this finding as not an artifact. The only proper response to this is: So what? MRC-5 is a cell line that’s been passaged for well over 50 years. Cell lines develop genetic abnormalities with time. There’s an even more amusing thing to consider, though,. Reading the report, I noticed that Corvelva compared the sequence they claim to have found in the vaccine with the sequence of a normal human genome using a special circular plot that shows abnormalities in terms of deletions . What didn’t they compare it to? As far as I can tell, they didn’t compare it to DNA from a sample of MRC-5 cell line.

What about #5, the bit about “560 genes known to be associated with forms of cancer were tested and all underwent major modifications”?

The Corvelva report concludes:

The human genomic DNA contained in the Priorix lot vaccine. n. A71CB256A is evidently anomalous, presenting important inconsistencies if compared to a typical human genome, i.e. the one of a healthy human being. There are several unknown variants (not noted in public databases) and some of them are located in genes involved in cancer. What is also apparently anomalous, is the excess of genome that shows changes in the number of copies (CNV) and structural variants (SV), such as translocations, insertions, deletions, duplications and inversions, many of which involve genes.

Based on this, RFK Jr. claims:

What are we saying? We are saying that the DNA contained in these vaccines is potentially TUMORIGENIC and that the guidelines to which the supervisory bodies are appealing are NOT ADEQUATE. Moreover, we are publicly denouncing a SERIOUS OMISSION in taking those PRECAUTIONAL measures which, on the other hand, are urgently requested for antacid drugs.

Our results greatly reinforce the experimental observations of Dr. Theresa Deisher and especially the fact that the contaminant fetal DNA present in all samples analyzed in varying quantities (thus uncontrolled) is up to 300 times higher than the limit imposed by the EMA for carcinogenic DNA (10 ng/dose, corresponding to DNA contained in approximately 1000 tumor cells, derived from a statistical calculation, while the precautionary limit is 10 pg/dose), a limit that must also be applied to MRC-5 fetal DNA which inevitably contaminates Priorix tetra.

As a consequence, this vaccine should be considered defective and potentially dangerous to human health, in particular to the pediatric population which is much more vulnerable to genetic and autoimmune damage.

I laughed out loud when I read this. I’ve written about Theresa Deisher’s execrable science more times than I can remember. Remember, she’s the one who claims that tiny amounts of fetal DNA somehow make it to the brain (never mind that pesky blood-brain barrier), recombine in neurons with host DNA to make defective proteins that show up on the cell surface and provoke an autoimmune response leading to autism and other neurologic conditions. As for Corvelva’s claims that this DNA is tumorigenic? First, there’s no evidence that it is. Modifications in 560 genes known to be associated with forms of cancer? Which genes? Which modifications? Specifics matter. Look at the BRCA genes. Most of the variants detected are of unknown or no significance. In addition, even if this DNA were potentially carcinogenic, it’s not going anywhere. Remember, vaccines are injected intramuscularly, where the antigens basically stay. Ah, Corvelva implies, but what if they get into cells?

I have experience with working with DNA, human, mouse, and otherwise, including injecting it into tissues and trying to get it to express the protein for which it encodes. This is not a trivial matter. Think of it this way. If it were, gene therapy would be an almost trivial matter. But it’s not. In general, it’s difficult to induce human cells to take up foreign DNA in tissue. Even with viral vectors, it’s hard to get more than a small percentage of cells not only to take up the DNA but to express detectable levels of protein. Muscle is one tissue that can take up naked plasmid DNA and actually express it. Indeed, this technique has been used to generate cancer vaccines, where plasmid DNA is injected into the muscle in order to cause it to make a certain protein, which then provokes an immune response. But doing this is not easy, and the DNA is not detectably incorporated into the DNA of the muscle cells. Its gene expression is extranuclear (outside the nucleus).

But that’s not all. Even human cells that can take up random bits of extracellular DNA at very low efficiency (like muscle) do not integrate that DNA into their genome. Even if the DNA did reach the nucleus, recombination into the host genome would be both random and rare. Each cell would incorporate different bits of DNA into different locations in its genome. The bottom line is that, even if that tiny amount of fetal DNA had any carcinogenicity, most of it would simply be broken down in the extracellular space, and the only cells it might get into would be muscle cells and (maybe) immune cells.

In other words, it’s really, really, really hard to get naked DNA not in a virus to be expressed or even into cells, but, hey, to Covelva, it seems that this tiny, tiny amount of fetal DNA is magic. It can do everything above and then cause cancer too! Mike Adams, of course, goes even further:

This conclusion appears to confirm that MRC-5 cell lines used in vaccines have been genetically modified to make them more likely to cause cancer in vaccine recipients. Subsequently, vaccine mandates are actually forcing children to be injected with cancer genes so that they become future customers of Big Pharma’s for-profit cancer treatment “solutions” which are incredibly toxic to human health.

Human children, in other words, are being injected with the genetically modified DNA of another aborted human child in order to cause cancer on a nationwide scale, all to benefit the bottom line of the pharmaceutical industry that pushes total censorship about any criticism of vaccines or vaccine ingredients.

And, of course, a video:

I also note that Corvelva is hosting this video on YouTube. So much for not being antivaccine. Of course, the name for which CORVELVA is an abbreviation is Coordinamento Regionale Veneto per la Libertà delle Vaccinazioni, which stands for “Veneto Regional Coordination for Vaccine Freedom,” and the group’s guiding principle is “the free choice of vaccinations.” This is, of course, Adams being Adams, overblown and full of conspiracy theories and nonsense. For one thing, Priorix Tetra isn’t even used in the US; here the MMRV vaccine of choice is ProQuad, which is manufactured by Merck.

It just goes to show that everything old is new again. The claim that vaccines made using a fetal cell line is a (relatively) old claim used to appeal to the religious not to vaccinate. Failing that, adding the claim that these vaccines are somehow dangerous because of the tiny amounts of fetal DNA from the cell lines can cause autism (and now cancer) serves to appeal to the nonreligious antivaxers through a modified use of the “toxins gambit” commonly used to portray vaccines as “dirty,” “diseased,” and just plain gross, all to evoke disgust. I wouldn’t trust this report from Corvelva at all; unfortunately, thanks to antivaxers good at fear mongering, it might end up being necessary for health authorities to redo this analysis with competent scientists who know how to do NGS, to include the proper controls, to prepare the samples properly, and, most importantly of all, to do the complex analysis properly. In the meantime, antivaxers will continue to make hay with this highly questionable report.

Finally, it figures. As I was finishing up this post, I an article published at Joe Mercola’s supplement story and quackery extravaganza that’s about—you guessed it—fetal DNA in vaccines. It’s not specifically about the Corvelva “study,” but rather a more general survey. I suppose I might have to take this one on too at some point soon.