Antivaccine conspiracy theorists blame vaccines for many things, such as autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders, autoimmune diseases of all kinds including fake ones, childhood obesity, this generation of children supposedly being the “sickest generation,” infertility due to primary ovarian insufficiency, and even death, as in death by sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Basically, whatever the health issue, to antivaxxers, it is, first and foremost, always about the vaccines. Always. No mater how implausible and lacking in evidence the link between vaccines and a given disease or health condition is, antivaxxers will find a way to blame it on vaccines. Indeed, even now, in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve found ways to blame the influenza vaccine for COVID-19, particularly now that flu season is here. However, one of the wildest claims I’ve ever seen about vaccines is that they are “transhumanism,” a claim being made by über-quack “Dr.” Joe Mercola in an article on The Vaccine Reaction, the house blog of Barbara Loe Fisher’s antivaccine group the Orwellian-named National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), entitled Will New COVID Vaccine Make You Transhuman?, an article based on a video by one Dr. Carrie Madej:
Two years ago, in October 2018, Forbes contributor Neil Sahota, a United Nations artificial intelligence adviser and UC Irvine professor, warned that transhumanism is fast approaching—likely faster than you think.1 “In the past few years, there has been considerable discussion around the idea we are slowly merging with our technology, that we are becoming transhuman, with updated abilities, including enhanced intelligence, strength, and awareness,” Sahota writes.
The goal of the transhumanist movement, or “Human 2.0,” is to transcend biology into technology. Or, as Dr. Carrie Madej explains in the video above, to meld human biology with technology and artificial intelligence.
Two visible proponents of transhumanism are Ray Kurzweil (director of engineering at Google since 2012) and Elon Musk (founder of SpaceX, Tesla and Neuralink).
We’ll get to the video in a minute, because it is truly beyond the pale. I had never heard of Carrie Madej, DO before (or, if I had, I didn’t remember her). The website featuring her video, Stop World Control, describes her thusly:
Dr Carrie Madej directed two large medical clinics in the state of Georgia, USA. Since her twenties she has been fascinated by vaccines and studied them ever since. Her in depth research led her to discover what the proposed technologies are for the new COVID-19 vaccines. What she is revealing is alarming.
This video is an in depth documentary that shows how these new vaccines can alter our DNA, turning us into hybrids. The plans are to connect humans to artificial intelligence and global control networks. This is the start of transhumanism, turning us into HUMANS 2.0.
“Study.” You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. Seriously, I bet that Dr. Madej “studies” vaccines in the same way that Mike Adams does, her being a physician notwithstanding.
In any event, I found out a bit more. Dr. Madej is an internist in McDonough, Georgia. She’s Medical Director of Phoenix Medical Group of Georgia, where she has a full time practice in Internal Medicine. Her Twitter feed is a wretched hive of scum, quackery, and conspiracy theories. Unsurprisingly, she is an antimasker, seems to buy into every major conspiracy theory about COVID-19 out there, and has appeared on The Alex Jones Show, antivaxxer Sherri Tenpenny’s show, and on Mike Adams’ show. She also gave a virtual speech to the gathering of antimaskers and COVID-19 lockdown protesters at Trafalgar Square last month. It’s odd that I haven’t heard of her before.
So what is “transhumanism“? However, I describe it, I’m sure someone will object, but here goes anyway. Basically, it is a social, scientific, and philosophical movement devoted to the idea that humans can be enhanced by technology, be it biological, computer-based, or physical. The idea is that such technologies would augment or increase human perception, physical abilities, intelligence, and cognition, and also radically improve human health and extend human life spans. Unsurprisingly, the movement’s adherents tend to be employed in technology, biotech, and academia, and there is a strong link between libertarianism and transhumanism. The ultimate outcome is thought to be the “singularity,” a time when computers become so advanced that artificial intelligence transcends human intelligence, potentially erasing the boundary between humanity and computers, even leading to the merging of humans and computers. Personally, I’ve always looked a bit askance at transhumanism, because there is certainly a lot of woo in the movement. Moreover, transhumanists do tend to assume that the coming “singularity” will necessarily be a good thing. Science fiction, however, provides many potential counterexamples, SkyNet in the Terminator movies and the Borg in Star Trek being two of the most famous of them.
Nonetheless, I am not opposed on general principle to human-enhancing technologies. After all, what is medicine but an effort over many millennia to overcome the inherent biological weaknesses and defects in humans in order to enhance and extend lifespans by preventing at least premature death from infirmity and external disease? True, there is a philosophical argument to be had over how much modification might be too much, but that’s not what Mercola and his antivax cranks are about. Rather, just as antivaxxers have used the COVID-19 pandemic and President Trump’s “Operation Warp Speed” program to stoke fear that any new COVID-19 vaccine will be unsafe, having been rushed to approval too quickly with inadequate safety testing, and thereby to cast doubt on all vaccines, here antivaxxers are painting COVID-19 vaccines as incipient “transhumanism” in order to—you guessed it!—spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt about all vaccines. Naturally, they’re focusing on mRNA vaccines, such as the COVID-19 vaccine candidates from Moderna, BioNTech, Fosun Pharma, and Pfizer:
Many of the COVID-19 vaccines currently being fast-tracked are not conventional vaccines. Their design is aimed at manipulating your very biology, and therefore have the potential to alter the biology of the entire human race.
Conventional vaccines train your body to recognize and respond to the proteins of a particular virus by injecting a small amount of the actual viral protein into your body, thereby triggering an immune response and the development of antibodies.
This is not what happens with an mRNA vaccine. The theory behind these vaccines is that when you inject the mRNA into your cells, it will stimulate your cells to manufacture their own viral protein. The mRNA COVID-19 vaccine will be the first of its kind. No mRNA vaccine has ever been licensed before. And, to add insult to injury, they’re forgoing all animal safety testing.
First of all, this is a bit silly. If there’s one thing about mRNA, it’s that (1) it doesn’t integrate into the genome of the cells that it enters, meaning that it can’t permanently “reprogram” a cell and (2) it’s a remarkably unstable molecule, which is why RNA vaccines currently have to be stored at -90°C and why there’s been concern about the mass distribution of such vaccines, given that few doctors’ offices and clinics have the capability of storing doses at that cold a temperature and there would be concern about keeping the vaccines sufficiently cold during transport. (It’s also why Moderna is working to make its vaccines more stable, now claiming that they can be stored at -20°C and will be stable for about a week at 2° to 8°C, and other companies making mRNA vaccines are frantically working to make the required storage conditions less frigid.) Indeed, some of these logistical issues are why I’ve always been a bit skeptical of RNA vaccines. I’m not skeptical that they can work. I’m sure they can. The problem is that I’m not convinced that whatever advantages they might have outweigh the many disadvantages in terms of their storage and distribution, slick videos by companies like Moderna notwithstanding:
So how do RNA vaccines work? The idea is that the mRNA (messenger RNA) gets into the human cells and does its thing, providing the template that the cell’s ribosomes use to “translate” the genetic code in the mRNA into protein, in this case the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, which is secreted and generates an immune response. I was quite amused by how impressed Mercola was by Dr. Carrie Madej’s claims. First:
Madej goes on to discuss how this mRNA vaccine is going to be administered. Rather than a conventional injection, the vaccine will be administered using a microneedle platform. Not only can it be mass produced quickly, but it can also be administered by anyone. It’s as simple at attaching an adhesive bandage to your arm.
The adhesive side of the bandage has rows of tiny microneedles and a hydrogel base that contains luciferase enzyme and the vaccine itself. Because of their tiny size, the microneedles are said to be nearly painless when pressed into the skin. The idea is that the microneedles will puncture the skin, delivering the modified synthetic RNA into the nucleus of your cells. RNA is essentially coding material that your body uses. In this case, as mentioned, the instructions are to produce the SARS-CoV-2 viral protein.
The part of Dr. Madej’s video where she describes this couldn’t be more obvious. While explaining the microneedle platform, the video flashes an image of a viper and its long fangs, ready to strike. She’s also conflating technology being developed with the actual Moderna vaccine and other RNA vaccines. Right now, they are not going to be delivered using microneedle bandages. That’s a technology that’s still being tested. Dr. Madej is getting ahead of herself here. After all, the current form of the Moderna vaccine doesn’t use microneedles. It’s a standard vaccine that’s injected, two shots given a month apart, and is intended to work as described in the video above.
I also laughed out loud reading the above passage. The nucleus of your cells? Nonsense! That’s not how protein synthesis works! mRNA is translated to protein in the cytoplasm (the part of the cell outside the nucleus but within the cell membrane). After DNA in the nucleus is transcribed to mRNA by an enzyme called RNA polymerase, the mRNA thus produced is transported out of the nucleus into the cytoplasm, where ribosomes use it as the template to make proteins. Sure, the system is more complicated than that, but I don’t need to go into how some mRNAs start out as longer precursors that are spliced into the final mRNA before being used in translation. The basic outline above is enough for a lay person to understand why Dr. Madej is full of you-know-what. Here’s a handy-dandy image from Wikipedia:
Seriously, Drs. Mercola and Madej need to pick up a Biology 101 textbook. No, really. This stuff is in the early chapters about cell biology. It’s really, really basic. It gets worse, though:
The problem with all of this, Madej notes, is that they’re using a process called transfection — a process used to create genetically modified organisms. She points out that research has confirmed GMO foods are not as healthy as conventional unmodified foods. The question is, might we also become less healthy? “Vaccine manufacturers have stated that this will not alter our DNA, our genome,” Madej says.I say that is not true. Because if we use this process to make a genetically modified organism, why would it not do the same thing to a human? I don’t know why they’re saying that. If you look at the definition of transfection, it will tell you that it can be a temporary change in the cell. And I think that is what the vaccine manufacturers are banking on. Or, it’s a possibility for it to become stable, to be taken up into the genome, and to be so stable that it will start replicating when the genome replicates. Meaning it is now a permanent part of your genome. That’s a chance that we’re taking. It could be temporary, or it could be permanent.
Dr. Madej says this is not true. Well whoop-de-doo and la-dee-da! No, seriously. This is not a DNA vaccine. It is not possible for the RNA to “become stable” and be taken up into the genome. (Indeed, RNA viruses that can integrate into the genome rely on first being reverse transcribed into DNA.) Again, this is not even Molecular Biology 101. It’s high school Biology 101. As for transfection, all that is is a technique to introduce RNA or DNA into cells. Most commonly it’s used to introduce plasmids (circular lengths of DNA containing genes of interest) into cells. Methods range from really old school methods that I used in graduate school 30 years ago, such as calcium phosphate precipitation (which is horrendously inefficient) to various liposome-based methods. (Liposomes are small spheres of lipid, which can bind to the cell membrane and fuse with it, thus delivering plasmid into the cytoplasm.) While, it is true that the introduction of mRNA into a cell will produce a temporary change, namely the cell’s ribosomes using the mRNA to make the desired protein, that temporary change is just that. It has nothing to do with altering the cell permanently, and as soon as the mRNA degrades naturally the cell will go back to normal. Seriously, Dr. Madej, molecular biologists are laughing at you.
Dr. Madej is also apparently all worked up about a protein called luciferase. Luciferase is an enzyme that is commonly used in molecular biology because it produces bioluminescence. (More specifically, it acts on a compound called luciferin.) Most commonly, it’s used as a “reporter gene.” The idea is that you insert the gene for luciferase into a plasmid after various DNA sequences that regulate gene expression (how much mRNA and protein the gene makes). These sequences are known as promoter or enhancer regions. You then transfect cells with the plasmid. By measuring changes in light emission of the cells, either by harvesting them and extracting the proteins and measuring how much bioluminescence is produced when substrate and appropriate cofactors are added, or by looking at them under an appropriate microscope, you can see how various manipulations of the cells (e.g., drugs, changes in the media, changes in expression of other genes) communicate with the reporter/enhancer sequences to increase or decrease the activity of the reporter gene luciferase.
So what’s the obsession with luciferase, other than that some cranks (I’m looking at you, Mike Adams) have latched onto its name to associate it with the Devil? Let’s see:
Another part of the delivery system that raises its own set of questions is the use of the enzyme luciferase, which has bioluminescent qualities. While invisible under normal conditions, using a cellphone app or special device, you will be able to see a glowing vaccination mark.
As described in the journal RSC Advances7 in 2015, luciferase gene-loaded quantum dots “can efficiently deliver genes into cells.” The abstract discusses their use as “self-illuminating probes for hepatoma imaging,” but the fact that quantum dots can deliver genetic material is interesting in itself.
The hydrogel, meanwhile, is a DARPA invention that involves nanotechnology and nanobots. This “bioelectronic interface” is part of how the vaccination mark will be able to connect to your smartphone, Madej says, providing information about blood sugar, heart rate and any number of other biological data.
“It has the potential to see almost anything that goes on in your body,” Madej says. This will have immediate ramifications for our privacy, yet no one has yet addressed where this information will be going. Who will collect and have access to all this data? Who will be responsible for protecting it? How will it be used?
Again, this is not how the Moderna and other mRNA vaccines are going to be administered, at least not now. Also, the reference she cites merely describes using luciferase vectors as a way to image liver cancers. As for the luciferase, as it’s just there to show where the vaccine was injected and to demonstrate that cells did take up whatever was on the microneedles. I’m also amused how Dr. Madej apparently doesn’t know how to pronounce “luciferase.” I laughed out loud when she first mispronounced it, although she started pronouncing it closer to the correct pronunciation as time went on. Moreover, luciferase is an enzyme, and, unless the vector used to introduce it into human skin cells truly did integrate with the nucleus, any luminescence from luciferase would be temporary. The enzyme would degrade, over time, as would the plasmid that makes it.
As for the marking, I’ve discussed that before. She’s appears to be referring to quantum dot tags, basically copper-based quantum dots embedded in biocompatible, micron-scale capsules. They’re tagged with a near-infrared dye that’s invisible, but the pattern they set can be read and interpreted by a customized smartphone. Even these are not permanent, as the currently estimated time during which they can be read is five years.
None of this stops Dr. Madej from going full conspiracy crank:
We’re gonna be branded. Each person will have their own ID. This reminds me of World War II. You know, it’s something to think about, being branded like a product in the store…So we’ll be branded. What can that be used for. There are lots of technologies out there, and that’s something we need to be concerned about.
Gee, that reference to World War II and branding wouldn’t be a reference to the Nazis tattooing prisoner identification numbers on the inmates in their concentration camps, would it?
There’s so much more in this video that I might have to do a second post at some point. (The segment on Hydrogel make me chuckle and groan in equal measure) However, this post is about COVID-19 vaccines and the claim that they will us transhuman. What’s depressing is that there are real issues to consider when it comes to using technology like quantum dots to mark us, but the paranoid conspiracy mongering, coupled with the ignorance of basic biology, used by cranks like Mercola and Madej obscures any legitimate concerns, subsuming them into full blown QAnon-like conspiracy:
Getting back to the mRNA vaccines, time will tell just how hazardous they end up being. Clearly, if the changes end up being permanent, the chance of long-term side effects is much greater than if they end up being temporary.
In a worst-case scenario, whatever changes occur could even be generational. The problem is these issues won’t be readily apparent any time soon. In my view, this vaccine could easily turn into a global catastrophe the likes of which we’ve never experienced before.
We really should not be quick to dismiss the idea that these vaccines may cause permanent genetic changes, because we now have proof that even conventional vaccines have the ability to do that, and they don’t involve the insertion of synthetic RNA.
No, we do not, and the example cited doesn’t show what Mercola thinks it does:
After the H1N1 swine flu of 2009, the ASO3-adjuvanted swine flu vaccine Pandemrix (a fast-tracked vaccine used in Europe but not in the U.S. during 2009-2010) was causally linked9 to childhood narcolepsy, which abruptly skyrocketed in several countries.
Children and teens in Finland, the U.K. and Sweden were among the hardest hit. Further analyses discerned a rise in narcolepsy among adults who received the vaccine as well, although the link wasn’t as obvious as that in children and adolescents.
A 2019 study16 reported finding a “novel association between Pandemrix-associated narcolepsy and the non-coding RNA gene GDNF-AS1”—a gene thought to regulate the production of glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor or GDNF, a protein that plays an important role in neuronal survival.
They also confirmed a strong association between vaccine-induced narcolepsy and a certain haplotype, suggesting “variation in genes related to immunity and neuronal survival may interact to increase the susceptibility to Pandemrix-induced narcolepsy in certain individuals.”
Steve Novella has discussed the issue of whether Pandemrix caused a spike in the incidence of narcolepsy in these countries. It’s important to note that this is a strange case. The association was only observed in specific countries and not in others (including the US) in which the vaccine does not appear to be a consistent or unique risk factor for narcolepsy in these populations. Overall, it was a confusing set of data to derive any clear picture of whether the H1N1 vaccine was a true risk factor. On the other hand, there are data suggesting that Pandemrix might trigger the production of antibodies that can also bind to a receptor in brain cells that help regulate sleepiness in genetically susceptible people. Basically, the whole situation is confusing, and it’s not clear if any of the H1N1 vaccines truly caused narcolepsy.
Also, the study cited by Mercola does not show that the H1N1 vaccine caused permanent genetic changes. The investigators did a genome-wide association study (GWAS), a type of study that frequently finds associations that do not hold up to scrutiny but can nonetheless be useful for hypothesis generation. What this study shows is an association between the haplotype and “vaccine-induced narcolepsy,” not that the H1N1 vaccine produced “permanent genetic changes.” Mercola is either grossly ignorant of basic biology, or he’s lying, knowing that his audience doesn’t know the difference. Take your pick.
The bottom line is that Mercola and Madej are doing nothing more than putting a COVID-19-based spin on an old antivaccine trope, one that I first saw eight years ago, when Sayer Ji claimed that vaccines are transhumanism in the service of subverting evolution by interfering with how we have co-evolved with pathogens. A few years later, antivaxxer Sherri Tenpenny was making the same sort of nonsensical argument, but by then antivaxxers had started pointing to DNA vaccines as a hopelessly unnatural corruption of our genes that reminds me a lot of the claim that trace amounts of contaminating DNA from the cell lines used to grow viral antigens for some vaccines can somehow get into the brain, express “non-self” proteins, and trigger an autoimmune response causing autism. (Truly, to antivaxxers, DNA and RNA are magic!) Again, it’s all an appeal to “nature” as being somehow always superior to anything humans can do. They view vaccines as “unnatural” to the point of altering what human beings are.
Of course, just because something is natural does not make it good, benign, or even just neutral. Nature is harsh, and the battle for survival brutal, and it’s completely “natural” for all manner of animals to be eaten by bigger, faster, and hungrier animals, and it’s just as natural for humans do die horrible deaths from infectious diseases. Yet the mindset behind so much of “alternative” medicine and antivaccine views is that natural is always good and that anything synthetic should be viewed with extreme suspicion. It’s silly, because even “natural” nutrients and medicines are just as much chemicals as any synthetic nutrient or chemical. We have to judge whether such chemicals are harmful based on science and where the evidence leads us, not based on whether the chemical is “natural” or not.
In the end, there’s so much antivaccine and COVID-19 pseudoscience coming from Madej that I suspect this will not be the last time I write about her. She really is an up-and-coming crank, and now that Mercola has amplified her message I expect, alas, to see a lot more of her. She’s an all-purpose conspiracy theorist.