As a general practice, I tend to be reluctant to do point-by-point rebuttals of listicles published by antivaxxers, quacks, conspiracy theorists, and other cranks, not so much because it isn’t worthwhile to do so, but generally because, the longer the listicle, the longer the rebuttal. Worse, these disinformation vehicles tend to be written in such a way that each rebuttal tends to take a lot of verbiage, ballooning the rebuttal to levels of verbosity that to make even me hesitate. Still, enough readers have sent me a post by someone named Christian Elliot that appeared a week ago on Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s antivaccine website Children’s Health Defense entitled “18 Reasons I Won’t Be Getting a COVID Vaccine”. Apparently, he originally published it on his own website, Deconstructing Conventional, a week and a half before even that. Somehow I missed it when it first showed up, but now I’m seeing both versions everywhere, posted by antivaxxers as though they were Gospel about COVID-19 vaccines. In fact, Mr. Elliot’s listicle is nothing more than a “greatest hits” of antivaccine tropes, both general and specific to COVID-19 vaccines, all gathered in one handy place for antivaxxers to share. No wonder his post went viral.
I also note rather amusingly how Mr. Elliot tries to tone police right off the bat, before he even gets into his litany of antivaccine disinformation:
THREE GROUND RULES FOR DISCUSSION
If you care to engage on this topic with me, excellent.
Here are the rules…
I am more than happy to correspond with you if…
- You are respectful and treat me the way you would want to be treated.
- You ask genuinely thoughtful questions about what makes sense to you.
- You make your points using sound logic and don’t hide behind links or the word “science.” In other words, make a kind, level-headed argument (links welcome), but don’t just post a link and say “read the science.” That’s intellectually lazy.
If you do respond, and you break any of those rules, your comments will be ignored/deleted.
With that out of the way, let me say this…
I don’t know everything, but so far no one has been able to answer the objections below.
First of all, I’m guessing that if he sees this post Mr. Elliot will use my referring to him as an antivaxxer (which, given the way he parrots easily debunked antivax tropes, he undoubtedly is) as a convenient excuse to ignore this post. Second I will not be constrained by #3. Given that the tropes Mr. Elliot lays down are so common (and some so old) that we’ve written about them here (and I’ve written about them elsewhere), what I will do is try to provide a brief “CliffsNotes” version of why the item is misinformation, but include in the text relevant links to detailed deconstructions for those who are interested in learning more. If Mr. Elliot doesn’t like it, I don’t care. My purpose is to provide a link for vaccine advocates to use to quickly refute Mr. Elliot’s disinformation.
Before I dive in for real, there’s one other thing. Never having heard of Mr. Elliot before, I had to see just who this guy is. He’s in his 40s and describes himself as a “natural health nerd” (not a good sign) who has managed “to take my brain that loves strategy, complexity, and finding angles other people miss, and combine those skills into something people pay me for”. He also describes himself at 27 as thinking his “best health was behind him” but who 17 years later is “one of the fittest people I know…and showing no signs of slowing down”. He also states, “I stay as objective as I can, but I’m not afraid to pick a fight when I see bad approaches that don’t help people solve problems”. Well, if you spread antivaccine disinformation about safe and effective vaccines in the middle of a pandemic, I will be more than happy to “pick a fight” with you to counter your antivaccine propaganda, particularly when you spread germ theory denial, as shown in his posts, “Why I’m Not Afraid of Germs…Including the Corona Virus” and “The Impracticality of Fearing Germs” (the latter of which advocates useless preventatives for COVID-19, such as hydroxychloroquine and zinc and repeats the lie that most people die “with” COVID-19 than “of” COVID-19). They’re basically just rehashes of common germ theory denial tropes invoking “terrain theory”, the old hypothesis that germs are not the primary cause of disease but rather can only cause disease when the “terrain” (the body) allows it. Germ theory denial has long been a major strain in alternative medicine “thought” (such as it is); it’s attractive because it allows people to think that they can make themselves virtually immune to infectious disease if they just eat the right foods, use the right supplements, and live the right lifestyle. You’d think that a global pandemic that’s killed 3 million people worldwide so far, with the death toll in the US approaching 600K, would quash germ theory denial, but unfortunately it is still thriving in the age of COVID-19, and Mr. Elliot is just one more example of that unfortunate phenomenon.
Now, let’s dig in. The first is a hoary old antivax trope that seemed ancient even before I even started paying much attention to the antivaccine movement:
#1: VACCINE MAKERS ARE IMMUNE FROM LIABILITY
The only industry in the world that bears no liability for injuries or deaths resulting from their products, are vaccine makers.
First established in 1986 with the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act, and reinforced by the PREP Act, vaccine makers cannot be sued, even if they are shown to be negligent.
This is a half-truth that antivaxxers just love. It’s a half-truth in that, yes, the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 did require that claims for vaccine injury go through a special “Vaccine Court”, setting up a system called the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP or VICP), with the compensation fund funded by a tax on each dose of vaccine. However, the reason for this act was that there were so many dubious lawsuits being filed in the wake of the scare over the DPT vaccine in the 1980s that there was a real fear that vaccine manufacturers would simply stop supplying vaccines to the US due to liability concerns. Moreover, as I’ve discussed many times, the Vaccine Court is actually an easier court for complainants than standard civil court. The standards of evidence are, as has been described, 50% and a feather, the court allows “theories of causation” that no regular court would allow, and there are certain “table injuries” known to be caused by vaccines for which compensation is automatic. Even better for complainants, win or lose, the Court pays reasonable court costs. Moreover, if complainants fail, they can still take their case to federal civil court. The law only mandates that they first go through the Vaccine Court.
I also like to point out that lawyers really, really, really hate the Vaccine Court, not because its evidentiary standards are as easy can be for a court, but because they want really big payouts (and their nice cut of those payouts) and are willing to lose a bunch of cases if they can, every so often, hit the jackpot. Certainly, they seem prefer gambling in hopes of a huge judgment or settlement to working on cases that guarantee they’ll be paid for their billable hours and expenses. (How boring.) Also, even though it tends to give parents the benefit of the doubt and allow somewhat more questionable injuries to be compensated than a regular civil court would, the Vaccine Court does generally do a pretty good job (occasional exceptions aside) of sticking to the science. That means it doesn’t compensate for “vaccine-induced autism”, because there is no good scientific evidence that vaccines can cause autism.
I also can’t help but note that Mr. Elliot is ignorant, too. I’d be more concerned that COVID-19 vaccines, because they are not yet fully FDA approved and are being distributed under an emergency use authorization (EUA), aren’t even covered by the NCVIA, but rather a more restrictive system. Mr. Elliot did mention the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP), but apparently didn’t really know its significance, and vaccine advocates actually want COVID-19 vaccines to be under the VICP.
#2: THE CHECKERED PAST OF THE VACCINE COMPANIES
The four major companies who are making these covid vaccines are/have either:
- Never brought a vaccine to market before covid (Moderna and Johnson & Johnson).
- Are serial felons (Pfizer, and Astra Zeneca).
- Are both (Johnson & Johnson).
Moderna had been trying to “Modernize our RNA” (thus the company name)–for years, but had never successfully brought ANY product to market–how nice for them to get a major cash infusion from the government to keep trying.
In fact, all major vaccine makers (save Moderna) have paid out tens of billions of dollars in damages for other products they brought to market when they knew those products would cause injuries and death–see Vioxx, Bextra, Celebrex, Thalidomide, and Opioids as a few examples.
I’ve had my problems with Moderna and its overenthusiastic promotion of its mRNA technology, but it’s actually ended up doing much better than I had expected. In any event, Mr. Elliot asks: “Given the free pass from liability, and the checkered past of these companies, why would we assume that all their vaccines are safe and made completely above board?”
First, I note my response to #1. These companies do not have a “free pass”. Second, no one denies that pharmaceutical companies have, from time to time, not been the best companies in the world. Yes, some of them have paid large judgments and settlements, albeit not for vaccines. However, Mr. Elliot intentionally ignores the fact that the vaccine safety monitoring system in place for COVID-19 vaccines is, because of the unprecedented level of the crisis and the release of so many millions of doses of vaccine in such a short period of time before full FDA approval, quite remarkable in how well it’s doing. Adverse events are regularly reported (and regularly weaponized by antivaxxers like Mr. Elliot, even when they are incredibly unlikely to have been caused by the vaccine), and the safety monitoring system has picked up adverse events that are literally one-in-a-million, such as cerebral venous sinus thromboses, with the FDA acting on them rapidly to issue a pause in the use of the vaccine associated with the adverse events. It is not as though we are, as Mr. Elliot seems to be implying, just trusting the word of pharmaceutical companies and vaccine manufacturers. They are under intense scrutiny, not just by government regulatory agencies but by the press, and even in normal times there are multiple vaccine safety monitoring systems, one passive and multiple active.
Moreover, all the current vaccines for which the FDA has issued EUAs have completed phase 1, 2, and 3 clinical trials, with the number of patients in the phase 3 trials numbering in the many tens of thousands total between the vaccines. These vaccines are very likely ultimately to receive full FDA approval; it’s just that, in the middle of a pandemic, there hasn’t been enough time to complete the full monitoring process. Meanwhile, it’s not as though the FDA and government oversight agencies haven’t kept an eye on vaccine makers and their claims, such as when AstraZeneca got slapped down for issuing efficacy estimates for its vaccine based on outdated data.
As for the lack of experience in vaccine development cited by Mr. Elliot for Johnson & Johnson and Moderna, yes, Moderna is a startup, but J&J is a very large pharmaceutical company that’s been around for a long time and has developed and manufactured a huge number of pharmaceutical and medical device products.
I’ll finish here by noting that Mr. Elliot repeats the claim that the J&J vaccine “contains tissues from aborted fetal cells”. No, it does not, and the claim that vaccines contain “tissues” from aborted fetuses or contain “aborted fetal cells” is a common antivax trope based on the use of cell lines derived from fetuses aborted 50 or 60 years ago to make virus stock for vaccine manufacturing. Even the Catholic Church states that these vaccines are acceptable for Catholics to use, and it has said the same about COVID-19 vaccines.
On to #3:
#3: THE UGLY HISTORY OF ATTEMPTS TO MAKE CORONAVIRUS VACCINES
When that happened, an unexplained phenomenon called Antibody Dependent Enhancement (ADE) also known as Vaccine Enhanced Disease (VED) occurred where the immune system produced a “cytokine storm” (i.e. overwhelmingly attacked the body), and the children/animals died.
Here’s the lingering issue…The vaccine makers have no data to suggest their rushed vaccines have overcome that problem.
In other words, never before has any attempt to make a coronavirus vaccine been successful, nor has the gene-therapy technology that is mRNA “vaccines” been safely brought to market, but hey, since they had billions of dollars in government funding, I’m sure they figured that out.
I note that Mr. Elliot is using another favorite antivaccine distortion, namely that mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines are “gene therapy”. It is true that, early on in the development of COVID-19 vaccines, there were concerns, based on the issues listed by Mr. Elliot, that the phenomenon on antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE) might preclude the development of COVID-19 vaccines. These issues had stymied the development of vaccines against the original SARS and MERS coronaviruses, after all. However, as I like to say, it is now April 2021, not April 2020, and we have lots of data, both from the phase 3 clinical trials of the currently authorized vaccines and from 190 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines administered in the US alone that demonstrate this does not happen at a rate detectable by the same vaccine safety monitoring system that has detected one-in-a-million adverse events after COVID-19 vaccines. Mr. Elliot also ignored later science that showed that ADE is a problem mainly in vaccines that do not produce high enough levels of neutralizing antibody. And, again, hundreds of millions of doses of vaccine have been administered worldwide, and this problem has simply not been observed.
It’s actually a very common antivaccine tactic to focus on a potential problem with a vaccine considered early on in its development and then to ignore all the subsequent science that shows the problem not to have been observed, and Mr. Elliot doubles down on this nonsense in #4 before moving on:
#4: THE “DATA GAPS” SUBMITTED TO THE FDA BY THE VACCINE MAKERS
When vaccine makers submitted their papers to the FDA for the Emergency Use Authorization (Note: An EUA is not the same as a full FDA approval), among the many “Data Gaps” they reported was that they have nothing in their trials to suggest they overcame that pesky problem of Vaccine Enhanced Disease.
They simply don’t know–i.e. they have no idea if the vaccines they’ve made will also produce the same cytokine storm (and deaths) as previous attempts at such products.
Again, no such problems were observed in the phase 3 clinical trials, and, again, Mr. Elliot ignores the data after hundreds of millions of doses of vaccine that show that this is not a problem. I guess if you tell the big lie often enough…
Mr. Elliot also bemoans the lack of data on this:
If that’s not alarming enough, here are other gaps in the data–i.e. there is no data to suggest safety or efficacy regarding:
Hard to believe right?
- Anyone younger than age 18 or older than age 55
- Pregnant or lactating mothers
- Auto-immune conditions
- Immunocompromised individuals
- No data on transmission of covid
- No data on preventing mortality from covid
- No data on duration of protection from covid
I’m seeing a pattern here. Yes, there was or no data on these issues at the time of the EUA submission. However, to say there is “no data” now, in April 2021, is extremely dishonest and ignores all the experience and safety monitoring after millions upon millions of doses. For instance, evidence is mounting that these vaccines do prevent transmission and mortality, and we know that the protection lasts at least six months, and likely much longer. We also know that vaccine-induced immunity is probably more potent than the immunity that comes after natural infection. Meanwhile, the hundreds of millions of doses have not turned up safety signals in the individuals about which Mr. Elliot is so very, very concerned. I also find it odd that lack of data on people younger than age 18 or older than 55, in pregnant or lactating mothers, or people with autoimmune conditions or immunocompromised individuals would be a deterrent to Mr. Elliot receiving the vaccine. He’s none of those things, right?
Then, Mr. Elliot brings this up:
#5: “No Access to the Raw Data from the Trials”
Would you like to see the raw data that produced the “90% and 95% effective” claims touted in the news?
But they won’t let us see that data.
As pointed out in the BMJ, something about the Pfizer and Moderna efficacy claims smells really funny.There were “3,410 total cases of suspected, but unconfirmed covid-19 in the overall study population, 1,594 occurred in the vaccine group vs. 1,816 in the placebo group.”
Yes, Mr. Elliot is channeling The BMJ‘s antivaccine associate editor Peter Doshi, whose affiliation with The BMJcontinues to do damage when he writes deceptive blog posts like the one cited by Mr. Elliot. Mr. Doshi’s claims are deceptive, as John Skylar notes:
Before you read that, I want to emphasize that Dr. Doshi is just wrong. He claims that the clinical trials for the vaccines contained a design flaw that has made them miss a large number of cases of COVID-19. Specifically, he believes it is inappropriate that they measured only confirmed cases of COVID-19 rather than looking at suspected cases of COVID-19. His argument is that if you look at suspected cases, you see a vaccine efficacy of only about 19%, where looking at confirmedcases gives an efficacy of 95%.
The thing is, this analysis is wildly flawed. Dr. Doshi conveniently ignores the fact that many of the suspected cases turned out to be negative for SARS-CoV-2 infection. So many, in fact, that it would suggest that PCR tests only correctly detect 5% of tested cases. We know this isn’t the case.
While it is probable that some positive cases were missed, it is unlikely that this is a very substantial number.
It turns out that removing these cases has no material effect on the efficacy estimates.
To be honest, I’m slightly torn here, as I noted at the time. Yes, access to raw data is desirable. Transparency is generally a good thing in science. However, in the case of any clinical trial, be it for a COVID-19 vaccine or any other drug, the question is: “When?” In general, clinical trial raw data are not made public at least until after the clinical trial is completed, sometimes not at all, our trust being placed in government regulatory agencies to evaluate the trial data. Maybe that should change as a result of the pandemic. Be that as it may, Peter Doshi’s demands for “transparency” struck me as very self-serving in that there are a huge contingent of people like him (and Mr. Elliot) out there, waiting to go through the clinical trial raw data with a fine tooth comb looking for even the smallest anomalies (of which there will always be at least a few in any large clinical trial, given that human beings are not perfect and no clinical trial is perfect) that they can use to sow fear, uncertainty, and doubt about the vaccines, whether justified or not. None of this changes my assessment of #5 as deceptive and, even if valid, superseded by much more recent data.
On to #6:
#6: NO LONG-TERM SAFETY TESTING
Obviously, with products that have only been on the market a few months, we have no long-term safety data.
In other words, we have no idea what this product will do in the body months or years from now–for ANY population.
Given all the risks above (risks that ALL pharmaceutical products have), would it not be prudent to wait to see if the worst-case scenarios have indeed been avoided?
This is yet another common antivaccine trope that’s been used about vaccines as long as I can remember, even long before the pandemic. It’s tempting just to respond that, to antivaxxers, no amount of “long term safety testing” is ever enough to convince them that a vaccine is safe. That being said, in fairness I must note that it is true that these vaccines have only been distributed for four months and were developed in less than a year, even as I note that the technologies behind the vaccines (mRNA-based and adenovirus-based) had been in development for a couple of decades before that. I note that anti-GMO “journalist” Paul Thacker made similar claims about “no long term testing” and, when called on it, really had to stretch to find any examples whatsoever of long-term side effects from vaccines, whose adverse reactions, when they occur, usually occur within a few weeks. Let’s just say that the examples chosen were rare and in special cases, such as immunocompromised patients. Given the data we have now, the highly unlikely possibility of rare late side effects cropping up months from now is not a reason, in the middle of a pandemic, to avoid a vaccine against a disease that is killing millions and disabling even more. Basically, this is a variation of a favorite antivaccine trope, the Nirvana fallacy, in which it is argued that if a vaccine isn’t perfectly safe and perfectly effective it’s crap.
And the antivaccine tropes continue:
#7: NO INFORMED CONSENT
What most who are taking the vaccine don’t know is that because these products are still in clinical trials, anyone who gets the shot is now part of the clinical trial.
They are part of the experiment.
Those (like me) who do not take it, are part of the control group.
Time will tell how this experiment works out.
This is utter BS. When the vaccines were given EUAs, there were data from tens of thousands of clinical trial participants. We now have data from close to 200 million people who have received the vaccines. We know a lot now about these vaccines, and more and more data are being published every week. Basically, Mr. Elliot is parroting a version of a favorite antivaccine tactic, one I like to call “misinformed refusal” (as opposed to informed consent), in which the uncertainties and harms are grossly exaggerated based on misinterpretation of science, bad science, pseudoscience, and just plain lies, and the benefits dramatically downplayed or denied.
Of course, part of the exaggeration of the uncertainties comes from:
#8: UNDER-REPORTING OF ADVERSE REACTIONS AND DEATH
According to a study done by Harvard (at the commission of our own government), less than 1% of all adverse reactions to vaccines are actually submitted to the National Vaccine Adverse Events Reports System (VAERS) – read page 6 at the link above.
While the problems with VAERS have not been fixed (as you can read about in this letter to the CDC), at the time of this writing VAERS reports over 2,200 deaths from the current covid vaccines, as well as close to 60,000 adverse reactions.VAERS data released today showed 50,861 reports of adverse events following COVID vaccines, including 2,249 deaths and 7,726 serious injuries between Dec. 14, 2020 and March 26, 2021.
First of all, no, it is quite simply not true that “only 1%” of adverse reactions are reported to VAERS. That’s a study frequently cherry picked by antivaxxers. Moreover, VAERS is not the be-all and end-all of vaccine safety monitoring anyway; there are multiple and redundant active monitoring systems as well. Also, as a passive reporting system, is prone to gaming by lawyers and antivaxxers, who love to imply causation from what might or might not even be correlation. I’ve written about how antivaxxers have, like Mr. Elliot, been weaponizing VAERS reports against COVID-19 vaccines by implying what are almost certainly coincidences are, in fact, caused by the vaccine. (And, no, Bell’s palsy was almost certainly not caused by the vaccine.)
Seriously, if your cherry picking of studies and “analysis” of the VAERS database lead you to conclude that there are as many as 220,000 unreported deaths after COVID-19 vaccination that no one’s detected, you are as innumerate as those who claim that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the US.
#9: THE VACCINES DO NOT STOP TRANSMISSION OR INFECTION
This is getting repetitive, isn’t it? (Antivax listicles like this frequently do.)
Again, Mr. Elliot is focusing only on the clinical trial results showing that the vaccines were very good at preventing symptomatic disease from COVID-19; they were not designed to demonstrate whether they stopped transmission or infection. As before, Mr. Elliot is ignoring data that has been published since the EUAs were granted for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that demonstrate that the vaccines do appear to prevent infection and reduce asymptomatic transmission. Are you seeing a pattern in Mr. Elliot’s disinformation? I am. Here’s a hint to Mr. Elliot. It is April 2021, NOT November 2020. Do try to keep up with the literature. (He won’t, of course.)
And…the slam dunk:
#10: PEOPLE ARE CATCHING COVID AFTER BEING FULLY VACCINATED
Talk about a bummer.
You get vaccinated and you still catch covid.
This one is so silly that it’s hard for me to write much about it without getting really sarcastic. Of course there are people who catch COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated. No vaccine is 100% effective; so we always knew that this would happen. Again, this is the Nirvana fallacy, in which antivaxxers suggest that if a vaccine isn’t 100% effective it’s crap. What we do know is that the vaccines are very effective, much more so than scientists had hoped. It turns out that such “breakthrough cases” are rare, but, of course, when hundreds of millions are receiving the vaccine, millions are falling ill with COVID-19, there will be some breakthrough cases. This isn’t Nirvana, and the vaccines aren’t perfect. They are, however, very, very good. I also note that this is the same sort of gambit that antivaxxers have used since time immemorial about measles, for instance, claiming that if there are vaccinated children who get the measles that must mean that the vaccine doesn’t work.
#11: THE OVERALL DEATH RATE FROM COVID
According to the CDC’s own numbers, covid has a 99.74% survival rate.
Why would I take a risk on a product, that doesn’t stop infection or transmission, to help me overcome a cold that has a .26% chance of killing me–actually in my age range is has about a .1% chance of killing me (and .01% chance of killing my kids), but let’s not split hairs here.
One wonders if Mr. Elliot would get on an airplane if there were “only” a 0.26% (or even just a 0.1%) of its crashing and killing him. I suspect that he wouldn’t. In any event, we don’t yet know the true fatality rate, but the case fatality rate (the death rate among people diagnosed with COVID-19) in the US could be as high as 2%. The infection fatality rate, of course, is considerably lower, because that includes all asymptomatic infections. He’s also doing the usual selfish thing that younger antivaxxers do and ignoring the much, much higher infection and case fatality rate among the elderly. Determining the “true” numbers is challenging, given the changes in the level of screening and diagnosis over time, as well as how the actual CFR and IFR can vary with time and location, but we do know that COVID-19 is much more lethal than influenza. Naturally, Mr. Elliot assumes that he won’t be on the unlucky end of those statistics, because, as his germ theory denial leads him to believe, he is so much more healthy than you.
#12: THE BLOATED COVID DEATH NUMBERS
Something smells really funny about this one.
Never before in the history of death certificates has our own government changed how deaths are reported.
Why now, are we reporting everyone who dies with covid in their body, as having died of covid, rather than the co-morbidities that actually took their life?
Until covid, all coronaviruses (common colds) were never listed as the primary cause of death when someone died of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, auto-immune conditions, or any other major co-morbidity.
The disease was listed as the cause of death, and a confounding factor like flu or pneumonia was listed on a separate line.
Again, the idea that most people die “with” COVID-19 rather than “of” COVID-19 is a conspiracy theory that arose last summer. Indeed, I had a name for it: the 6% gambit. It’s the claim that “only 6%” of death certificates show COVID-19 as the sole cause of death because “only 6%” don’t also list comorbidities too, such as heart disease. Again, this is utter nonsense based on a misunderstanding of how death certificates are filled out, in which the primary cause of death might be, for instance, cardiac arrest, but the condition that ultimately led to that cardiac arrest was COVID-19. Or it could be pneumonia as the immediate cause of death, with the pneumonia having been a sequelae of—you guessed it—COVID-19. (If you want a more detailed explanation, here you go.)
The lies don’t stop, though:
#13: FAUCI AND SIX OTHERS AT NIAID OWN PATENTS IN THE MODERNA VACCINE
Thanks to the Bayh-Dole Act, government workers are allowed to file patents on any research they do using tax payer funding.
Tony Fauci owns over 1,000 patents (see this video for more details), including patents being used on the Moderna vaccine…which he approved government funding for.
In fact, the NIH (which NIAID is part of) claims joint ownership of Moderna’s vaccine.
Does anyone else see this as a MAJOR conflict of interest, or criminal even?
The source of this claim seems to be Naomi Wolf, who, as anyone who’s encountered her Tweets on Twitter knows, has gone full antivaccine and COVID-19 crank. Indeed, the video was published on Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s website. As for Anthony Fauci owning patents on the Moderna vaccine, my response was: WTF? I did a patent search on Fauci, and his name does turn up on 38 patents, none of them related to COVID-19 vaccines. Some are related to treatments for HIV, and it is those that conspiracy theorists have zeroed in on by combining them with the bogus conspiracy theory that there are HIV sequences in the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein used as the antigen in the mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines. This is a distortion in that there are short sequences that resemble sequences found in the HIV coding sequence, but the matches are so short as to be insignificant. Lots of genes have similar levels of matching. Some antivaxxers have even falsely claimed that COVID-19 vaccines increase susceptibility to HIV.
As for the NIH claiming joint ownership of the Moderna vaccine, that is true, but doesn’t mean what Mr. Elliot claims it does. Here is a statement from the NIH on the matter:
NIAID scientists created stabilized coronavirus spike proteins for the development of vaccines against coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2. Recognizing the importance of these novel immunogens, NIAID has sought patents to preserve the government’s rights to these inventions and to provide incentive for commercial partners to invest the capital and resources needed to advance their development, commercialization, and public use as vaccines.
NIAID has adopted a non-exclusive licensing approach for these patent rights in order to allow multiple vaccine developers to utilize these immunogens in their proprietary vaccine platforms. The mRNA vaccine candidate resulting from NIAID’s collaboration with Moderna, embodied in the material transferred to UNC, is an example of this approach: the stabilized spike protein developed by NIAID investigators is expressed from Moderna’s proprietary mRNA vaccine platform. Responsibility for obtaining regulatory approval of the mRNA vaccine candidate, a product produced and formulated by Moderna, rests with Moderna.
Federal employees listed as inventors on these patent applications assigned their rights to the US government. Accordingly, should the USPTO and other national patent authorities grant the patents, the US government will hold ownership interest in the patents.
The bottom line: Many experts anticipate a coronavirus vaccine, once proven safe and effective, would be made as widely available as possible, and that developers aren’t likely to seek big profits from it. Partial federal ownership could be a backstop if those assumptions don’t bear out, but NIH isn’t keen on stepping on industry’s toes.
- “Talking to the companies, I don’t hear any of them say they think this [vaccine] is a money-maker,” Collins said during his Economic Club interview. “I think they want to recoup their costs and maybe make a tiny percentage of increase of profit over that, like single digits percentage-wise, but that’s it. Nobody sees this as a way to make billions of dollars.”
The bottom line is that Fauci does not profit from COVID-19 vaccines, be they the Moderna vaccine or others. He doesn’t own patents on them, and even if he did, as a government employee, he would have signed away the rights to the federal government when the patents were issued.
Then there’s this distortion:
#14: FAUCI IS ON THE HOT SEAT FOR ILLEGAL GAIN-OF-FUNCTION RESEARCH
What is “Gain-of-Function” research?
It’s where scientists attempt to make viruses gain functions–i.e. make them more transmissible and deadlier.
Sounds at least a touch unethical, right?
How could that possibly be helpful?
Our government agreed, and banned the practice.
So what did the Fauci-led NIAID do?
They pivoted and outsourced the gain-of-function research (in coronaviruses no less) to China–to the tune of a $600K grant.
You can see more details, including the important timeline of these events in this fantastically well-researched documentary.
The “fantastically well-researched documentary”? It’s Plandemic 2 (or, as I like to call it: Plandemic 2: Electric Boogaloo), the sequel to Plandemic, the first COVID-19 conspiracy video to go viral last May featuring antivaccine activist turned COVID-19 conspiracy theorist Judy Mikovits. Basically, the idea behind the two “documentaries” was that the pandemic was a “plandemic”, planned by global elites. It was also the origin of the conspiracy theory that Fauci helped promote “gain-of-function” to make viruses more deadly.
Again, this conspiracy theory shows a shocking ignorance of how NIH grants are funded. As director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Fauci doesn’t dole out the grant money himself. Grant applications go through the standard study section process, where a panel of scientists evaluates the merit of grant applications and then scores them with a priority score, with low scores being better. The lowest scoring grants are then funded at the institute level until the money runs out. The grant at the heart of this conspiracy theory was indeed for $600,000, and its principal investigator was Peter Daszak, a well-respected virologist. It was not a new grant, but rather year six of a grant that had been funded since 2014. I looked at the RePORTER entry for the grant. The Budget for 2019-2020 was $538,926 direct costs plus $123,054 for indirect costs for a total year six budget of $661,980.
One thing you need to understand about NIH grants is that there are two kinds of renewals, competing and noncompeting renewals. The NIH views, for example, a six year grant as six one-year grants. Each of the one-year segments after the first year are known as noncompeting renewals, because they don’t have to compete with other grant applications. At the end of the grant period, if the investigators want to renew, they have to submit a competing renewal application and go back to the study section. The point is that a noncompeting renewal is nearly automatic, as long as adequate progress is demonstrated. A competing renewal is not, and this grant was clearly renewed in 2020, because its project end date is listed as June 30, 2025. This is also the grant that was taken away early in the pandemic:
On April 24, the National Institutes of Health terminated a grant for a research project on bat-borne coronaviruses after it was criticized by President Trump and a number of Republican lawmakers. While the grant was held by EcoHealth Alliance, a global environmental health research organization based in New York, it attracted negative attention because part of it supported collaborative activities with the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in China.
WIV houses a lab equipped to study the most dangerous class of pathogens, and a number of pundits and politicians are now suggesting it accidentally released SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Though thinly supported, the idea is fueling efforts to focus blame for the COVID-19 pandemic on the Chinese government. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), in particular, has cited suspicions about WIV and the actions of Chinese leaders during the pandemic as justifying a hardline stance, which he said this week could include cutting off student visas in technical fields.
So, yes, this grant to Ecohealth Alliance, headed by Peter Daszak, was a collaborative grant with Chinese researchers, but Fauci had nothing to do with granting it, and it was political pressure based on conspiracy mongering that led to its being taken away last April and then reinstated, but with onerous conditions in August. In any event, the grant was to look for bat coronaviruses at high risk to “cross over” into human populations. The origin of the conspiracy theory was described in this Nature article:
A favorite version of the laboratory-origin stories relies on the fact that SARS-CoV-2 was engineered for gain-of-function studies that were also previously performed with bat SARS-like coronaviruses to understand cross-species transmission risk (Nat. Med. 21, 1508–1513; 2015). The irony is that those gain-of-function studies provided valuable information about the biology of SARS-CoV-2. Gain-of-function research is also subject to intense scrutiny and governmental oversight, precisely because of the high risk involved in conducting it safely; thus, it is extremely unlikely that gain-of-function research on hard-to-obtain coronaviruses (such as bat SARS-like coronaviruses) could occur under the radar. Moreover, there is an extensive history of pathogen emergence by natural means: most novel viral pathogens that have caused epidemics or pandemics in the human population have emerged naturally from a wildlife reservoir. Therefore, the overwhelming conclusion is that this virus, too, found its way into a human host through a series of unhappy accidental encounters with animals.
In April 2020, we witnessed firsthand how misinformation about the virus’ origins can destroy research when President Trump ordered the National Institutes of Health to strip the EcoHealth Alliance of a grant that involved close collaboration with researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The NIH justified the cancellation by saying the research, which investigated bat SARS-like coronaviruses circulating in China and zoonotic spillover, did not align with NIH priorities, which strains credulity. This work produced some of the strongest corroborating evidence that SARS-CoV-2 is a naturally emergent pathogen, as serological surveys demonstrated that people living in close proximity to colonies of bats had antibodies to bat SARS-like coronaviruses. The NIH has since set impossible conditions for restoring the grant, ensuring that this research will never resume.
The bottom line: There’s not much behind this conspiracy theory, and it’s a conspiracy theory that was jumped on by Republican politicians and used first to fear monger about the grant and then to scuttle it, all while trying to blame China by implying that SARS-CoV-2 was bioengineered in a Wuhan lab. Never mind that sequencing of the virus demonstrated conclusively a long time ago that it was not made in a lab.
#15: THE VIRUS CONTINUES TO MUTATE
Not only does the virus (like all viruses) continue to mutate, but according to world-renowned vaccine developer Geert Vanden Bossche (who you’ll meet below if you don’t know him) it’s mutating about every 10 hours.
How in the world are we going to keep creating vaccines to keep up with that level of mutation?
And, since it’s related, I’ll list #17:
#17: THE WORLD’S LEADING VACCINOLOGIST IS SOUNDING THE ALARM…
Here is what may be the biggest reason this covid vaccine doesn’t make sense to me.
When someone who is very pro-vaccine, who has spent his entire professional career overseeing the development of vaccines, is shouting from the mountaintops that we have a major problem, I think the man should be heard.
I already discussed this one in detail too. The reason that variants are arising is because so many people are being infected; in other words, there’s so much variation for evolution to work on because it’s running rampant. Moreover, Geert Vanden Bossche is hardly “world-renowned”. Far from it. He hasn’t published much in a long time.
His idea that vaccination will fuel the rise of ever more deadly COVID-19 mutants is very similar to Andrew Wakefield’s claim a year before that mass vaccination against measles would fuel the rise of ever more deadly measles variants that would ultimately lead to mass extinction. (I kid you not.) In any event, as I discussed coronaviruses actually don’t mutate as quickly as most RNA viruses, and the selective pressure of vaccination on viruses is not the same as the selective pressure of antibiotics on bacteria. In any event, like Wakefield, Vanden Bossche has a competing vaccine idea for COVID-19, and pausing COVID-19 vaccination would simply let the virus circulate longer and more widely, providing grist for even more variants than are emerging now.
Then of course there’s “censorship”:
#16: CENSORSHIP…AND THE COMPLETE ABSENCE OF SCIENTIFIC DEBATE
I can’t help but get snarky here, so humor me.
How did you enjoy all those nationally and globally-televised, robust debates put on by public health officials, and broadcast simultaneously on every major news station?
I laughed when I read this. It’s basically a clear that this is an appeal to false balance. He’s trying to equate efforts to stamp down disinformation on social media with “censorship”, as cranks often do. In fact, there has been a lot of debate in the scientific community going back to the Wuhan outbreaks that spread to become the COVID-19 pandemic.
#18: I ALREADY HAD COVID
I didn’t enjoy it.
It was a nasty cold for two days:
- Unrelenting butt/low-back aches
- Very low energy.
- Low-grade fever.
It was weird not being able to smell anything for a couple days.
A week later, coffee still tasted a little “off.”
But I survived.
Now it appears (as it always has) that I have beautiful, natural, life-long immunity…
…not something likely to wear off in a few months if I get the vaccine.
In my body, and my household, covid is over.
In fact, now that I’ve had it, there is evidence the covid vaccine might actually be more dangerous for me.
It’s certainly possible that Mr. Elliot has had COVID-19. His symptoms certainly sound consistent with it. However, without serology he can’t be sure that he actually had COVID-19. Even if he did have COVID-19, it’s not clear that his immunity is lifelong (in fact, very likely it is not), and, given the emergence of new variants, we have already seen examples of people who have been reinfected. Right now, it seems rare, but we don’t know how rare. More importantly, if the virus does in fact “continue to mutate,” as Mr. Elliot maintains elsewhere in his list, and actually does produce variants that can evade immunity, then “natural immunity” won’t help him, particularly if the coronavirus keeps circulating, giving it the chance to “continue to mutate.” More importantly, the CDC does recommend that you should be vaccinated even if you’ve had COVID, because vaccine-induced immunity is less variable than “natural immunity” and there is emerging evidence that it might provide better protection against emerging variants.
And, no, citing Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. claiming that getting the vaccine after having had COVID-19 is dangerous is not a good argument, particularly when he cites someone like Hooman Norchashm, a physician who’s claimed not to be antivaccine but has been promoting the idea that it is very dangerous to be vaccinated against COVID-19 if you have an asymptomatic infection or if you’ve recently had it before. It’s not.
Agree or disagree with me; I’ll treat you no differently.
You’re a human just as worthy of love and respect as anyone else.
For that I salute you, and I truly wish you all the best.
I hope you found this helpful.
If so, feel free to share.
If not, feel free to (kindly) let me know what didn’t make sense to you and I’d be happy to hear your thoughts too.
Stay curious and stay humble.
Too bad Mr. Elliot, although he might be “curious”, is anything but humble. Certainly he isn’t humble enough to realize when he is in over his head, as his “COVID-19 antivax greatest hits” compendium demonstrates. He’s using his gene therapy denial coupled with his antivaccine views coupled with his entrepreneurial bent to spread COVID-19 disinformation. Sadly, it’s worked. His article has had over 2.6 million views just on his website alone, not counting its republication on RFK Jr.’s website.
ADDENDUM: There is an excellent refutation of these antivaccine tropes over at Snopes.com. Some are more detailed than mine; some are less detailed. As is often the case, my take is a bit different. Just view Snopes.com’s refutation and mine as…complementary, with, as can’t be avoided in a case like this, a fair amount of overlap.