The benefits of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines for children outweigh the low risks, unlike what Robert Malone claimed

CLAIM
mRNA vaccines force “your child’s body to make toxic spike proteins. These proteins often cause permanent damage in children’s critical organs”; “there is no benefit for your children or your family to be vaccinating your children”
DETAILS
Incorrect: Robert Malone’s claims are inconsistent with the safety data of the mRNA vaccines and are also the opposite of what is known about COVID-19 in children and the benefits of vaccination for children and their community. Heart problems like myocarditis are more common after COVID-19 itself than after COVID-19 vaccination.
Unsupported: There is no evidence that the spike protein generated by the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines causes permanent damage to organs and the immune system.
KEY TAKE AWAY
The first mRNA COVID-19 vaccine for children aged five to 11 years was authorized by the U.S. FDA on 29 October 2021 following the confirmation of its safety and efficacy for that population. There are a number of benefits, both for the child and the child’s community, when kids get vaccinated. The spike protein in the COVID-19 vaccines isn’t toxic, and getting COVID-19 is not a better strategy for achieving COVID-19 immunity.

FULL CLAIM: mRNA vaccines force “your child’s body to make toxic spike proteins. These proteins often cause permanent damage in children’s critical organs”; “there is no benefit for your children or your family to be vaccinating your children against the small risks of the virus, given the known health risks of the vaccine that as a parent, you and your children may have to live with for the rest of their lives”.

REVIEW


A 12 December 2021 filmed statement on the topic of vaccinating children with the COVID-19 vaccines by Robert Malone, a medical doctor and researcher, was widely shared on a number of social media platforms (see here and here); as of 20 December 2021, for instance, the tweet containing the video was retweeted over 6000 times on Twitter and received over 9000 likes. A transcript of the statement can be found on Malone’s Substack, an online platform for newsletters.

In the video, Malone, who has a history of spreading misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines (see previous Health Feedback reviews of his claims here and here), claimed that the spike protein in the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines is toxic and can often “cause permanent damage in children’s critical organs”, such as the brain, heart and reproductive system, and can also “trigger fundamental changes to their immune system”. Malone also claimed that “there is no benefit for your children” to be vaccinated “given the known health risks of the vaccine”. Below is a breakdown of the claims made in Malone’s statement; as we’ll show, these claims are inaccurate and unsupported.

 

Claim 1 (Incorrect and Unsupported): The viral gene in the mRNA vaccine “forces your child’s body to make toxic spike proteins. These proteins often cause permanent damage in children’s critical organs

The outside surface of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, is dotted with spike proteins. It’s this protein that binds to human cells, allowing SARS-CoV-2 to get inside cells and start making more copies of itself. Because of this role, many COVID-19 vaccines are designed to target the spike protein.

The mRNA COVID-19 vaccines carry a strand of genetic material (messenger RNA or mRNA) that codes for a modified version of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. The vaccine’s mRNA is delivered to cells, primarily muscle cells at the site of infection, that begin producing the spike protein and showing it to our immune system, triggering an immune response. This trains our immune system to fight against any future SARS-CoV-2 infections.

In his statement, Malone called the spike proteins in the COVID-19 vaccines “toxic” and claimed they could “cause permanent damage to children’s organs”. This is incorrect, and it’s not the first time someone has claimed the vaccine spike protein was toxic. In May 2021, Health Feedback published a review showing that these claims are based on misrepresentations of results from studies that investigated the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, not the modified spike protein in vaccines. Additionally, one of the misrepresented studies used levels of spike protein that were about 100,000 higher than those detected in vaccinated individuals. Furthermore, the spike protein generated from vaccines is cleared from the body after a few weeks and primarily remains at the site of injection. Fact-checks of this “toxic” claim by other news and fact-checking organizations (see here, here and here) arrived at the same conclusion: that the spike protein generated by vaccination is not toxic. On the contrary, it’s safe.

In his statement, Malone listed specific damages caused by the spike protein. He claimed that the spike protein would damage children’s brain and nervous system, heart and blood vessels, and reproductive system. He also claimed the mRNA vaccines “can trigger fundamental changes to their immune system”. But Malone provided no evidence to back up these claims.

Health Feedback previously fact-checked claims that the COVID-19 vaccines could damage the brain and blood vessels (see here), the reproductive system (see here) and the immune system (see here and here). Health Feedback found such claims to be inaccurate, unsupported or misleading.

Moreover, unlike what’s claimed by Malone, the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are safe for children. On 29 October 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, an mRNA vaccine, to children aged five to 11 following the analysis of safety and efficacy data. As the FDA noted in their press release about the authorization: “The vaccine’s safety was studied in approximately 3,100 children age 5 through 11 who received the vaccine and no serious side effects have been detected in the ongoing study”.

According to news reports, during the first few weeks of COVID-19 vaccination in the 5 to 11 age group, U.S. doctors saw few side effects in children who received the COVID-19 vaccines. In Toledo, Ohio, R.W. Mills, the chief medical officer for Mercy Children’s Hospital, told a local news station that most of the side effects observed in adults, such as fatigue and fever, aren’t happening in children; the most common side effect is soreness in the site of injection.

The same was seen in Alabama, where Alicia Webb, an emergency room doctor at Children’s of Alabama, told a local news station that they haven’t seen a lot of kids coming in with side effects. Webb said that “there have been some reports of myocarditis”, a type of heart inflammation, but added that “there is actually a higher chance of that condition after the virus itself. So, we still feel like the vaccine is very safe and certainly much safer than getting the actual COVID virus”.

Rare cases of myocarditis have been reported as a side effect of mRNA vaccine in adolescents, but as Webb pointed out, heart problems like myocarditis are more common after COVID-19 itself than after COVID-19 vaccination. Additionally, most cases of myocarditis post-vaccination are mild, “without ‘significant disturbance to the heart function or inability to maintain blood pressure’,” pediatric cardiologist Frank Han from OSF Healthcare in central Illinois told National Geographic.

No vaccine is 100% safe for everyone, but unlike what Malone claimed, the COVID-19 vaccines have been shown, both during trials and the vaccination campaign, to be very safe for children. There is also no evidence, and Malone provided none in his statement, that the vaccines cause permanent damage to children’s organs.

 

Claim 2 (Incorrect): the reason they’re giving you to vaccinate your child is a lie. Your children represent no danger to their parents or grandparents. It’s actually the opposite. Their immunity, after getting COVID, is critical to save your family if not the world from this disease”.

In his statement, Malone claimed that children who are positive for COVID-19 “represent no danger to their parents or grandparents”. This is incorrect. Many children with COVID-19 don’t present any symptoms, which has made it hard to study this age group’s contribution to COVID-19 transmission. While their total contribution is hard to pin down, the bottom line is that children can spread SARS-CoV-2 to others, especially in households[1].

This is why experts, such as Johns Hopkins Children’s Center pediatricians Anna Sick-Samuels and Allison Messina, recommend that children get vaccinated: “Getting the COVID-19 vaccine can protect the child and others, reducing the chance that they transmit the virus to others, including family members and friends who may be more susceptible to severe consequences of the infection”.

Malone then claimed that not only should children not get vaccinated, but they should get infected with COVID-19 in order to have COVID-19 immunity. This immunity from infection, Malone claimed, “is critical to save your family if not the world from this disease”. But Malone contradicts himself here. Why would immunity from COVID-19 illness in children “save your family” if children “represent no danger” to family members as Malone stated earlier?

The question of how infection-induced immunity differs critically from vaccine-induced immunity is answered by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), which provides a succinct summary: “the difference between vaccination and natural infection is the price paid for immunity”. Though COVID-19 infection often spares children from serious illness, some children can become very sick, require hospitalization and even die. Additionally, though it’s uncommon, multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), a serious inflammatory reaction that can impact the heart, blood vessels and other organs, can occur about four weeks after COVID-19 infection. Immunity from vaccination, on the other hand, “does not extract such a high price for immunity,” according to CHOP.

Though the contribution of children to the spread of COVID-19 is hard to calculate, Malone’s claim that children represent “no danger” is inaccurate. Malone then contradicted himself by claiming that immunity from COVID-19 infection could “save” the child’s family. Lastly, Malone’s statement fails to consider the difference in the price paid for immunity between vaccination and infection.

 

Claim 3 (Inaccurate): this novel [mRNA vaccine] technology has not been adequately tested”.

In his statement, Malone claimed that one of the reasons parents should be concerned about mRNA vaccines is that the “technology has not been adequately tested”. mRNA vaccine technology has been in development for over three decades. As such, while the two mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are the first to be authorized by the FDA and used at a large scale, the technology itself isn’t novel. The same technology has been and continues to be used in the development of candidate vaccines and therapies for a number of diseases. For instance, human trials for a cancer mRNA vaccine have been going on since at least 2011. As Michel Goldman, a professor of immunology at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, explained: “If there was a real problem with the technology, we’d have seen it before now for sure”.

Additionally, before their authorization and approval, the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines were rigorously tested for safety. Separate studies were conducted to confirm the vaccines were safe in children five to 11 years of age and to find the most appropriate vaccine dosage for this age group[2].  Furthermore, studies conducted after the vaccine rollout further confirmed the safety of the mRNA vaccines, especially for groups normally excluded from vaccine trials such as pregnant women.

In short, while the large-scale use of mRNA vaccines is new, the technology itself isn’t novel as Malone claimed. Moreover, the authorized and approved mRNA vaccines were rigorously tested for safety, including in children 5 to 11 years of age.

 

Claim 4 (Inaccurate): this genetic vaccine, which is based on the mRNA vaccine technology I created

At the beginning of his statement, Malone established his credentials for talking about the mRNA vaccines by claiming to be the creator of this vaccine technology. Malone makes the same claim in his Twitter bio and website. However, as Health Feedback showed in a previous claim review, this is inaccurate. The development of mRNA vaccine technology was a collaborative effort spanning more than three decades of work, many research institutes, and hundreds of researchers. Malone is one of those researchers, but while he contributed to the technology’s development, he is not the sole inventor or creator of the technology.

 

Conclusion

Malone concluded his statement by claiming that the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines provide “no benefit for your children” especially considering “the known risks of the vaccine”. Both parts of this claim are inaccurate.

As already discussed in this review, the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are very safe for children, and doctors in the U.S. have seen very few side-effects during the first weeks of vaccination in the five to 11 age group. Malone provided no evidence to support his claim that the vaccines damage organs and the immune system in children, and Health Feedback has previously found that claims about the vaccines damaging organs and immunity are inaccurate, misleading or unsupported.

There are a number of benefits for both children and families when kids get vaccinated. According to Johns Hopkins Children’s Center pediatricians Anna Sick-Samuels and Allison Messina these benefits include preventing kids from catching COVID-19, reducing the spread of SARS-CoV-2, helping to keep new variants from appearing, and protecting the community.

This is why experts, hospitals and professional medical associations overwhelmingly recommend that children get the COVID-19 vaccine. The American Academy of Pediatrics “recommends COVID-19 vaccination for all children and adolescents 5 years of age and older who do not have contraindications”. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention give the same recommendation, writing that “everyone ages 5 years and older get a COVID-19 vaccine”.

 

References

 

Published on: 20 Dec 2021 | Editor:

Health Feedback is a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to science education. Our reviews are crowdsourced directly from a community of scientists with relevant expertise. We strive to explain whether and why information is or is not consistent with the science and to help readers know which news to trust.
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