Unsupported: The evidence used to support the claim that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine makes you more likely to get COVID-19 is based on misinterpreted data in an FDA Briefing Document about vaccine boosters and waning immunity.
FULL CLAIM: 'If you get the Pfizer vax, you’re more likely to get COVID;' the Pfizer 'COVID vaccines causes a type of shedding which could produce sickness in the unvaccinated'; 'vaccinated individuals carry 251 times the load of COVID-19 virus in their nostrils compared to the unvaccinated.'
An article about the COVID-19 vaccines was published by LifeSiteNews on 30 September 2021. Earlier this year, LifeSiteNews was permanently banned by Facebook for repeatedly violating the company’s COVID-19 policies. The website, whose articles have failed numerous fact-checks (see here, here and here), was also banned by YouTube for spreading COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccine misinformation.
The article propagated claims about the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine made by Karen Kingston and Thomas Renz during a public meeting, as well as additional claims about the vaccines. This isn’t the first time both Kingston and Renz have spread misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines. Kingston was previously been fact-checked for falsely claiming that the vaccines contain graphene oxide, while Renz was fact-checked for baselessly claiming that the vaccines killed almost 45,000 people in 72 hours.
In the article, Kingston claimed that “if you get the Pfizer vax, you’re more likely to get COVID”, and cited an U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Briefing Document from 17 September 2021 to back up her claim. The document (which can be read here) is from the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee Meeting, during which Pfizer’s application for approval of COVID-19 booster shots was considered. As such, data in the document is primarily related to the safety and effectiveness of booster shots and the rationale for booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccines.
Kingston’s argument focused on a post-hoc analysis—which involves re-analyzing data after a study is completed—done by Pfizer in response to an FDA request (pages 22 and 23 of the Briefing Document). The analysis focused on comparing the number of COVID-19 cases between study participants who received the second dose of the vaccine early in the study and those who received the second dose later in the study.
Speaking to LifeSiteNews, Kingston claimed that the data showed that during the initial placebo period there were “12.6 [COVID-19] cases per 1,000 person-years”, but “43.4 cases per 1,000 person-years” after injection. 1000 person-years is a measure for the rate of new cases of a disease over a specified period for the study population.
However, that’s not what the data shows. The analysis compared the number of COVID-19 cases between two study participant groups both of which received the vaccine; the post-hoc analysis did not compare a placebo group and a vaccine group as claimed by Kingston. Rather, the two groups were: “study participants who completed the primary series <4 months prior to the start of the analysis period [1 July 2021]” and “BNT162b2 recipients in the Evaluable Efficacy Population” where data was collected up to 13 March 2021. BNT162b2 was the name used for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine during clinical trials, and primary series refers to the 2-dose vaccine regimen. As such, Kingston’s analysis of the data is flawed, and her claim about the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine making individuals more likely to catch COVID-19 is unsupported.
Additionally, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has demonstrated that the COVID-19 vaccines decrease the chance of infection, which is the opposite of what Kingston claimed. One study looked at both mRNA vaccines given in the U.S. (Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna) and found that full vaccination reduced the risk of infection by 91 percent. Another study, conducted between May and July 2021 in Los Angeles (the more contagious Delta variant was predominant in July), found that COVID-19 infection rates were 4.9 times higher among the unvaccinated compared to fully vaccinated persons. A pre-print study that looked at COVID-19 infections in the United Kingdom, including during the period when the Delta variant became predominant, also found that COVID-19 vaccination reduced the risk of infections.
As such, Kingston’s claim, which was reiterated by Renz during the public meeting, is based on a flawed analysis of the FDA Briefing Document from 17 September 2021. Moreover, data from both the U.S. and the U.K. has shown that the COVID-19 vaccines do decrease the chance of infection, even after the more contagious Delta variant became prominent.
The LifeSiteNews also contained two additional pieces of misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines. First, it cited Renz’s claim that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine “causes a type of shedding which could produce sickness in the unvaccinated who spend sufficient time in proximity to the people who have received these injections” at the public meeting. However, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine doesn’t cause viral shedding and this claim has been previously debunked by fact-checkers, including Health Feedback and the Associated Press.
In the article, LifeSiteNews also reproduced a claim by Peter McCullough about how a preprint study “found vaccinated individuals carry 251 times the load of COVID-19 viruses in their nostrils compared to the unvaccinated”. However, that’s not what the study found and Health Feedback previously fact-checked McCullough’s claim (see here). In short, the study didn’t compare viral loads in vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, but rather viral loads during an infection with the Delta strain compared to viral loads in infections caused by earlier strains.
In summary, the LifeSiteNews article repeated old claims about the COVID-19 vaccine that were fact-checked multiple times, and also made an inaccurate and unsupported claim that the vaccines make people more likely to catch COVID-19. On the contrary, there is overwhelming evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines protect individuals from infections, even those caused by the Delta variant.
- 1 – Thompson et al. (2021) Prevention and Attenuation of Covid-19 with the BNT162b2 and mRNA-1273 Vaccines. NEJM
- 2 – Griffin et al. (2021) SARS-CoV-2 Infections and Hospitalizations Among Persons Aged ≥16 Years, by Vaccination Status — Los Angeles County, California, May 1–July 25, 2021. MMWR
- 3 – Pouwels et al. (2021) Impact of Delta on viral burden and vaccine effectiveness against new SARS-CoV-2 infections in the UK. medRxiv