Unsupported: The available evidence shows that COVID-19 vaccination doesn’t lead to more severe cases of COVID-19. There is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines adversely affect immune system natural killer (NK) cells.
FULL CLAIM: COVID-19 vaccines are dangerous, having killed many people and causing serious adverse effects on many more (strokes, neurological problems, allergies, blindness, paralysis); people who got the COVID-19 vaccine have been pathogenic primed, their immune system is going to overreact when in contact with the virus, causing lots of deaths; vaccines suppress the NK cells, destroying the immune system of tens or hundreds of millions who are receiving the vaccines; vaccines promote virus lethality; new virus variations are appearing in areas where the vaccine has been given to lots of people; giving the vaccines will give the virus an opportunity to become infinitely more dangerous; bodies of vaccinated people are laboratories making lethal viruses
On 13 March 2021, Vernon Coleman posted a video on the platform BrandNewTube, in which he claimed that the COVID-19 vaccines are “dangerous” and caused numerous health problems like strokes. Within two weeks, the video reached 240,000 views and was shared on other social media platforms such as Facebook. One copy of the video that was uploaded to Facebook exceeded 70,000 views in 24 hours.
In the video, Coleman alleged that the COVID-19 vaccines could lead to the death of thousands of people in the future, should be considered “weapons of mass destruction”, and could even “wipe out the human race”. However, Coleman’s conclusions are based on unsupported assertions and ambiguous reasoning, as we explain below.
Claim 1 (Inaccurate): “COVID-19 vaccines are dangerous, having killed many people and causing serious adverse effects on many more”
COVID-19 vaccines are safe, as demonstrated in clinical trials and the COVID-19 vaccination campaign, in which millions of doses have already been administered.
Common side effects caused by COVID-19 vaccines are short-lived and minor, including fever, headache, fatigue or pain at the injection site. These side effects tend to disappear within a few days after people receive the vaccines and are a sign that their immune systems are responding to the vaccine as expected. The most serious side effect caused by COVID-19 RNA vaccines is anaphylaxis, which is a severe allergic reaction that can be life-threatening. However, anaphylaxis is easily treated and isn’t fatal if the correct medical treatment is provided in time.
About 10 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and about 7.5 million doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine were administered in the U.S. between December 2020 and January 2021. The incidence of anaphylaxis in vaccinated people was 4.7 cases per million vaccinated people for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and 2.5 cases per million for the Moderna vaccine. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discourages people who had severe allergic reactions to the first dose of these vaccines from receiving the second dose.
None of the evidence so far supports Coleman’s claim that the COVID-19 vaccines may cause strokes, neurological problems, blindness or paralysis.
Claim 2 (Unsupported): “People who got the COVID-19 vaccine have been pathogenic primed, their immune system is going to overreact when in contact with the virus, causing lots of deaths”
First, Coleman’s claim is inaccurate, as the COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) don’t contain the virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2. Instead, they contain a viral vector that triggers the production of a viral spike protein specific to SARS-CoV-2 or the RNA sequence encoding that protein. When individuals receive the COVID-19 vaccine, they produce immune responses to these proteins, protecting them from future encounters with the virus.
Coleman’s claim is based on a phenomenon called antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE). ADE occurs when antibodies bind to a virus in a manner that fails to neutralize it, but instead makes the viral infection more severe. In some respiratory diseases like MERS and SARS, ADE occurs when antibody–antigen immune complexes are formed, leading to an excessive response of the immune system in lung tissue.
As these articles from PNAS and Nature showed, vaccine researchers are aware of the potential risk of ADE from COVID-19 vaccination and have called for close monitoring of vaccinated people, in the event that a vaccine candidate has to be discarded if this effect happens. Notably, researchers haven’t detected any cases of ADE in relation to COVID-19 to date, either in people who were reinfected with the virus or in people vaccinated against the disease. As this Health Feedback review showed, no cases of ADE were detected in clinical trials of the COVID-19 vaccines authorized by the FDA for emergency use.
ADE was observed in the infectious disease dengue fever, a mosquito-borne viral infection. Dengue fever is caused by the dengue virus, which exists in four subtypes, which scientists call “serotypes”. Antibodies against one serotype can lead to more severe disease caused by another serotype due to ADE. The first dengue vaccines developed effectively protected individuals against one serotype of the virus, but only partially against the other serotypes. If vaccinated individuals were infected with a serotype other than the one they were fully protected against, ADE may occur and the resulting infection may be more virulent.
Overall, the available evidence indicates that the COVID-19 vaccines don’t cause ADE. As this article by Yale Medicine reports, the vaccines protect against severe illness, contradicting Coleman’s claim.
Claim 3 (Unsupported): “Vaccines suppress the NK cells, destroying the immune system of tens or hundreds of millions who are receiving the vaccines”
Later in the video, Coleman referred to claims made by Geert Vanden Bossche, an independent consultant who previously worked in vaccine development. Vanden Bossche claimed in an open letter on Twitter, addressed to the World Health Organization, that mass vaccination against COVID-19 would lead to more severe disease. This Health Feedback review demonstrated why Vanden Bossche’s claim is misleading and unsupported by scientific evidence.
Coleman claimed that vaccines promote the generation of specific antibodies that compete with NK cells, which he called “the body’s natural defenses”. He asserted that this would render NK cells ineffective.
But Coleman’s claim isn’t consistent with what we know of NK cells. NK cells, or natural killer cells, are a type of white blood cell that recognize virus-infected cells without relying on antibodies, and thus can respond to a viral infection faster than other types of immune cells, since the body can take days to weeks to produce antibodies.
However, even though NK cells can generate an immune response in the absence of antibodies, there are also mechanisms by which antibodies promote NK cell action, known as antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity. This antibody-mediated activation causes NK cells to eliminate cells that have been infected by a pathogen. This demonstrates that antibodies don’t render NK cells ineffective, as Coleman claimed. Rather, they assist NK cells in fighting infection. Coleman offered no evidence showing otherwise.
The role of NK cells in fighting COVID-19 is unclear at the moment, although researchers detected elevated levels of activated NK cells in patients with severe COVID-19. Overall, Coleman’s claim that antibodies induced by vaccination interfere with NK cell function is unsupported by scientific evidence, since this effect has not been detected in vaccinated persons.
Claim 4 (Unsupported): “Vaccines promote virus lethality”; “new virus variations are appearing in areas where the vaccine has been given to lots of people”; ”giving the vaccines will give the virus an opportunity to become infinitely more dangerous”; “bodies of vaccinated people are laboratories making lethal viruses”
Finally, Coleman asserted that vaccines enhance the lethality of COVID-19 by selecting and promoting the emergence of newer and more deadly variants of the virus, citing Vanden Bossche as a basis for this claim.
Virus mutations occur periodically and result from errors in the replication process, when a virus copies its genetic material during an infection. Mutations are more likely to occur during longer infections and when more people are infected. As virus mutations accumulate, variants may appear. In most cases, mutations either don’t affect the virus or result in a weakened virus. Therefore, virus variants aren’t necessarily more deadly or contagious.
Coleman offered no evidence to support the claim that vaccines promote the emergence of more deadly virus variants. In fact, the evidence points to the opposite trend. Some COVID-19 vaccines reduce the likelihood of infection, as well as the risk of severe disease in vaccinated individuals. There is also some evidence that certain COVID-19 vaccines reduce the risk of transmission. All three observations suggest that COVID-19 vaccines will reduce virus replication, thereby limiting the opportunity for new variants to emerge. Notably, the three SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern that were detected in the U.K., South Africa, and Brazil evolved naturally in unvaccinated populations.
In conclusion, Coleman’s claims about the side effects of COVID-19 vaccines don’t correspond to the effects observed during clinical trials and in the real-work vaccination campaigns. In addition, claims that COVID-19 vaccines predispose people to more virulent infections or interfere with immune system functions are inconsistent with the existing evidence on how these vaccines work. Finally, the COVID-19 vaccines don’t promote the emergence of new, more lethal variants of existing viruses, but instead reduce virus transmission and thus the emergence of new variants.
- 1- Shimabukuro et al. (2021) Reports of Anaphylaxis After Receipt of mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines in the US—December 14, 2020-January 18, 2021. Journal of the American Medical Association.
- 2- Arvin et al. (2020). A perspective on potential antibody-dependent enhancement of SARS-CoV-2. Nature.
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- 8- Stern and Andino (2016), Chapter 17 – Viral Evolution: It Is All About Mutations. Viral Pathogenesis (Third Edition).
- 9- Grubaugh et al. (2020). We shouldn’t worry when a virus mutates during disease outbreaks. Nature Microbiology.
- 10- Levine-Tiefenbrun et al. (2021). Decreased SARS-CoV-2 viral load following vaccination. medRxiv. [Note: This is a pre-print that has not yet been peer-reviewed.]