On 27 September 2021, the group Project Veritas published a video on several social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, containing claims that children don’t need to get a COVID-19 vaccine and that the long-term safety of COVID-19 vaccines is uncertain. The claims are based on an interview with two people identified in the video as employees of the pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson (J & J): scientist Justin Durrant and business lead Brandon Schadt. J & J developed one of the COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized for emergency use in the U.S. Altogether, copies of the video have received more than 2 million views to date, although the copy on Facebook has since been removed.
Identity of individuals in the video
In order to verify the identities of both people in the video, Health Feedback first reached out to J & J for comment, but didn’t receive a response. We will update this review if new information becomes available.
We also searched for social media profiles and scientific publication records, as these might provide information that would be consistent with the identification of both individuals provided by the video, thereby assisting in verification.
With regards to Durrant’s identification as a scientist, we were unable to find any scientist by that name, or scientific publication records listing such an author, in Google Scholar and ResearchGate (a social networking site for scientists) demonstrating expertise in vaccines or immunology.
Searching for Justin Durrant on PubMed, a database of biomedical research publications maintained by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, yielded just one publication, co-authored by a Justin W. Durrant whose affiliation is listed as College of Dental Medicine, Roseman University. That publication reported the results of a study that examined the effect of cigarette smoke on cancer cells, which is unrelated to vaccines.
In short, we weren’t able to find a scientist named Justin Durrant with expertise in vaccines or immunology.
Schadt’s LinkedIn profile indeed identifies him as a business lead for J & J. It also listed his qualifications as Bachelor of Business Administration from West Virginia University. His profile lists no credentials in biology or medicine.
Overall, none of the information we were able to find suggests that either individual interviewed in the video possesses the scientific expertise relevant to the claims they made about the COVID-19 vaccines in the video.
Pediatricians and public health authorities recommend the COVID-19 vaccine to eligible children
The claims that children don’t need to get a vaccine and that the long-term safety of COVID-19 vaccines is in doubt are inaccurate and misleading, as we will explain below.
Scientific evidence has shown that children in general are less likely to develop severe COVID-19 or die from COVID-19 as compared to adults. Nevertheless, certain parts in the U.S. saw a spike in the number of pediatric hospitalizations during August and September 2021, as reported by the New York Times and NBC News, likely as a result of the Delta variant’s higher transmissibility.
A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of 14 states reported that between 1 March and 14 August 2021, there were ten times more hospitalizations in unvaccinated adolescents compared to those who were fully vaccinated. In children aged 0 to four years old, hospitalizations increased tenfold. This age group isn’t eligible for COVID-19 vaccination at the moment, as the COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. have only been authorized for emergency use in children aged 12 and above.
The rise in child hospitalizations also led to overstretched hospitals in some parts of the U.S., given that children’s hospitals and pediatric intensive care units (ICUs) tend not to have as much capacity as hospitals treating adults, as reported by the New York Times. Christopher Carroll, a pediatric intensivist at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center said to the Times:
“The average pediatric I.C.U. in the U.S. has 12 beds […] In a system that small, even a few patients can quickly overrun the capacity. And there are fewer specialty trained pediatric clinicians to pick up the slack.”
Overstretched hospitals can and have led to difficulty in delivering medical care, as documented in the case of a 2-year-old ill with COVID-19 in Houston, who had to be airlifted to another hospital because the pediatric hospitals in that city were already full.
These observations demonstrate COVID-19’s impact on children, the importance of vaccination in protecting children, and underpin recommendations by public health authorities for eligible children to be vaccinated. The CDC recommends that children aged 12 and above get vaccinated. The American Academy of Pediatricians also published the same recommendation and added:
“Any COVID-19 vaccine authorized through Emergency Use Authorization by the US Food and Drug Administration, recommended by the CDC, and appropriate by age and health status can be used for COVID-19 vaccination in children and adolescents.”
The benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine outweigh their risks; safety monitoring thus far indicates that long-term effects from the COVID-19 vaccine aren’t expected
Like all medical interventions, vaccines have side effects. Many of the side effects of COVID-19 vaccines are relatively short-lived and mild, like fever, fatigue, and headache. Side effects can also happen a few weeks down the road and these can be more serious, but our experience with pre-existing vaccines suggest that these are more uncommon.
As this article by the Vaccine Education Center (VEC) of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia explained, long-term side effects tend to occur within two months of vaccination. For example, a serious adverse event, Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), was later found by scientists to have been caused by a particular swine flu vaccine made in 1976. GBS is a neurological disorder resulting from the body’s immune system wrongly attacking the nervous system. Nearly all cases following vaccination occurred within eight weeks after vaccination. In light of this information, it is important to note that a person is more likely to develop GBS from having the flu than the flu vaccine. This means that the benefits of the flu vaccine outweigh its risks.
As the VEC article stated:
“[W]hile the rules of science do not allow scientists to say that long-term effects can never happen, the evidence is strong that these vaccines will not cause long-term harm.”
Paul Offit, pediatrician and professor of vaccinology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, explained in this 28 January 2021 video that long-term side effects from the COVID-19 vaccines are very unlikely:
“I think in those preapproval studies where the vaccines have been tested in tens of thousands of people, you could say with confidence that there wasn’t at least a relatively uncommon, serious side effect. And now that the vaccine has been given to more than 10 million people, I think you can say with some confidence that there doesn’t appear to be right now a very rare, serious side effect that would be something that would cause a long-term problem. But again, we need to be humble, keep our eyes open and look what happens as we vaccinate hundreds and hundreds of millions of people to make sure that there’s not an additional problem. But usually when those problems occur, they occur within six weeks of a dose.”
Indeed, given this context, it is helpful to consider that COVID-19 vaccines have been in use for more than six months since December 2020, after the first vaccine was authorized for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. And to date, more than 214 million people in the U.S. have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. The length of time that has passed and the sheer number of people who have been vaccinated all indicate that long-term side effects are very unlikely.
And another reason why long-term side effects from the COVID-19 vaccines are unlikely is because the ingredients from the vaccines don’t persist in the body. In this National Geographic article published in July 2021:
“A key reason for this limited window of side effects is the short time all vaccines stay in the body, says Onyema Ogbuagu, an infectious diseases specialist at Yale Medicine and a principal investigator of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine trial. Unlike medicines that people take every day or week, vaccines are generally administered once or a handful of times over a lifetime. The mRNA molecules used in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are especially fragile, he notes, so ‘they are out of your body in a day or so.’”
Case of cyanide contamination of Tylenol capsules occurred in 1982 and wasn’t due to manufacturing error by J & J
In a further attempt to cast doubt over the J & J COVID-19 vaccine’s safety, the video showed Schadt citing a case in which Tylenol was contaminated with cyanide, leading to a product recall by J & J, which Schadt claimed had happened during “[his] time in consumer products”.
It is true that there was a highly publicized case of mass murder committed by someone who had laced Tylenol capsules with potassium cyanide, also known as the Chicago Tylenol murders. Seven people died—the perpetrator was never caught.
However, this case occurred in 1982, long before Schadt began working at J & J in 2008, and there have been no other recorded incidents like this in the U.S.
Using this incident to cast doubt on the vaccine is also misleading, given that the poisonings didn’t arise from a manufacturing error on J & J’s part, but as a result of someone tampering with products that were already on shelves. The incident did prompt J & J to develop new product protection, such as tamper-proof packaging to prevent cases like this from occurring again, which led to overall improvements for the safety of over-the-counter drugs.
- 1 – Delahoy et al. (2021) Hospitalizations Associated with COVID-19 Among Children and Adolescents — COVID-NET, 14 States, March 1, 2020–August 14, 2021. Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report.