FactCheck Social Media

COVID-19 vaccine contagion claims defy science

2021-05-17 14:48:12

The Statement

A Facebook post claims that people who are unvaccinated against COVID-19 are becoming ill “just by being in the vicinity” of those who have had the vaccine.

“In a bizarre turn of events, the COVID vaxxed are apparently causing ill effects to the unvaccinated around them, as countless reports and anecdotes affirm,” the post says.

It goes on to claim that “the more time goes by, the more horrible effects of the COVID ‘vaccine’ (which is not a vaccine but a medical device and experimental gene therapy) come to light”.

The lengthy post lists alleged examples of illnesses and injuries unvaccinated people have picked up from vaccinated people. These include “irregular and heavy menstruation, bleeding while pregnant and miscarriages” as well as supposed cases of pets dying “when touched by someone who got the COVID jab”.

Much of the text has been copied from an article published on April 28 by a conspiracy-promoting “alternative media” website that calls COVID-19 an “imaginary” virus.

The post was published on April 30 by an Australian-managed Facebook page that was created in March 2021. Similar claims have been made in other posts from anti-vaccination activists in Australia.

A Facebook post claiming vaccine recipients are making others ill.
 A Facebook post claims COVID-19 vaccine recipients have made other people – and even pets – ill. 

The Analysis

Immunology experts say it is scientifically impossible for COVID-19 vaccines to cause illness in unvaccinated people as they contain no live virus or any other infectious material that can pass from person to person.

UNSW infectious disease scientist associate professor Holly Seale told AAP FactCheck via email: “The current COVID-19 vaccines use mRNA or non-replicating virus, which are not contagious and cannot be transmitted to non-vaccinated people.”

Associate professor Menno van Zelm from Monash University’s Department of Immunology and Pathology agreed, telling AAP FactCheck that there are “no credible reports” that vaccinated people can make other people ill.

“For one, COVID-19 vaccines do not contain the virus nor any other infectious agent that is contagious,” Dr van Zelm said in an email.

“Yes, the vaccine activates the immune system and can make the recipient feel unwell for 24 hours, but this does not affect bystanders.”

The claim that COVID-19 vaccines can spread from person to person seems to be based on a misconception or misinformation about recipients’ ability to “shed” vaccine particles.

Vaccine shedding is technically possible when a vaccine uses a weakened version of the live virus, although this is extremely rare. However, COVID-19 vaccines do not use a live virus, meaning recipients cannot shed any virus particles.

Dr Seale told AAP Factcheck some oral vaccines used live versions of weakened viruses that could be transmitted – although they were still too weak to cause illness.

“In limited circumstances, live-weakened vaccine viruses can be passed to people who have not been vaccinated,” she said.

“This relates to the use of the oral influenza vaccine and the oral poliovirus vaccine. Firstly, it is important to remember that the virus that is identifiable (either in the child’s nasal secretions or faeces) is so weak that it cannot cause disease. Secondly, neither of these vaccines are available for use in Australia.”

Two COVID-19 vaccines have been approved for use in Australia: the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. The Pfizer variant is a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine, a new type of vaccine that uses a genetic code called RNA to spark the production of a coronavirus spike protein.

The AstraZeneca product is a viral vector vaccine which uses a harmless, weakened animal virus to instruct our cells to make the coronavirus spike protein. Both vaccines equip the immune system to recognise and attack the virus if it ever enters the body.

The Australian Department of Health website confirms that those vaccines can sometimes cause side effects for recipients, such as fever and fatigue, but states: “None of the approved vaccines in Australia contain the live virus. This means they cannot give you COVID-19”.

The post also falsely describes COVID-19 vaccines as “experimental gene therapy”. A similar claim was previously debunked by AAP FactCheck.

Baseless claims about so-called ‘vaccine shedding’ have been debunked many times, including here, here and here. Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group at the University of Oxford, told Full Fact: “I can’t think of any biologically plausible mechanism for shedding of components of any of the licensed COVID-19 vaccines after immunisation.”

Céline Gounder, an infectious disease specialist who served as a COVID-19 advisor on President Biden’s transition advisory team, told the New York Times that vaccinated people can’t shed anything because “there’s nothing to be shedding”.

The post’s claim that COVID-19 vaccines can somehow cause unvaccinated women to suffer heavy menstruation, bleeding or miscarriages has been disproven multiple times, including here, here and here.

Each of the debunks make the same point that COVID-19 vaccines contain no live virus or other contagious elements, so they cannot possibly affect anybody other than the recipient.

American-Canadian gynaecologist and New York Times columnist Jennifer Gunter published a blog post on April 20 addressing “a new lie circulating about the COVID-19 vaccine” that people who get the vaccine can affect the menstrual cycle or fertility of others.

“Let me be very clear. The COVID-19 vaccines cannot affect anyone by proxy. Anyone telling you otherwise wishes you harm,” Dr Gunter wrote.

There is also no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines affect fertility or pregnancy among recipients, although the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is limited data about the safety of the vaccines when taken by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. False claims that COVID-19 vaccines cause sterility have previously been covered by AAP FactCheck here.

Michelle Wise from the University of Auckland’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology wrote in a recent article for The Conversation that more research is needed to establish whether COVID-19 vaccines affect the periods of vaccine recipients – but she added that there was no need for people to be concerned.

As for the claim that pets have died “when touched by someone who got the COVID jab”, Monash University’s Dr van Zelm and UNSW’s Dr Seale both told AAP FactCheck this is simply not possible for the same reason that vaccines cannot harm unvaccinated humans.

“Vaccinated people are not contagious, so there is no reason to think that they can affect other people or animals merely by the fact that they have had the vaccine,” Dr van Zelm said.

A woman receives a COVID-19 vaccination
COVID-19 vaccine recipients can’t make the unvaccinated ill, experts say. 

The Verdict

COVID-19 vaccines cannot cause illness in unvaccinated people or animals as none of the treatments contain any live virus or other transmissible elements. Vaccine experts have confirmed that any transmission from recipients to non-recipients is scientifically impossible.

False – Content that has no basis in fact.

AAP FactCheck is an accredited member of the International Fact-Checking Network. To keep up with our latest fact checks, follow us on Facebook and Twitter.