A girl receives a COVID-19 vaccine.
A girl receives her first shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a hospital in Madrid. Image by AP

Child vaccination video fails screen test for truth

AAP FactCheck December 23, 2021
WHAT WAS CLAIMED

Spike proteins from COVID-19 mRNA vaccines often cause permanent damage to children’s vital organs.

OUR VERDICT

False. There is no evidence vaccine spike proteins cause any common and serious side effects.

A video about the administration of mRNA vaccines to children claims that “toxic spike proteins” from the injections frequently affect vital organs, causing permanent damage to the brain, heart and reproductive systems.

The claims by Dr Robert Malone, a US virologist and immunologist who has incorrectly suggested that he is the “inventor” of mRNA vaccines, feature in footage shared on Facebook in New Zealand.

But there is no evidence to support Dr Malone’s claims, which contradict safety data from drug trials and the US child vaccine rollout. Experts told AAP FactCheck that this data did not reveal serious and widespread side effects due to the vaccines.

In the video, Dr Malone states that mRNA vaccines “force your child’s body to make toxic spike proteins”, and these proteins “often cause permanent damage in children’s critical organs” such as in the brain, nervous system, heart and reproductive systems.

The video has been shared widely on social media – see here, here and here.

mRNA vaccines teach a recipient’s cells to make a piece of the spike protein found on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. This triggers an immune response to the protein, producing antibodies that can help combat the virus.

However, as previously explained by AAP FactCheck, the spike protein piece generated by the vaccine acts differently to the protein from the live virus. False claims that the vaccine-induced spike protein was “toxic” date back to June 2021, when the results of a scientific study – which found the mRNA vaccines were working as intended – were misinterpreted.

Thomas Murray, a paediatric infectious diseases specialist at Yale University School of Medicine, told AAP FactCheck in an email that the vaccine allowed the body to produce a small part of the spike protein in order to create antibodies.

“It is not the fully functional protein that the body is exposed to when there is an actual infection,” he said.

Multiple experts also noted that younger children received a smaller dose of the vaccines than older age groups, and may experience fewer side effects as a result.

In Australia, children aged five to 11 can receive the Pfizer mRNA vaccine from January 10. In New Zealand, regulatory body MedSafe has granted provisional approval for the same vaccine for the same age group subject to approval by the government’s cabinet. If approved, the vaccine rollout is expected to start in late January 2022.

Asha Bowen, a paediatric infectious diseases specialist at the University of Western Australia School of Medicine, said the vaccine for five- to 11-year-olds was only around one-third the dose of the adult and adolescent vaccine.

“In the clinical trials and the (more than) five million US children already vaccinated with this dose, there are no signals of concern regarding children’s hearts, brains or reproductive systems.”

A slight increase in risk of both myocarditis and pericarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle or sac surrounding the heart respectively, has been identified by health authorities as linked to mRNA vaccines. The conditions have most commonly been reported in teenage boys and young men. Most patients recover quickly, as earlier explained by AAP FactCheck.

Sonja A Rasmussen, a professor in the departments of paediatrics and epidemiologist at the University of Florida College of Medicine, told AAP FactCheck that myocarditis following vaccination had usually been mild and without evidence of permanent damage.

While the link between increased risk of myocarditis and mRNA vaccines is unknown, some experts have speculated it may be caused by antibodies that fight the spike protein also acting against heart muscle proteins. Myocarditis is most commonly caused by infections from viruses, including COVID-19, and other organisms.

In the US, there had been 14 reports of myocarditis, some of which were unconfirmed, in five- to 11-year-olds after the administration of more than seven million doses of COVID-19 vaccines as of December 10, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report.

Dr Rasmussen noted the CDC report indicated that side effects in children such as pain, fever and fatigue were mild to moderate and short-lived, just as in adults.

Regarding Dr Malone’s claim about vaccines causing damage to children’s brain and reproductive systems, both Dr Murray and Dr Rasmussen said they were not aware of any such cases occurring. AAP FactCheck has previously debunked baseless claims that COVID-19 vaccines may render people infertile (see here and here).

Dr Bowen said any minor vaccine side effects that did occur were typically a result of the immune system being trained to work against the coronavirus.

“There is no permanent damage induced by the vaccine, only training of the immune system to provide a protective response when the SARS-COV-2 virus is encountered, to provide protection,” she said.

Dr Malone has previously been identified as sharing various false or misleading claims about COVID-19 vaccines (see examples here, here, here, here and here).

The Verdict

The claim that spike proteins from mRNA vaccines commonly lead to permanent harm to children’s organs is false. There is no evidence that the spike protein fragment generated by the vaccines is toxic or causes these effects.

Experts say children experience similar or milder side effects to those seen in adults, most of which are short-lived and minor.

False – The claim is inaccurate.

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