In a video clip shared on Facebook a woman claims that no one has died within minutes or hours from tetanus and that the tetanus vaccine is being used to make people infertile.
While it’s true that people infected with tetanus don’t usually show symptoms for days after exposure, there is no evidence that the vaccines reduce fertility.
The woman in the video claims that she had been asking since she was a teenager why people in the US are advised to take a tetanus vaccine every 10 years.
She said: “We found out that the reason that they told us back then to take [the tetanus vaccine] was that when you are walking out in the yard, you have a rusty nail in your foot, the bacteria called tetanus gets in there and then within minutes to hours, not days or weeks, you could spasm so terribly that you would suffocate to death and fall on the floor and die, like within minutes or hours, which I have never heard of anyone dying that way.
“So I have come to find out that is a lie, no one has died that way, nobody in the entire world.”
It is not clear from the short clip whether the woman in the video believed or was told that people only died of tetanus in this rapid way or if she is suggesting no one has died of tetanus at all. But she then goes on to question why the vaccine is necessary if no one has died in the way she described.
She said: “So why are they giving it out if that’s a lie?”
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) says that tetanus causes an estimated 213,000 to 293,000 deaths worldwide each year and is responsible for 5 to 7% of all neonatal deaths and 5% of maternal deaths globally. The Vaccine Knowledge Project at Oxford University says tetanus is “always serious and often fatal”.
It is arguable that no one has died of tetanus in the way the speaker has described—within minutes to hours.
The ECDC says that the time from inoculation with tetanus spores to the first symptoms can range from a day to a month, with a median average of seven days.
The NHS website says: “The symptoms of tetanus usually start around four to 21 days after infection. On average, they start after around 10 days.”
This suggests that it is unlikely anyone who contracted tetanus will “fall on the floor and die within minutes or hours”.
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The tetanus vaccine is not a ‘sterilisation vaccine’
The speaker goes on to claim that the World Health Organisation (WHO) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) were giving people the tetanus vaccine as a “sterilisation vaccine”.
She added: “The World Health Organisation and NIH have since 1972 been developing the tetanus vaccine as an abortion or sterilisation vaccine.
“They have been putting the pregnancy hormone inside the tetanus vaccine, in that vial, and so every time you get it it is a cumulative response.”
US fact checker Factcheck.org has written that claims a hormone blocker was added to tetanus vaccines to cause infertility and control population growth have “been circulating for decades” and have been “thoroughly debunked”.
It says that the claim is based on researchers developing a combination contraceptive and tetanus vaccine to prevent pregnancies temporarily that was tested in the early 1990s and which did not have a permanent effect on fertility.
This trial used the hormone human chorionic gonadotrophin, or HCG for short, as the active ingredient, which would cause a woman’s immune system to eliminate HCG to prevent pregnancy.
While the combined contraceptive and tetanus vaccine was given to 148 women during the trial in the 1990s, a WHO report from 2017 says that “human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) or any HCG derivatives have never been used in the production of tetanus vaccines”.
The WHO said in a statement in 1995 that rumours the tetanus vaccine has been contaminated with a substance to reduce women's fertility were “completely false and totally without any scientific basis”.
The WHO said reports originated in the Philippines, where “a pro-life group submitted a batch of vaccine to a totally inappropriate test which produced a false positive result”.
The WHO said it had conducted independent testing to assess whether HCG was present in vials of tetanus toxoid vaccine produced by different manufacturers. All tests were either negative or produced results with no significance, the WHO said.
WHO was not working on a sterilisation vaccine
Full Fact has also looked at a similar false claim that the WHO has been working on a vaccine to cause sterility before.
The WHO did establish a Task Force on Vaccines for Fertility Regulation in 1972 and aimed to support the development of “fertility regulating vaccines” (FRVs).
However, these were not designed to create permanent sterility but to make it easier to administer contraception for people wanting to prevent unplanned pregnancy. The WHO explicitly stated that the vaccines should not have permanent effects.
So far, effective contraceptive vaccines have not become available. Neither the WHO nor the NHS currently list vaccines in their list of contraceptive options.
However, the NHS does list a contraceptive injection which it says is more than 99% effective and lasts for eight to 13 weeks depending on which type you get. The NHS website says it may take up to a year for fertility to return to normal after the injection wears off.
Health misinformation can cause direct damage to people’s physical health, create distrust of medical professionals, and undermine public health messaging.
Image courtesy of United States Mission Geneva