Claims that Covid vaccine spike proteins are harmful are unevidenced

17 June 2021
What was claimed

The spike protein generated by a Covid-19 vaccine can leave the site of injection and enter the bloodstream, which could possibly be causing deaths and vaccine injuries.

Our verdict

There is some evidence that the spike proteins generated by the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine leave the site of injection. There is also evidence that the spike protein on the actual virus can damage cells that line blood vessels. However, the two different spike proteins behave very differently in the body, and so the assumption that spike proteins generated by the vaccine could also harm cells in the bloodstream is unevidenced.

An article published by website The Conservative Woman reports on an interview with a Canadian scientist who claimed researchers had made a “big mistake” and were “inadvertently inoculating” people with a “toxin” via the Covid-19 vaccines. 

In an interview with a Candian broadcaster on 28 May 2021, Dr Byram Bridle—a viral immunologist at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada—claimed the spike protein generated by the Covid-19 is capable of damaging the cardiovascular system. 

But the claim is based on assumptions not supported by evidence.

What is the spike protein and what has it to do with vaccines?

As we have written before, there is a protein on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the virus which causes Covid-19), called a spike protein. This spike protein helps the virus enter cells and is also one of the ways the human body’s immune cells recognise a virus and  attack it. 

The Covid-19 vaccines approved for use in the UK work by giving the body instructions on how to make the spike protein, so that if the person is later infected, their immune system can generate a response that attacks the virus (via the spike protein) faster and more effectively.

Dr Bridle’s claims

Dr Bridle’s concern rests on two claims. Firstly, that the spike proteins generated by the vaccine cause cardiovascular damage if they get into the bloodstream. Secondly, that the spike protein produced by the vaccine does not just act locally, at the site of the jab, but gets into the bloodstream and is carried to many other sites in the body. 

Scientists who reviewed Dr Bridle’s claims for fact checker Health Feedback have described these assertions as misleading, as they “misrepresented the results from scientific studies and [were] based on cherry-picked information”. 

There have been some studies showing that SARS-CoV-2 can damage endothelial cells, which line the blood vessels. One study found signs of endothelial damage and fragments of SARS-CoV-2, including the spike protein, in the brains of 13 people who had died of Covid-19. Researchers injected the spike protein into mice and found that the animals displayed neurological symptoms similar to those seen in Covid-19 patients. 

But as the Health Feedback article sets out, Dr Bridle’s claim rests on the assumption that if the viral spike protein can cause damage to the cardiovascular system, then the spike protein generated in vaccinated people should be capable of the same. 

In actual fact, the two spike proteins behave very differently in the body. According to Health Feedback, the spike proteins generated by Covid-19 vaccines differ in three key ways to those attached to SARS-CoV-2. Firstly, in the case of the vaccines, the cells mostly break down the spike proteins into fragments. Secondly, the spike protein generated by a Covid-19 vaccine doesn’t assemble into new viral particles, unlike the spike protein from SARS-CoV-2. Thirdly, the spike protein in Covid-19 vaccines is genetically modified to enhance the immune response and to stop it binding to cell receptors in the same way the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein would. 

Dr Byram’s claim that the spike protein leaves the site of the Covid-19 injection and enters the bloodstream, accumulating in other parts of the body, is based on a purportedly leaked Pfizer study carried out by Japanese researchers, which Dr Bridle said is backed up by a small study consisting of 13 participants who had received the Moderna vaccine and provided blood samples.

The study found that the spike protein was found in the blood samples of 11 out of 13 participants. The study specifically notes that “the clinical relevance of this finding is unknown and should be further explored”. Julie Bettinger, Associate Professor, University British Columbia told Health Feedback that “nothing about being detrimental is mentioned in the publication”.

American fact checking organisation PolitiFact contacted Dr Bridle directly to ask for more evidence to back up his claim that the Covid-19 vaccine spike proteins are toxins. In an automated email response he sent a document with further claims and questions about the vaccines, and said he planned to write a “comprehensive public report”. 

PolitiFact said Dr Bridle had not directly produced any evidence to back up his claim. 

Covid-19 vaccine safety 

At the time of writing, more than 40 million people in the UK have had at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. To date, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has received reports of 406 UK reports of suspected adverse reactions to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in which the patient died shortly after vaccination, 863 reports for the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, four for the Moderna vaccine and 22 where the brand of vaccine was unspecified.

As we have written before, the Yellow Card system for reporting adverse events is based both on medic reports and patients self-reporting , and an adverse event that occurs after vaccination did not necessarily occur because of it.

In April the MHRA said there was a possible link between the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine and incidents of rare blood clots with lowered platelets. As of 2 June, the MHRA had received Yellow Card reports of 372 cases of these specific blood clots. 

As we have recently reported, researchers in Israel have found a possible link between mild myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) in young men and getting the second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

The Israeli government’s health department said there had been 275 cases of myocarditis reported between December 2020 and May 2021.

This article is part of our work fact checking potentially false pictures, videos and stories on Facebook. You can read more about this—and find out how to report Facebook content—here. For the purposes of that scheme, we’ve rated this claim as partly false because supporting evidence has not been provided for the claims the article is based on, and experts have raised concerns that the conclusions are based on false assumptions and selective use of study results.

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