Having a Covid-19 vaccine doesn’t make you more vulnerable to the disease

20 May 2021
What was claimed

Covid-19 vaccines cause vaccine enhancement syndrome which makes you even more vulnerable to the disease.

Our verdict

This is not true. It is based on a misreading of a MailOnline article about Covid-19 variants. There is no such thing as vaccine enhancement syndrome. The Covid vaccines do not cause antibody dependent enhancement, which may be what the post had in mind.

A Facebook post claims people who receive the Covid-19 vaccine will become more vulnerable to and die from the disease because of something called “vaccine enhancement syndrome”. This syndrome does not exist.

The post may be referring to antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE). If so, it is wrong to say that the Covid vaccines cause this. 

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What does the post say?

The post is attached to a screenshot of a MailOnline article which quotes Health Secretary Matt Hancock, but the post misinterprets the article and fails to include other crucial information.

The post highlights text from the article, which states: “The Health Secretary said the only thing that would prevent England from scrapping more restrictions on June 21 would be the emergence of a mutant strain that makes vaccinated people severely ill.”

Text next to the screenshot says: “The use of language here is very deliberate (it always is), and they're telling you the so-called "third wave" will consist of VACCINATED people becoming severely ill, not just people in general.”

The post then goes on to say vaccinated people will become ill because of something called “vaccine enhancement syndrome” when a “vaccinated individual encounters the wild virus months later… [and] Their immune system has a catastrophic overreaction, primed by the vaccine, and the frequent result is death.”

The post claims people who receive the Covid-19 vaccine are susceptible to vaccine enhancement syndrome, a condition that it says develops from all coronavirus vaccines. 

The post goes on to say: “The establishment has been able to plausibly deny [the Covid vaccines] cause vaccine enhancement syndrome - simply because they have not been in trials long enough to know. As I said, this effect does not emerge instantly.”

There is no such thing as vaccine enhancement syndrome. The post may be referring to antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE), where antibodies generated in an immune response bind to a pathogen but don’t prevent infection, and instead exacerbate the immune response. But the evidence suggests that none of the Covid-19 vaccines cause an ADE response, because it would already have been observed.

The Facebook post also misses context from the rest of the MailOnline article, only two paragraphs above the highlighted section, which makes clear that Mr Hancock and the article are not talking about a third wave caused by vaccine-enhanced illness

The original article quotes comments made by Professor Graham Medley, chair of a subgroup of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), on Radio 4’s Today Programme on 11 May, when he was asked about whether the UK would be able to get back to normal. 

He said: “I don't think anyone can give you the complete answer. If vaccines work well, continue to work, and we don't have some nasty variants, then potentially we could be completely back to normal by the end of the year.”

The article then summarises an interview with Mr Hancock on BBC Breakfast, in which he said an Indian variant was “the biggest risk” to easing lockdown restrictions. 

Both Professor Medley and Mr Hancock are clearly talking about possible variants of Covid-19 that would be resistant to vaccines, rather than any danger specifically posed to people because they are vaccinated.

Even in the screenshot on Facebook (before the highlighted paragraph) the article refers to the risk of Covid-19 strains that bypass vaccines, not how vaccines create greater vulnerability to Covid-19. 

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