VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Anti-vax doctor, ex-education Usec peddle falsehoods about COVID-19 jabs

A claim that those who receive the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines are “dangerous” as they become a “real carrier of the virus” is FALSE. This claim was among several inaccurate statements made in an April 21 Facebook (FB) live video that has already been viewed by over 2,800 netizens.

“The vaccine does not inject the virus itself,” said Rontgene Solante, infectious disease specialist and member of the Vaccine Expert Panel of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) in a May 21 interview.

There are four platforms currently being used in COVID-19 vaccines: the messenger RNA, inactivated whole virus, protein subunit, and viral vectors.

None of the four platforms use an active virus that can replicate inside the body, Solante said.

(See VERA FILES FACT SHEET: Getting to know the COVID-19 vaccine prospects in the Philippines)

The video interview was conducted with a doctor named Jose Micabalo Oclarit, former education secretary Butch Valdes, lawyer Nick Nañgit, and host Cathy Cruz on the FB page of the political party Katipunan ng Demokratikong Pilipino, which has over 26,000 followers.

Such a claim about the COVID-19 vaccines has also been repeatedly debunked by health experts and fact-checkers around the world.

Oclarit, abetted by Valdes, founder and chairperson of KDP, also falsely associated the rise of COVID-19 cases in March with the start of the country’s vaccination campaign, pinning the blame on vaccine recipients “who are spreading the disease.”

There is no evidence, however, to prove this link.

The increasing cases in March are due to several factors, including the variants, compliance with minimum public health standards, and delay in going to the doctor or getting tested when symptomatic, according to John Wong, a member of the technical working group on COVID-19 variants of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, in a March 10 press briefing.

Oclarit is said to be an expert in molecular biology and biochemistry. At present, he is a professor of medical physiology and biochemistry at Matias H. Aznar Memorial College of Medicine at Southwestern University in Cebu City.

In the hour-and-a-half live exchange, Oclarit, Valdes, and the two hosts peddled several inaccurate statements about how the jab works.

All have been debunked by Solante, who is also head of the adult infectious disease and tropical medicine at San Lazaro Hospital in Manila:

Claim

Rating

Those who receive Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines can become “transgenic” because the mRNA enters the nucleus and produces proteins that are not theirs. In the long run, this can initiate an autoimmune attack.

FALSE



“The idea that viruses would evolve and grow stronger to evade vaccines may seem like common sense, but there is no evidence for these claims,” according to a team of health experts from global technology nonprofit Meedan.

The materials that make up the coronavirus vaccine are based on ribonucleic acids (RNA) and, when they enter the body, “they do not penetrate the nucleus at all, so they do not have a chance of coming into contact with the hereditary material contained therein,” said Vladimir Jovanovic from Clinical Centre of Montenegro said in an April 14 report at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) website.

“Therefore, we conclude that vaccination will not cause any harm to the body, especially in terms of changing the structure of the DNA chain,” he added.

Similar claims about the mRNA vaccines have been made since 2020 and disproven by several infectious disease experts.

Claim

Rating

Do not get the vaccine “at the height of infection” because the “virus will become resistant” to the vaccine and then create a “super dangerous strain.”

FALSE


The COVID-19 vaccines being studied and developed are “expected to provide at least some protection against the new virus variants,” according to the World Health Organization.

Meedan's experts also said: “There is no evidence of any known vaccine causing new or more dangerous variants of COVID-19.”


In fact, the more individuals remain unvaccinated, the more likely other variants are to emerge because there are more people that the COVID-19 virus can infect.

Some viral mutations currently being studied are associated with “immune escape” or the ability to evade the immune protection provided by vaccination or previous infection. (See VERA FILES FACT SHEET: How the Philippines is detecting new SARS-CoV-2 variants)

But Solante said: “The longer the virus stays in the community and more people will be infected, the higher is the chance that there will be more mutations and more new variants of concern… [T]he only way to cut this transmission is getting everybody vaccinated.”

Claim

Rating

“If your body is healthy and can easily recognize the foreign body using your innate immunity, you do not need a first dose or second dose. Your innate immunity is enough because [it] is non-specific, rapid, and complete.”

MISLEADING


While innate immunity is the first defense of the body against any infection, Solante said this immunity “will work on a particular threshold” and only for a short period of time. He said: “What if your innate immunity could not cope up with the load of the virus that comes to your body?”


This is why among COVID-19 patients, the most vulnerable sector remains the elderly, specifically people aged 50 years and above with comorbidities, because “their innate immunity may not be that good to protect them against the COVID infection,” Solante said.

He also stressed that young individuals can still develop moderate and severe disease.

Because this innate immunity is not very robust or durable, Solante said people “need the vaccine in order to protect them [l]onger and at the same time, [develop] an antibody that specifically blocks the virus.”

“These are COVID-specific antibodies that will really block the entry of the virus into the receptors in our cell.”

Claim

Rating

If the virus keeps mutating everyday, vaccines will no longer be effective.

NEEDS CONTEXT


While there are new variants of the COVID-19 virus emerging, most of the mutations, or changes in its genetic material, are insignificant.

There are, however, variants of concern which have potential impact on transmissibility, disease severity, and vaccine and treatment efficacy.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said “manufacturers and the programmes using the vaccines may have to adjust to the evolution of the COVID-19 virus.” This is why as the current health crisis continues, more vaccines are expected to be developed to fill the gaps in efficacy.

Solante emphasized that the “current vaccines against the variants are still effective” despite some mutations decreasing their ability to recognize and disarm the COVID-19 virus.

“That reduction is not significant… so there is still adequate protection with these current vaccines and should not be a cause of concern,” he added.

Oclarit, Valdes downplay COVID-19, rehash false claims

Apart from the untrue statements on vaccines, the live interview with Oclarit and Valdes also repeated wrong statements and conspiracy theories about the disease and its potential treatments:

  • That COVID-19 is man-made. It is “computer-generated” because “no actual virus has been isolated” from patients through the “PCR isolation technique.” This is false.
  • That the incubation period of the COVID-19 virus is only two to five days, and will get “cleared out” in one to two weeks. False. Signs and symptoms of COVID-19 may appear between two and 14 days.
  • That COVID-19 vaccines contain “preservatives or adjuvants” that have metal, such as mercury and aluminum, which can be easily detected in a computer scanner. While vaccines use adjuvants and preservatives, they do not cause harm and exist only in very small amounts. These ingredients are also not recognizable by computers.
  • That COVID-19 is “easy to dismantle” through alkaline, steam, and sulfuric acid. This is false.
  • That people can protect themselves from the virus just by improving their immune system through sunlight and taking Zinc, Vitamin D, and ivermectin. These are all unproven.

The FB live video was shared by at least 20 other pages and groups with a potential aggregate reach of over 60,000 users based on social media monitoring tool CrowdTangle. KDP’s FB page was created on Aug. 27, 2018.

Check out these resources to spot misinformation about vaccines and other COVID-19 treatments: VERA FILES YEARENDER: Five red flags to look out for in COVID-19 vaccine misinformation and When 'midinformation' strikes, experts say here's what you can do.


(Editor's Note: VERA Files has partnered with Facebook to fight the spread of disinformation. Find out more about this partnership and our methodology.)

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