“The vaccinated are a danger to the unvaccinated because of shedding!”: The latest COVID-19 antivaccine disinformation
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There’s a new antivaccine trope going around. It’s one I wrote about before over at my not-so-secret other blog a couple of weeks ago, but it’s not going away. If anything, since I wrote about it the first time, it’s been spreading and mutating, producing variants not unlike the manner in which SARS-CoV-2 is mutating into new variants the more it spreads among its human hosts. So I thought I had better deal with this new antivaccine myth here on SBM, as it’s a perfect illustration of how antivaxxers have been revising and repurposing old antivaccine tropes to apply to COVID-19 vaccines, while producing—if you’ll excuse the term, as I can’t resist—variants of antivaccine tropes previously repurposed for COVID-19 vaccines. If you’ve read the previous post, there will obviously be a lot of overlap, but I hope to treat this new and mutating antivaccine trope from a broader perspective in this post; plus, I’ve updated it considerably.

The introduction out of the way, let me just ask: Have you heard about how “shedding” of spike protein from the mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines, such as the vaccines produced by Moderna or Pfizer/BioNTech, are making the unvaccinated sick and interfering with women’s menstrual cycles (or even causing miscarriages)? It’s producing some really bizarre social media posts:

Apparently, even health care professionals, who really, really should know better, have fallen for this trope:

Worse, this trope has led at least one private school to place restrictions on teachers who are vaccinated before the end of the school year, as The New York Times reported last week, and even to threaten teachers who receive the vaccine over the summer:

“Even among our own population, we have at least three women with menstrual cycles impacted after having spent time with a vaccinated person,” she wrote, repeating a false claim that vaccinated people can somehow pass the vaccine to others and thereby affect their reproductive systems. (They can do neither.)
In the letter, Ms. Centner gave employees three options:

  • Inform the school if they had already been vaccinated, so they could be kept physically distanced from students;
  • Let the school know if they get the vaccine before the end of the school year, “as we cannot allow recently vaccinated people to be near our students until more information is known”;
  • Wait until the school year is over to get vaccinated.

Teachers who get the vaccine over the summer will not be allowed to return, the letter said, until clinical trials on the vaccine are completed, and then only “if a position is still available at that time” — effectively making teachers’ employment contingent on avoiding the vaccine.

If you want to see how much harm this myth of COVID-19 vaccines “shedding” and making people ill is causing, it’s hard to imagine a worse scenario than that of the Centner Academy, where teachers are basically being threatened with losing their job if they get vaccinated against COVID-19.

I could go on and on and on with the Tweets and social media posts by people who think that COVID-19 vaccines cause “shedding” of spike protein that makes others sick, but I’ll stop here, other than to note that prominent spreaders of this antivaccine myth of “shedding” include Naomi Wolf, who has gone full COVID-19 denier/minimizer and antivaccine:

And an antivaccine pediatrician whom we’ve met before on this blog, Dr. Lawrence Palevsky, who lent his cachet as a pediatrician to the claim that people vaccinated against COVID-19 “shed” spike protein and make others ill. The antivaccine blog Age of Autism provided a link to his video and a transcript of the video.

What I’ll do in this post is to outline the claims about shedding, follow up with a bit of historical perspective on the claim (which is not new), and then explain why the claim is nonsense, with no evidence to support it. Finally, I’ll try to put the claim in a broader perspective of types of antivaccine messaging.

Three videos on shedding

To give you an idea of the nature of these claims, I will start by presenting three videos. The first two videos are “testimonials” warning people to “stay away” from people who have recently received a COVID-19 vaccine. The first of these is a woman claiming that reproductive-age women should stay away from people who have been recently vaccinated against COVID-19 because they are having “severe” menstrual side effects because…magical contagion? It’s not clear, but here she is:

In brief, this woman claims that women who are around other women who have had the COVID-19 vaccine are missing periods or having the “most excruciating periods of their lives” to the point where they are “bleeding so profusely that it is out of character”. How? Some sort of “shedding” of…something. She even claims that postmenopausal women have been “getting their periods back”, which, if true, would be alarming because postmenopausal bleeding can be a symptom of uterine cancer and is something gynecologists take very seriously indeed.

Unsurprisingly, the woman is a “wholistic reproductive doula”, and, amusingly, she says that this is not about conspiracy theories (even though she claims that “they” are trying to “sterilize us”) and that she is “standing up” for women. Also, “they” are coming for women’s health. But not just women, men, too, as she also claims that the COVID-19 is “dropping men’s sperm counts”. She’s also oh-so-empathetic to the point that she says that if you’ve had the vaccine you shouldn’t feel “shame or sadness”, even though she understands how “natural” that would be. How nice.

Next up is a woman named Nic Stinson, who runs that Truth UnMasked website:

Stinson claims that women and men who have come into close proximity to people who have had vaccines are complaining of problems. She blames it on “shedding,” not of weakened virus, as is the case with some attenuated live virus vaccines—more on that later—but of “shedding” of the spike protein due to “mRNA gene therapy” that is “altering the makeup of the human body.” (Yes, she’s using all the antivaccine tropes about the COVID-19 vaccine, including the distortion of fact that it’s “experimental gene therapy” that “permanently alters your DNA.” I guess she’s afraid of her precious bodily fluids being sapped and impurified.) In any event, she claims that the vaccinated are “shedding” spike protein from their breath, and that that’s making others who come into contact with them sick, causing reproductive problems, mass sterilization, and more. She also claims that exposure to vaccinated adults have resulted in ten year olds starting their periods or 11-year-olds having two periods in a month, as if that were horrifically abnormal. (My wife is a pediatric nurse practitioner. She tells me that it is not at all abnormal to start periods at age 10, and it’s quite common for a girl’s periods to be irregular right after menarche.) Stinson also reiterates the other claims of postmenopausal women starting their periods again and reproductive age women missing periods or having horrible periods, adding to that the claim that men whose wives have had the vaccine sometimes wake up covered in bruises.

I had never heard of Nic Stinson before, but a quick Google search quickly led me to her Twitter account and Instagram page, which reveals her to be antivax and antimask to the extreme, as well as, or so she claims, a nurse. Here are just a couple of examples:

Oh, goody. She’s repeating the claim that vaccines are “transhumanism“, and she’s not just antivaccine, but offensively and disgustingly ableist, to boot, not to mention homophobic and vindictive! She also seems to think that people who wear masks are pedophiles, too:

How do people like Nic Stinson become nurses? Nic Stinson appears to be Nicolle Wagner-Stinson, former Director of Nursing at a nursing home in Ilion, NY, who plead guilty to “covering up sexual abuse and neglect” there, in 2015.

And what is “vaccine shedding”, anyway?

First, let’s look at the claim, as described by Dr. Palevsky in his viral video. I choose this video as the version of the “shedding” claim to examine, because it contains all the common elements of this particular piece of disinformation that I’ve seen floating around social media and Dr. Palevsky seems to be one of the main originators of the claim.

Dr. Palevsky explains shedding…badly

Let’s move on to Dr. Palevesky’s video. As antivax pediatricians always do, Dr. Palevsky believes that, whatever the problem, real or imagined or made up, it really, really, really must be the vaccine. He even proposes a nonsensical mechanism, “shedding”:

I can’t help but “thank” the Laura Hayes at AoA for helpfully providing me a transcript, so that I don’t have to transcribe relevant passages myself—or even watch the entire video (and so that you, if you don’t want to, don’t have to actually watch the thing).

Let’s dig in:

When studies are done on injections that are thought to be vaccines, we sometimes need 7, 10, or even 15 years, to understand what the injection does to the body, and what it does to those around us.

How did Dr. Palevsky ever manage to graduate from medical school and get through a pediatrics residency? Seriously. How? No, we do not need that long to determine how vaccines affect us. In general, adverse events from vaccines generally occur fairly quickly, and, no, vaccines do not cause autism, autoimmune disease, diabetes, or all the other chronic illnesses that antivaxxers attribute to vaccines. Whenever you hear an antivaxxer opining about how we don’t know about “long term” effects of vaccines, this is what is meant, that we “don’t know” if the vaccine(s) can cause autism and other chronic conditions. We do, actually, to a very high degree of confidence. Vaccines don’t cause any of those things.

Next up, Dr. Palevsky further demonstrates his lack of understanding of biology, infectious disease, and immunology. Either that, or he has such contempt for his audience that he is knowingly misrepresenting the situation. Take your pick:

The other thing is that we are made to believe in the public eye that this is a vaccine against a viral infection. So, the entire world is thinking that this is a vaccine to protect us against SARS-COV2 infection. And when you have a vaccine that is supposed to be effective as a vaccine, you are supposed to have antibody immunity against the SARS-COV2 virus. And that has never been evaluated with these injections as to whether or not we have antibody immunity to a SARS-COV2 virus. Instead, what we have is the genetic information of what is believed to be a piece of the SARS-COV2 virus, and that piece is called the spike protein. And the technology that is being used is a technology to make this injection that has never been used in vaccine science or methodology before with any kind of success.

So, we are essentially taking the genetic instructions that make a synthetic spike protein, believed to be a part of the SARS-COV2 virus, and we are giving those sets of instructions into the body and asking the human body to take the genetic instructions of that spike protein and make more of it in our own machinery. And so this messenger RNA technology, which is what it is called, is delivering the genetic instructions for us to make the spike protein. And the problem is that no study has ever been done to test its safety. But, also, no study has been done to test whether we turn on the production of that spike protein, and ever turn it off.

Again, even though the mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines were made in record time, the groundwork for their development was two decades in the making, as scientists have been developing this technology for SARS, MERS, and other coronaviruses, as well as for other viral diseases. Contrary to what antivaxxers like to claim or imply, mRNA vaccine technology did not just magically appear last spring as the pandemic took off. Indeed, it’s been said that, had COVID-19 hit us five years ago, the technology would not have been ready yet, and we wouldn’t have had a vaccine so quickly. As for the claim that “no study” has been done to test the safety of such vaccines, that’s just nonsense. No, it’s a lie. For the mRNA vaccines, there were phase 3 studies involving a total of over 70,000 subjects, and now that over 240 million doses of these vaccines have been administered in the US alone, the post-vaccination safety monitoring has been intense and found no serious safety signals for mRNA vaccines. Even in the case of the J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines, which do use the spike protein as the antigen but use replication-deficient adenovirus vectors to induce recipient cells to make spike protein, the monitoring system has found rare, literally one-in-a-million adverse events in basically real time, as discussed by Steve Novella and a certain friend of the blog.

Even more ignorant, though, Dr. Palevsky doesn’t seem to know that if you produce an effective immune response to a key protein of a virus (or even just a key portion of a key protein), as long as the protein or fragment of a protein used as an antigen was well-chosen, the immune response provoked by that antigen can attack the virus and prevent infection. That’s the whole idea of not using killed whole cell vaccines (in the case of bacterial diseases) or inactivated virus vaccines (in the case of viral diseases). That’s the whole attraction of using recombinant protein as a vaccine antigen. It’s much “cleaner” and easier to scale up.

Dr. Palevsky then disingenuously implies that, because spike protein has been associated with various toxicities from COVID-19, then it must be toxic if it is “shedding”:

And so spike protein in the naturally occurring SARS-COV2 viral infection has been shown to cause brain inflammation and neurological damage, heart attacks, lung disease, liver disease, kidney disease, and interacting with the male and female reproductive systems, along with affecting blood binding to oxygen and blood clotting. And so we know that the natural disease of SARS-COV2, because of the effects of the spike protein, is making people sick with all of these kinds of systemic illnesses. And so now we are taking that spike protein genetic instructions and we are asking our bodies to make more of that spike protein. And so by making more of that spike protein, we are essentially creating the symptoms and the illness of Covid 19, by giving people the potential to have brain damage and neurological damage, lung disease, liver disease, kidney disease, heart attacks, strokes, blood clotting issues, and impairments to male and female reproductive systems. And there is no study to show whether when the body starts manufacturing this synthetic spike protein, whether or not we ever turn off the production of that spike protein. And so that spike protein is known to be pretty damaging to the human tissue.

Yes, spike protein causes problems when it is being made in large quantities as part of a coronavirus infection. Vaccine safety monitoring of hundreds of millions of people after having received hundreds of millions of doses of these vaccines have failed to find any safety signal suggestive of any of the claims made by Palevsky. In addition, it’s just plain wrong to say that we don’t know how long the body keeps making spike protein after vaccination. The vaccines were designed such that the modified mRNA from the vaccine lasts longer than “natural” mRNA, but not indefinitely. Like all mRNAs, the mRNA for the spike protein used in COVID-19 vaccines degrades fairly quickly and goes away. As this article explains:

RNA is required for protein synthesis, does not integrate into the genome, is transiently expressed, is metabolized and eliminated by the natural mechanisms of the body and is therefore considered safe4,5,6,7. RNA-based prophylactic infectious-disease vaccines and RNA therapeutic agents have been shown to be safe and well-tolerated in clinical trials.

I’ve pointed out before that the vaccines do not induce your cells to produce spike protein for more than 10-14 days. Seriously, does Dr. Palevsky think that figuring out how long the mRNA persists and how long it can induce the production of spike protein wouldn’t have been among the first priorities in the preclinical development of an mRNA-based vaccine to COVID-19? Think of it this way: Why do the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines require a second dose at three and four weeks, respectively? If the mRNA from the vaccine keeps making spike protein indefinitely (or even forever), as antivaxxer “just asking questions” imply, then why would a second dose be required so soon after the first dose?

But, of course, Dr. Palevsky continues to “just ask questions”:

So we know that spike protein has been found in saliva, we know that it has been found in the anus, and so, we have to ask the question, is it found in the exhalation molecules that come out of our breath? Is it found in the skin when we sweat and we smell, do the spike proteins come out, and if so, does that impact other people with whom we come in contact?

Note how he cites no evidence that spike protein is being exhaled. Even though spike protein has been found in saliva and in the anus, this was in patients with COVID-19, not in vaccinated patients. But Dr. Palevsky is “just asking questions”! See:

And so what we have been seeing is a massive increase in those who have been given the injection of blood clotting problems, miscarriages, stillborns, infertility, strokes, heart attacks, autoimmune diseases, and death, just to name a few. And that’s in those who have been injected. So, certainly, there should be a suspicion when you see people around the injected people, who have not been injected, getting the typical symptoms of Covid, in addition to miscarriages, bleeding, irregular menstrual cycles, it should raise a very, very strong suspicion. So, certainly, there should be a suspicion when you see people around the injected people, who have not been injected, getting the typical symptoms of Covid, in addition to miscarriages, bleeding, irregular menstrual cycles, it should raise a very, very strong suspicion.

No. It should not. It might if this were an attenuated live virus vaccine, but it’s not. It’s a vaccine that just makes one protein from the virus, the spike protein, to which Dr. Palevsky seems to attribute magical properties, even as he invokes very bad molecular biology:

And the thing is that we are finding that the genetic instructions of the spike protein are not specific just to the SARS-COV2 virus. The genetic instructions of the spike protein are also similar to, or the same, as many proteins that exist in the body itself. And so, therefore, if we are going to produce an antibody against the genetic instructions of the spike protein, those antibodies are going to find every bit of protein tissue around the body that matches the genetic instructions of the spike protein. And that antibody to the spike protein genetic instructions is going to produce an attack on any of the proteins and tissues in the body that are similar or the same to the genetic instructions of the spike protein. So that is why you will see autoimmune diseases.

Somebody get Dr. Palevsky a college-level introductory molecular biology textbook! Why? He seems not to know the difference between “genetic instructions”, mRNA, and proteins. He seems to think that an immune response to an mRNA strand coding for a protein will attack the protein itself and any protein that looks like it, thus producing autoimmune disease. Truly, Dr. Palevsky needs a remedial course in basic biology and molecular biology. (Either that, or, again, he’s lying. Take your pick.)

He even invokes old antivaccine tropes about COVID-19 vaccines that I discussed long ago, such as the claim that COVID-19 vaccines cause miscarriages because of the similarity between parts of the spike protein and an important protein in the placenta called syncytin. (They do not, as the areas of similarity are far too short to result in an immune response against syncytin.) He even refers to an “article from the European literature” that says that the vaccines will “cause the body to make an antibody against the genetic instructions of the spike protein, we will also cause the body to make an antibody against the male and female reproductive systems because those proteins in the male and female reproductive systems had similar instructions to the spike protein”. Is he referring to Michael Yeadon, who apparently once worked for Pfizer but has become a COVID-19 crank? I suspect he is.

In any event, this whole claim that somehow those vaccinated against COVID-19 “shed” spike protein, which then screws up the menstrual cycles of women (or even causes miscarriages in pregnant women) who come into contact with the vaccinated is a clever “two-fer”, repackaging a combination of the myth of “shedding” with the hoary old trope among antivaxxers that vaccines cause female infertility, a trope that had been repackaged earlier, before someone thought of “shedding.”

But don’t listen to those scientists who dismissed these claims based on, essentially, everything we know about molecular biology and immunology telling us they are incredibly improbable. Listen to Dr. Palevsky dismiss these scientists instead:

And so the experts around the world did the following…when they heard this scientific concern, the experts around the world said, oh, but the amount of genetic instructions of the proteins in the male and female reproductive systems are so small in similarity to the genetic instructions of the spike protein, that it really shouldn’t make a difference. And, ladies and gentlemen, that is how we got the science that said there should be no concerns about infertility or miscarriages in men and women, respectively. There were no studies, just an opinion, that said the genetic instructions of the proteins on the male and female reproductive systems were such small similarities to the spike protein, that it shouldn’t matter. And, therefore, it didn’t matter. And so what we are seeing in women who get the injection, is a very large, hundreds of percent increase, in miscarriages and stillborns of their babies, all being reported to VAERS.

Yes, friends. Dr. Palevsky is speaking The Truth that “they” don’t want you to know about and dismiss without studying, pointing to anecdotal reports rather than rigorous epidemiological studies. He’s even going beyond that:

And now what we are seeing is women who are around others who have been injected are having the same experience, which has to raise the suspicion that not only does that messenger RNA make the body produce spike protein on an ongoing basis, but that spike protein is probably shedding out of the breath, the saliva, the skin, and who knows where else in the body it is being shed from.

As a thought experiment, let’s just assume for the moment that there is something to Dr. Palevsky’s speculations other than the ravings of a man who clearly needs to have his medical license taken away and be sent back to remedial basic biology, biochemistry, and molecular biology. Is he saying that spike protein is absorbed through the skin? That’s incredibly unlikely, given the keratinized epithelium that is pretty effective at keeping foreign proteins out, except when broken. Is he saying we’re breathing in spike protein? I suppose it’s possible, but a vaccinated person is not going to make anywhere near the amount of spike protein as someone with an active infection, much less exhale it in quantities that someone is likely to inhale in amounts sufficient to cause toxicity. The reason SARS-CoV-2 is infectious is because droplets containing the virus suspended in the air get inhaled and manage to take up shop in the respiratory tree, replicating and making a lot more virus. A protein alone can’t do that. More importantly, it’s not just the spike protein that makes you sick. In fact, the contribution of the spike protein, which is the protein that latches the virus onto cells so that it can infect them, is probably, in and of itself, a relatively small contributor to severe illness in COVID-19. Rather, it’s the virus, its replication in cells leading to massive cell death, and the immune response provoked by the virus in the context of infection that lead to the severe illness we see.

But Dr. Palevsky is “just asking (more) questions”:

Just the last point before you ask me the next question. That is only based on what we think we know is in these injections. But Dr. Tenpenny and I have discussed this on numerous occasions, that there is potential for other mRNA proteins being injected into the body that would cause the body to make all sorts of proteins that we may not be aware of.

“Other mRNA proteins”? Again, Dr. Palevsky, get thee hence to a molecular biology textbook! You’re conflating mRNA and protein. mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines can only induce the cells they come in contact with to make the protein for which the mRNA in the lipid nanoparticles codes. That’s it. This is nothing but a fallacious appeal to what is represented as “unknown” but really isn’t unknown at all! Again, either Dr. Palevsky needs a remedial course in molecular biology or he is lying. Take your pick.

To wrap up this section, I’ll note that I concentrated on the biology, but Dr. Vincent Iannelli has noted that there have been no safety signals to suggest that these vaccines affect menstruation or fertility. He also notes:

Consider Palevsky’s evidence example anecdote of the healthy people who he believes get sick from shedding. Isn’t it more likely that these folks, who you have to assume aren’t vaccinated, are just getting COVID-19?

After all, it isn’t the spike protein in COVID-19 that makes you sick. The spike protein simply helps the virus get into our cells. Once inside, the virus is translated into 29 different proteins, which are assembled into new viruses, and then infect more cells.

But when you get vaccinated, you just have the spike protein. There is no SARS-CoV-2 virus to take over cells, so even if this shedding somehow did happen, it wouldn’t cause any of the signs or symptoms of COVID-19 that Palevsky imagines.

Of course, the antivaccine claim of “shedding” from vaccines is nothing new. Antivaxxers have long claimed that outbreaks of measles are really caused by virus “shed” from the vaccinated. Steve Novella has addressed this claim before. I think it’s worth discussing shedding again, in order to contrast reality with antivaccine claims.

How shedding after a vaccine really works

Regular readers will know that a favorite antivaccine trope is to claim that live attenuated virus vaccines (vaccines using a weakened version of the virus that can’t cause disease) “shed” the virus and that that this attenuated virus is dangerous to those around them. This is a trope that existed long before the COVID-19 pandemic, and is being repurposed by antivaxxers now. Steve Novella has discussed viral shedding in the vaccinated as antivaxxers use it to spread fear of vaccines, but I’m going to go through it as well.

Basically, it’s the antivax answer to the observation that they are potential sources of infection and outbreaks. It’s projection in which they try to convince you that it is the recently vaccinated, not the unvaccinated, who are a danger to the unvaccinated and vaccinated alike. It’s long been very clear to me that the claim that children shed virus and are thus potential vectors for infection is important to antivaxxers because it allows them to portray others as equally, if not more so, the cause of outbreaks than their children, but is there anything to it? Regular readers can probably guess the answer to that question. The answer, of course, is that there’s far less to the issue of virus shedding than meets the eye. As I mentioned above, virus shedding can only occur with live virus vaccines, such as the rotovirus vaccine, oral polio virus vaccines (which are not really used in the US anymore because of a one in 2.7 million risk of paralysis from the vaccine strain of the virus), or intranasal flu vaccines.

There’s a difference between shedding and causing disease, however. For one thing, the strains of virus used in live attenuated virus vaccines are just that—attenuated. They’ve been weakened so that they don’t cause actual disease. Otherwise, using a live virus vaccine would be the same as giving the disease to the person vaccinated, which would rather sabotage the whole purpose of vaccination in the first place. The question, then, is whether secondary transmission (transmission of the vaccine strain virus to others who haven’t received it) is a major concern. The answer to that question is no, as these articles entitled “Secondary Transmission: The short and sweet about live virus vaccine shedding” and “Live Vaccines and Vaccine Shedding“, show.

We learn from the former article that these are the commonly given live virus vaccines:

  • MMR – the combination measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine
  • Vavivax – the varicella or chicken pox vaccine
  • rotavirus vaccines – including two oral vaccines, RotaTeq and Rotarix
  • Flumist – the nasal spray flu vaccine
  • oral polio vaccine – the original oral polio vaccine (sometimes called the Sabin vaccine). Again, this has been replaced in the United States by the inactivated polio vaccine (Salk vaccine)

We also know that:

  • the MMR vaccine doesn’t cause shedding, except that the rubella part of the vaccine may rarely shed into breastmilk (since rubella is typically a mild infection in children, this isn’t a reason to not be vaccinated if you are breastfeeding though). What about the rare case of a person developing measles after getting the MMR vaccine? In addition to being extremely rare, it would also be extremely rare for a person to transmit the vaccine virus to another person after developing measles in this way.
  • the chicken pox vaccine doesn’t cause shedding unless your child very rarely develops a vesicular rash after getting vaccinated. However, the risk is thought to be minimal and the CDC reports only 5 cases of transmission of varicella vaccine virus after immunization among over 55 million doses of vaccine.
  • the rotavirus vaccine only causes shedding in stool, so can be avoided with routine hygiene techniques, such as good hand washing, and if immunocompromised people avoid diaper changes, etc., for at least a week after a child gets a rotavirus vaccine
  • transmission of the live, nasal spray flu vaccine has not been found in several settings, including people with HIV infection, children getting chemotherapy, and immunocompromised people in health-care settings

In other words, the claim that virus shedding is a serious problem is yet another bit of antivaccine nonsense. It’s true that some pediatric cancer centers in the past used to caution the parents of immunosuppressed patients to keep their children separated from recently vaccinated children, but that was more out of an abundance of caution than anything else. Indeed, guidelines from the Immune Deficiency Foundation state:

Close contacts of patients with compromised immunity should not receive live oral poliovirus vaccine because they might shed the virus and infect a patient with compromised immunity. Close contacts can receive other standard vaccines because viral shedding is unlikely and these pose little risk of infection to a subject with compromised immunity.

Antivaxxers actually do (mostly) realize that none of the current COVID-19 vaccines use attenuated live SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, but they’re nothing if not clever. So, instead of “viral shedding,” as Dr. Palevsky does, they point to “shedding” of the spike protein as the “cause” of the vaccinated being somehow dangerous to the unvaccinated. Whereas there was a real, albeit oft exaggerated, concern about shedding from live attenuated virus vaccines, concern about those vaccinated against COVID-19 “shedding” spike protein and causing problems in others is ridiculous in the extreme, from a scientific standpoint, as I discussed. It is, however, yet another example of how everything old is new again and there are no antivax tropes about COVID-19 vaccines that were not antivaccine tropes about other vaccines before the pandemic.

Antivaxxers invent a response to criticism

The trope about shedding has now been officially around long enough that antivaxxers have come up with a response to the criticisms I’ve just made. As is often the case, it involves misinterpretation and cherry picking. Here’s what I mean, taken from Twitter:

Yes, antivaxxers are pointing to the clinical trial protocol for the Pfizer vaccine, specifically this passage:

8.3.5. Exposure During Pregnancy or Breastfeeding, and Occupational Exposure

Exposure to the study intervention under study during pregnancy or breastfeeding and occupational exposure are reportable to Pfizer Safety within 24 hours of investigator awareness.

8.3.5.1. Exposure During Pregnancy
An EDP occurs if:

  • A female participant is found to be pregnant while receiving or after discontinuing study intervention.
  • A male participant who is receiving or has discontinued study intervention exposes a female partner prior to or around the time of conception.
  • A female is found to be pregnant while being exposed or having been exposed to study intervention due to environmental exposure. Below are examples of environmental exposure during pregnancy:
    • A female family member or healthcare provider reports that she is pregnant after having been exposed to the study intervention by inhalation or skin contact.
    • A male family member or healthcare provider who has been exposed to the study intervention by inhalation or skin contact then exposes his female partner prior to or around the time of conception.

Interestingly, I have yet to see any sort of reference to similar passages in the clinical trial protocol for the Moderna, J&J, or other COVID-19 vaccines, which is telling, particularly given how similar the Moderna vaccine is to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Those who read clinical trial protocols all the time will recognize this as fairly standard verbiage found in many clinical trials of investigational agents. It must also be understood that the “study intervention” means the vaccine:

This is the sort of data collected out of the proverbial “abundance of caution” and is not the “slam dunk” evidence that Pfizer “knew” that its vaccine could “shed” spike protein that antivaxxers think that it is. In fact, it’s not evidence at all that Pfizer “knew” about “shedding” of the spike protein! Indeed, antivaxxers pointing to this passage in the clinical trial protocol as evidence that “Pfizer knew” that spike protein shedding is a problem with its vaccine is evidence only of the extreme ignorance of antivaxxers to basics of clinical trial protocols.

Projection, thy name is antivaxxer!

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that antivaxxers very much resent it when it is pointed out that they are nearly always the source of outbreaks. They interpret these observations as accusing them of being “dirty”—or, to borrow a religious term, given how much antivaxxers’ views tend to resemble religion—that they are “unclean.” Moreover, given how steeped in alternative medicine much of the antivaccine world is, along with the germ theory denial that permeates antivaccine beliefs, it’s not surprising that they believe, in essence, in miasmas or some sort of magical field radiated by the vaccinated that sickens the unvaccinated:

In the age of the pandemic, they resent it even more when it is pointed out to them that they are an impediment to vaccinating enough people to achieve herd immunity and get the pandemic under control. Before the pandemic, the claim that “shedding” from live attenuated virus vaccines was the real cause of outbreaks was a way to project criticism back onto vaccine advocates. Then, the shedding trope had the advantage of having a germ of truth to it, at least with respect to the polio vaccine, even though now recommendations do not preclude giving MMR, for example, to the family members of immunosuppressed people. In the age of the pandemic, the whole “shedding spike protein” meme is an attempt, either conscious or unconscious, to “turn the tables” on vaccine advocates and scientists and portray the vaccinated as the source of contagion, as Dr. Iannelli notes, citing an antivaxxer named Maureen McDonnell::

It’s almost like we need to turn the tables on vaccine recipients. I mean, people who aren’t getting vaccinated are typically considered, you know, the outsiders… we’re in the wrong for resisting vaccines, but in actuality, it could be that the vaccine recipients are the ones creating the problem.

I reiterate that it’s not “almost” like “turning the tables”. It is a conscious strategy to “turn the tables” and portray the vaccinated, not the unvaccinated, as being the danger. Don’t think that antivaxxers don’t know this and respond to it, for example:

I’ll conclude by repeating once again that, when it comes to antivaccine disinformation, there is nothing new under the sun. The talking point about COVID-19 vaccine recipients supposedly “shedding” spike protein and making people sick with it, not to mention messing with women’s fertility and menses, is nothing more than a resurrection of two very old antivaccine talking points that cleverly combines the antivaccine myth of vaccine “shedding” causing outbreaks with the other hoary antivaccine myth that vaccines sterilize women. It’s a talking point that relies on such tenuous basic science that I hereby sentence any physician or scientist who repeats the claimed scientific rationale for this lie to an immediate course in remedial biology and molecular biology. Finally, there is no clinical or epidemiological evidence to suggest that shedding of spike protein even happens at a high level, much less that it can sicken the unvaccinated, mess up women’s menses, cause miscarriages, and render men and women infertile. This is all disinformation designed to “turn the tables” and portray the vaccinated as the “contaminated” or the vector of illness, nothing more. Unfortunately, similar to the way that SARS-CoV-2 itself keeps producing more harmful variants the longer it circulates widely among the human population, this particular antivaccine meme is producing more harmful variants the longer it circulates.

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