What Disinformation is Spread about COVID-19 Vaccines and Who Links Influenza Vaccination to Coronavirus Victims?

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On August 17, Facebook user Gabriel Marichev published a post about the coronavirus pandemic, COVID-19 testing, and vaccination. The author quotes Italian medical doctor Roberto Petrella as saying:

  • COVID-19 vaccine causes modification of human DNA
  • COVID-19 tests infect people
  • Influenza vaccine strains contain COVID-19
  • 58 out of 60 deceased Italian patients had undergone influenza vaccination
  • Data on those people who died because of lack of medical care in Italy were also included in the COVID-19 statistics.

The post has over 1,800 shares.

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The claims are false because not a single source has been provided to prove them, except for the Italian gynecologist, who himself spreads disinformation. Myth Detector offers five lies spread in the post as well as real facts.

Lie 1: COVID-19 vaccine causes modification of human DNA

The claim as if the coronavirus vaccine aims to modify human DNA and genetics represents disinformation and it has already been spread earlier. Researchers working on Oxford and AstraZeneca vaccine clarify that coronaviruses have club-shaped spikes on their outer coats, which form a corona – Latin for crown – on the virus surface. Immune responses from other coronavirus studies suggest that these spikes are a good target for a vaccine. The Oxford vaccine contains the genetic sequence of this surface spike protein. When the vaccine enters cells inside the body, it uses this genetic code to produce the surface spike protein of the coronavirus. This induces an immune response, priming the immune system to attack the coronavirus if it later infects the body. For example, the Oxford vaccine is a chimpanzee adenovirus vaccine vector that is a harmless, weakened adenovirus. Ebola, Hepatitis C, Malaria, and Tuberculosis vaccines all contain the chimpanzee adenovirus vectors.

Lie 2: COVID-19 tests infect people

PCR testing is completely safe. PCR test is usually done by taking nasal or oral smear, or in some cases – saliva sample. Taking a smear from nose or throat for testing on viruses or laboratory analysis has been going on for years and is an approved practice. As for the test itself, besides the fact that it is very accurate, it has no direct contact with a patient. A test is put in a sterile container with a smear. Some problems really emerged with Chinese PCR tests purchased by some countries, but it concerned the accuracy of these tests and no cases of people getting infected after undergoing COVID-19 testing have been reported.

Lie 3: Influenza vaccine strains contain COVID-19

Flu vaccines are derived from influenza viruses. It means that flu shots (given with a needle) are made in two ways. The first is by using flu viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ (killed) and therefore are not infectious. The second is by using a single gene from a flu virus (as opposed to the full virus) to produce an immune response without causing infection. As for COVID-19, it is caused by SARS-CoV-2 that is not an influenza virus. Coronaviruses and flu viruses belong to different families. So, influenza vaccines cannot contain either COVID-19, or other coronaviruses. Reuters also wrote about it in April.

Lie 4: 58 out of 60 deceased Italian patients had undergone influenza vaccination

Statistical data according to which most people who died in Italy had undergone influenza vaccination cannot be searched. This information aims at sowing anti-vaccination sentiments. In fact, vaccination is considered the most important public health intervention to reduce the incidence of seasonal influenza and its associated complications. The research has confirmed that the immune system becomes weaker with age that increases the risks for various diseases, such as pneumonia, herpes and so on. Vaccines are the best defenses against many serious infectious diseases. According to the information publishedby the World Health Organization in 2008, elderly individuals given influenza vaccine in the USA had approximately 20% less chance of suffering cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease and 50% lower risk of mortality from all causes compared to their unvaccinated counterparts.

It is also worth noting that according to the statistical data for 2019-2020, vaccination of the elderly over 65 has reached 54.6%, while more than 80% of all deaths were people aged 70 years and older. So, these two facts debunk the groundless claim as if 58 out of 60 deceased Italian patients had undergone influenza vaccination.

Lie 5: Data on those people who died because of lack of medical care in Italy were also included in the COVID-19 statistics

This claim is a conspiracy theory and it is not based on the facts. Only the data on those people who tested positive for COVID-19 are included in Italy’s statistics of coronavirus victims. The data on those people who had symptoms compatible with COVID-19 but had not undergone testing were not included in the statistics. Moreover, figures were frequently manipulated as if mainly those people died from COVID-19, who had other underlying medical conditions. Although the presence of chronic diseases increases the risk, it does not mean that COVID-19 is not thecause of death.

Who is doctor Petrella?

Two fact-checking platforms AFP and Fastcheck.cl write that doctor Roberto Petrella, who spreads disinformation about COVID-19, is a retired gynecologist, known for his opposition to the mandatory vaccination against the Human Papilloma Virus.

Violation: Disinformation
Country: Italy
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