Aborted foetus cells, microchips and Thalidomide: vaccine myths debunked

Aborted Foetus Cells, Microchips And Thalidomide: Vaccine Myths Debunked Aborted Foetus Cells, Microchips And Thalidomide: Vaccine Myths Debunked
A researcher works on the coronavirus vaccine at the University of Oxford. Photo: PA Media
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By Megan Baynes, PA

The UK has become the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine and, with rollout in Northern Ireland expected to start as soon as next week, attention has turned to disinformation about the process.

Within hours of the news, both “Thalidomide” and “Bill Gates” began trending on Twitter.

Both relate to widely-circulated but false claims from opponents of vaccination, which have been debunked.

The editor of independent fact-checking charity Full Fact, Tom Phillips, said much of this disinformation plays on “the more legitimate territory of concerns and questions that people may have about the speed of it and about how well they have been tested”.

“That’s a territory where having concerns is not necessarily wrong,” he said.

“It’s really on the authorities and on the vaccine manufacturers to do a good job of showing the evidence and earning the trust of the public.”


He said it is important to look for the source before sharing on any claim about the vaccine: “Is it a reliable, trustworthy, reputable source?

“Ask to see the evidence. It’s always worth spending a little bit of time before you share it on to check if it is true.”

Here we debunk some of the top myths surrounding the coronavirus vaccine.

MYTH: The speed with which the vaccine was created means it’s not clear if it’s safe

FACT: It is true that most vaccines usually take several years to be developed. However, this is usually because they are produced by companies which make an investment decision about whether to move on at each stage.

With the coronavirus vaccine, governments around the world have invested hundreds of millions of euro to try to speed up the process.

The standards for safety and effectiveness have not, however, changed due to the speed of production and testing – and it is still subject to independent regulation.

In Ireland's case, this comes from the EU drugs regulator, the European Medicines Agency, which said it could give conditional marketing approval for Pfizer's vaccine by December 29th and make a decision on the Moderna vaccine by January 12th.

In the North, the agency in charge is the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which approved the Pfizer vaccine on Wednesday.


MYTH: The Oxford vaccine contains parts of aborted foetus

FACT: A Facebook user falsely claimed the vaccine uses MRC-5 cell lines, which were “originally developed from research deriving lung tissue of a 14-week-old aborted Caucasian male foetus”.

AstraZeneca has confirmed its vaccine was not developed using MRC-5 cell lines but does use a different cell strain, taken from a female foetus aborted in the 1970s.

The cells are used to propagate the virus for the vaccine but these cells do not make it into the final jab.

MRC-5 cells are also not the same cells from an aborted foetus. They are cell lines that have been grown in a laboratory from a primary cell culture originally taken from a foetus.

MYTH: Vaccines alter your DNA


FACT: The vaccines do not alter your DNA. They comprise mRNA that gives the body instructions on how to make proteins on the surface of the virus.

MYTH: Dr Elisa Granato, one of the first participants in the vaccine trial, has died

FACT: Dr Granato was one of the first participants in human trials of the AstraZeneca and Oxford University vaccine, and has not died.

The false claims of her death prompted her to tweet that she was “very much alive” and “having a cup of tea”.

MYTH: Bill Gates is using the vaccine to secretly microchip the world

FACT: Mr Gates is regularly the subject of conspiracy theories due to his charity’s work in vaccine development.

However, there is no evidence that the Microsoft founder, or anyone else, is trying to implant microchips in anyone through vaccines. Mr Gates has also repeatedly denied these claims.

This conspiracy theory may have originated from a December study published by a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The study was funded, in part, by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.


Bill Gates does not have plans to use the vaccine to microchip the world. Photo: Malaria No More UK/PA

The team had developed an “approach to encode medical history on a patient” by including a small amount of dye with a vaccine.

However, it never experimented on humans and did not include any hardware technology, such as microchips.

MYTH: The Covid vaccine is another repetition of the Thalidomide scandal

FACT: Thalidomide is a drug that was marketed in Britain as a treatment for morning sickness in pregnant women in the late 1950s and early ’60s and later caused birth defects. This has understandably prompted distrust in guidance on public health issues.

However, Thalidomide is not comparable to a vaccine. Thalidomide went directly into the bloodstream, whereas the Covid-19 vaccine gives antibodies which help fight off the virus.

Thalidomide was not properly tested and never went through the monitoring system as the coronavirus vaccine has done.

EveryDoctor, a British campaigning organisation run by doctors, tweeted: “‘They said Thalidomide was safe’ entirely ignores the transformation in medicines safety which took place as a consequence of that tragic failure. There is little reason to suggest the Pfizer Covid vaccine approval by the MHRA is anything but robust.”

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