Just the facts: Experts take on inaccurate claims in top doctor's Covid-19 vaccine video

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  • Two experts set the record straight on inaccurate Covid-19 vaccine claims.
  • The false claims were made in a video by a well-known heart surgeon in the country.
  • According to the experts, these claims are not only false, but potentially dangerous too.

Vaccine hesitancy is a major concern as the world continues to try and combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

Inaccurate information on Covid-19 vaccines is unfortunately easily accessible via the web and social media channels.

READ | Complaints to be laid against leading heart surgeon after 'problematic' video on Covid-19 vaccines

On Friday Health24 reported that complaints were set to be laid against a leading South African doctor after "problematic" comments she made about Covid-19 vaccines, in a recently published video.

Dr Susan Vosloo is a leading South African medical expert. She was the country's first female heart surgeon, and did her first heart transplant at just 33 years old.

Two organisations confirmed to Health24 that based on Dr Vosloo's comments, they were planning to lodge complaints with the necessary regulatory bodies.

But in the video she makes controversial claims about Covid-19 vaccines - which has been viewed more than 75 000 times on the site BitChute - which have been met with dismay.

The managing director of Netcare’s Hospital Division - Dr Vosloo's practice is at the group's Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in Cape Town - expressed "profound disappointment and disbelief" in learning about the video.

Reaction from experts

Prominent medical experts, who have been active in the fight against Covid-19, have also voiced their concerns on social media.

In response to the video, Marc Mendelson, Professor of Infectious Diseases and Head of the Division of Infectious Diseases & HIV Medicine at Groote Schuur Hospital, said: “Rarely (& I've been exposed to quite a lot) have I heard such utter rubbish from a member of the medical establishment. Frankly dangerous.”

In response to Professor Mendelson, Professor Thomas Scriba, Deputy Director of Immunology and Laboratory Director at the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative, University of Cape Town, tweeted: “Agreed, fictitious, rubbish and dangerous.”

Health24 reached out to both professors for further comment. In their reply, Professor Thomas Scriba and Professor Marc Mendelson focused on some of the false claims made in the video.

'The vaccine was not brought in for Covid, but Covid was brought in for the vaccine'

Scriba: This statement is absurd. Covid-19 cases were reported in more than a hundred countries before any of the clinical trials of Covid-19 vaccines were completed, never mind being manufactured or procured for use in South Africa.  

'The risk of the vaccine is worse than the risk of virus'

Scriba: This statement is false, dangerous and contradicted by an overwhelming body of evidence. Millions of people have died from Covid-19 disease, while many more have suffered from severe illness. We also know that the number of Covid-19 deaths we hear about every day in South Africa are substantially under-reported, likely by about 2-3 fold.

On top of that, about 10% of people who have survived Covid-19 disease have long-term health consequences (long Covid), which includes extreme tiredness (fatigue), chest pain or tightness, shortness of breath, problems with memory and concentration (so-called "brain fog"), and many more symptoms.

It is indisputable that Covid-19 vaccination protects against death, severe illness that requires hospitalisation and Covid-19 disease, while having acceptable safety and tolerability. This is clear from many publications that report results from clinical trials for the Pfizer and the J&J vaccines, including against the Delta variant, as well as analyses of effectiveness after vaccine roll-out in the South African Sisonke study

Mendelson: Your risk of illness and death from Covid-19 varies depending on your age and presence of pre-existing illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure etc. However, to date including unexpected deaths in South Africa, over 200 000 people have lost their lives. Worldwide that number is currently over 4.3 million.

Over 4 billion doses of vaccines have been administered and no long-term effects have been reported. A US study of vaccine safety in 13.7 million vaccine recipients reported 6 994 persons (0.05%) with an adverse event, 91% of which were deemed non-serious. The rate of deaths occurring among vaccinated persons is not higher than in unvaccinated people, indicating that vaccines are not the cause of reported deaths.

'The vaccine does not prevent death'

Mendelson: Results from several countries including the UK, USA, and Israel show categorically that hospital admissions, severe Covid-19 and deaths are reduced in vaccinated persons.

Furthermore, the Sisonke trial results in South Africa which involved 480 000 healthcare workers in South Africa has also shown prevention of severe disease amongst those infected including against the delta variant and as much as 96% effective at preventing death.

Indeed, this is the most important effect that the vaccine has. It could literally save your life.

The composition of the vaccine is 'largely confidential, like a trade secret'

Scriba: The compositions of the vaccines are freely available to anyone who wishes to look for them. For example, a quick internet search returns the FDA factsheets for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and the J&J vaccine, which contain the composition of each vaccine.

Mendelson: The components that constitute the vaccines are well-known. Each vaccine has its own patents, but that is the same for any medication or vaccine that has every been produced.

There is 'absolutely no safety data'

Mendelson: These vaccines have undergone rigorous clinical trials in line with those performed for any new therapeutic intervention. Hundreds of thousands of people were involved in those trials and safety data was collected on all of them. Every country collects safety data on patients vaccinated as part of longitudinal monitoring of safety.

Covid-19 vaccines can lead to other problems such as 'severe neurological complications'

Scriba: Covid-19 disease itself is associated with a significant risk of neurological manifestations and complications, reported in multiple studies in different countries (here is a selection 1, 2, 3). Since Covid-19 vaccines protect against Covid-19 disease, vaccination actually reduces the risk of “severe neurological complications”.

One neurologic disorder, Guillain-Barré syndrome, has been reported after J&J Covid-19 vaccination at rates around 7.8 cases per million vaccine doses administered. This was highest among males aged 50–64 years. Importantly, this is much lower than the rates of Guillain-Barré syndrome caused by Covid-19 disease and the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks.

For example, per million doses of J&J Covid-19 vaccine administered to 50–64 year old males, 1 800 hospitalisations, 480 ICU admissions, and 140 deaths attributable to Covid-19 could be prevented, compared with 14–17 cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Covid-19 vaccines can lead to other problems such as 'infertility'

Scriba: The benefits of receiving a Covid-19 vaccine outweigh any known or potential risks of vaccination during pregnancy. Many thousands of pregnant women have received Covid-19 vaccines and no significant safety concerns have been raised. Covid-19 vaccination is recommended for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, and those trying to get pregnant.

Pregnant and recently pregnant women are more likely to develop severe Covid-19 illness than non-pregnant women and vaccination offers protection against severe illness. These issues are discussed in more detail in articles by GAVI, (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation), an article in the Journal Nature and recent recommendations by the CDC and the UK government, to name a few.

'Animal studies have all been unsuccessful although early on low death rates, but as soon as animals were exposed to natural virus, I think all of them died'

Mendelson: Covid-19 vaccines undergo animal testing including Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines used in South Africa. As has been seen in humans, animals exposed to natural infection after having been vaccinated did not die at a different rate to unvaccinated animals. Hence the trials proceeded into humans.

'There is no interest whatsoever in treating patients or relieving suffering and death; The vaccine was shown as the only potential saviour'

Mendelson: This is false and deeply disrespectful to South African Health Professionals. As just one of thousands of healthcare workers who care for patients with Covid-19 daily in our health system, I can assure you that this is a complete fabrication and bewildering coming from a practitioner that works in a hospital which houses Covid-19 patients. The vaccine is considered the foremost preventative intervention against Covid-19, not a treatment.

The antiviral drug, remdesivir, was 'the only treatment to be advised for people in hospital'

Mendelson: Oxygen is the mainstay of treatment, and the UK’s RECOVERY trial and seven others clearly showed that treatment with the steroid dexamethasone reduces death in patients admitted to hospital requiring oxygen, which is now standard of care and part of the South African treatment guidelines.

Remdesivir is not used in the public health system for treating Covid-19, as it has been shown by large platform randomised controlled trials to have no impact on mortality.

'Influenza kills 0.1-0.3% of the South African population'

Mendelson: Death rate from influenza (flu) in South Africa ranges between 6 000 – 12 000 per year, not the ~58 000 – 174 000 people per year that Dr Vosloo is suggesting if 0.1-0.3% of the population were killed. Mortality from Covid-19 (if one takes unexpected deaths into account) currently sits above 200 000 persons (and counting) over the last 18 months. Covid-19 and influenza are not equitable in their mortality rates. In its current form, SARS-CoV-2 is far more lethal.

The Covid-19 vaccines are 'gene therapy disguised as vaccinations'

Mendelson: This relates to the exhausted trope that messenger RNA (mRNA)-based vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) incorporate mRNA into your own genetic material and somehow influence the cells of your body. As soon as the mRNA enters the cell, it is transformed into protein (SARS-CoV-2 spike protein) which instructs your immune system so that it can react quickly to control infection in the future. Integration of mRNA into your genes is not physically possible.

'Start seeing complications six months after rollout'

Mendelson: The overwhelming majority of vaccine adverse effects are seen in the first days after vaccination.

Mendelson added: "The views expressed by Dr Susan Vosloo on her BitChute presentation are misleading, inaccurate, and fuelled by myth and misinformation. Such misleading information is potentially extremely damaging and the fact that a healthcare professional in South Africa is expounding these views is deeply depressing, problematic, insulting to the South African health workforce, and potentially dangerous to those who may be encouraged by such misinformation to avoid vaccination.

"Covid-19 vaccines are safe and effective. All eligible persons living in South Africa should be vaccinated as soon as possible," he said.

*For more Covid-19 research, science and news, click here. You can also sign up for our Daily Dose newsletter here.

READ | Covid-19 vaccine myths debunked: Get the facts here

READ | Covid crash course: Walkthrough of everything you need to know about viruses, variants and vaccines

READ | 'Covid was an awful experience': Once vaccine hesitant, one woman now eagerly awaits her second jab

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