The Natural Medicine Industry Has an Anti-Vaccine Problem

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When I blogged about why I was getting vaccinated, I frankly had no sense of how big the anti-vaxxer community had become. Since then I’ve been privy to all sorts of crazy theories of what the vaccine will do and have been pointed to some of the articles on natural health websites that support those positions. Today I’ll dig into a Dr. Mercola blog which is filled with demonstrably false information.

Dr. Mercola

First, I’ve always liked Dr. Mercola’s stuff. I have no love for much of traditional medicine from NSAIDs that have cardiac side effects to surgeries that routinely cripple my patients. I’ve always considered Mercola a bit of a kindred spirit in that he often rages against the same things I find crazy about my own profession. However, recently I was sent an article about the COVID-19 vaccines that was so bad and easily disprovable that I couldn’t resist dismantling it here. Let’s dig in.

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A Link and a Head Scratcher

A reader posted a link to this January 12th article by Dr. Mercola: “How COVID-19 Is Changing the Future of Vaccines”. I won’t link to it here because it’s so full of dangerous misinformation that I frankly don’t want to give it any Google street cred. So if you’re interested in reading it, just Google it. Here are some picadillo’s from this piece:

  • This vaccine only reduces symptoms
  • This vaccine could have a concerning impact on fertility by causing a woman’s body to reject one of the proteins in the developing fetus
  • Because of an ingredient, this vaccine may trigger a fatal allergic reaction in many who receive it

Let’s take each of these and investigate.

Reducing Symptoms

This is a big one for many natural health websites. The claim is that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines were only ever studied to reduce symptoms. Mercola’s article above links to another that says:

  • While vaccine makers insist any COVID-19 vaccine reaching the market will have undergone rigorous testing, the way trial protocols are designed suggests these vaccines will not have a significant impact on infection rates, hospitalizations or deaths
  • Shockingly, preventing infection with SARS-CoV-2 is not a criterion for success in these vaccine trials. The only criterion for a successful COVID-19 vaccine is a reduction of symptoms shared by both COVID-19 and the common cold

This is total hogwash. While I covered this in my last vaccine blog, I need to cover it again. The two available vaccines had trials that enrolled more than 70,000 patients. The purpose of the trials was to see if the vaccine reduced the number of people who got both mild and severe COVID-19 (the disease) compared to a placebo injection. To ensure that they had a valid way of determining who got the disease caused by the virus, both studies used rigorous criteria for diagnosing who got the disease. Those diagnoses were made blindly, meaning the doctors making them had no idea who had received the vaccine and who had not. They included multiple positive PCR tests and that the patients had symptoms consistent with COVID-19. While there are problems with relying only on a PCR test to make a diagnosis (1), a PCR test plus having the clinical symptoms consistent with COVID is a more accurate way to diagnose the disease.

Let’s take the Moderna vaccine. Mercola claims that the trial couldn’t determine if there was a reduction in hospitalizations. However, table 2 of the FDA approval document on page 12 clearly shows us this (2):

  • Cases of severe COVID-19: Vaccine group=0 and placebo group=30

On page 39 of the document, they define what’s meant by severe COVID-19 which is the above diagnosis of COVID plus one of the following: unstable vitals signs including low oxygen saturation, acute respiratory distress, organ dysfunction, or ICU admission. Meaning, these people didn’t just have the symptoms of COVID as claimed, they were also sick enough to be hospitalized.

Hence, in conclusion, this Mercola article is NOT accurate. The Moderna vaccine trial demonstrated a reduction in the number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 compared to placebo.

Fertility

Here Mercola claims that the vaccines are targeted against the spike protein of the virus. This is true. The spike protein is how this virus attaches to human cells. It’s also been conserved so far despite mutations, so targeting this with antibodies makes sense.

All proteins are made from amino acids. These building blocks have certain sequences. Mercola claims that the amino acid sequence of a protein used in building babies called syncytin is the same as the spike protein. Hence, if the vaccine causes women to create antibodies to this protein, then these women’s bodies will attack their babies. This would sound horrible if it weren’t just a wild guess.

A small part of the spike protein resembles a part of syncytin-1. But the sequence of amino acids that are similar in syncytin-1 and the coronavirus spike protein is quite short. In addition, these proteins are completely unrelated to each other, so there is no chance the body will confuse one for the other. In addition, if this were true, then we would be seeing infertility in people who had naturally developed antibodies to the spike protein because they recovered from mild COVID, which is not being reported. There’s a nice discussion of why this is fiction here. 

Severe Reactions to PEG

Perhaps the most ridiculous thing to place into an article with a January 12th publication date is that many people will likely get fatal reactions to a chemical used in the vaccine called PEG, which stands for polyethylene glycol. As of this morning in the US, 10 million people have received their first dose of these vaccines (2). Tens of millions have been vaccinated worldwide. The number of fatalities reported after vaccination is 1, which is still being investigated to see if that death has anything to do with getting the vaccine. That death occurred 16 days after getting the first shot, which makes a connection unlikely (4). However, even if it were causal, there is no drug you can take, including the Motrin you buy at the grocery store that has a safety profile of 1 in 10 million severe adverse events. For example, the NSAIDs you can buy at Target would kill thousands of people if administered to 10 million (5). These deaths would occur through GI bleeds, heart attacks, and strokes. Yet nobody thinks twice about popping a Motrin when their shoulder or back is sore.

Pointing Out What We Don’t Know Versus Stoking Irrational Fear

Some of the Mercola article above points out what we don’t know. For example, it’s reasonable to say that since these vaccines were developed under operation Warp Speed that the data is still being collected. However, the points made in this article are demonstrably untrue and being copy/pasted all over the Internet, eroding the public’s confidence in this vaccine. That’s just stoking irrational fear in people who will never have or take the time to double-check what they read.

The upshot? I still like much of what Mercola writes, but this article is clearly irresponsible. Given that he is trusted by many in the natural health community, he should retract this one.

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References:

(1) Jaafar R, et al. Correlation Between 3790 Quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction–Positives Samples and Positive Cell Cultures, Including 1941 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 Isolates, Clinical Infectious Diseases, ciaa1491, https://doi.org/10.1093/cid/ciaa1491

(2) US FDA. Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory
Committee Meeting Presentation. https://www.fda.gov/media/144452/download Accessed 1/14/21

(3) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 Vaccines. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/index.html Accessed 1/14/21

(4) Bloomberg. Pfizer Investigates Post-Vaccine Death for Possible Connection. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-01-12/pfizer-investigates-post-vaccine-death-for-possible-connection Accessed 1/14/21

(5) Davis A, Robson J. The dangers of NSAIDs: look both ways. Br J Gen Pract. 2016;66(645):172-173. doi:10.3399/bjgp16X684433

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