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The alpha, beta, gamma and delta variants were first detected in unvaccinated populations. Most variants were detected before vaccines were approved for use.
Studies show that unvaccinated people are far more likely to spread the delta variant than vaccinated people.
A Facebook post authored by someone touting toxicology credentials joined the growing field of inaccurate claims that falsely blame the vaccine for a pandemic that has stretched into a second year.
"It is the vaccinated, NOT the unvaccinated, spreading mutant variants," the post reads.
The Aug. 13 post was a screenshot of information that appeared to be originally shared by Janci Lindsay, who describes herself as managing director of Toxicology Support Services, LLC. A website for that business states that Lindsay holds a doctorate in biochemistry and molecular biology. The post attributed to her read, "This is from inoculating during the pandemic with a poor neutralizing ‘vaccine.’ This is what has happened with numerous other ‘leaky’ (non-neutralizing) vaccines."
This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) This isn’t the first time claims attributed to Lindsay have been fact-checked. Agence France Presse previously fact checked a video in which someone who identifies herself as Lindsay falsely said vaccines could end up sterilizing "an entire generation."
A variant of a virus is one that has mutated in a way that bolsters its spread or severity compared with the original strain that emerged in Wuhan, China. RNA viruses like a coronavirus can mutate when they replicate, especially when circulating at high rates.
Dr. Daniel B. Fagbuyi, an emergency room physician and former Obama administration appointee to the National Biodefense Science Board, said the Facebook claim’s blanket statement that vaccinations are causing the unvaccinated to get sick misses a key point about when and how the variants developed and spread.
"If that were the case, based on all the other (COVID-19) cases, we wouldn’t have seen all these variants before we got the vaccines," Fagbuyi said.
Fagbuyi mentioned the first variant of COVID-19, called B.1.1.7 or the alpha variant, as an example. The alpha variant first emerged in the United Kingdom in September 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It spread across 30 countries, including the United States. Likewise, the World Health Organization reports that other variants such as beta and gamma were first documented in May and November of 2020, respectively. All three of these strains appear to have emerged before the United Kingdom became the first country to approve a COVID-19 vaccine tested in a large clinical trial.
While research has found that vaccinated people who become infected with COVID-19 can transmit the virus to others, there is no indication that they are doing it at a faster rate than unvaccinated people. On the contrary, Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, pointed out that the newest and most dangerous variant spread most rapidly through unvaccinated populations.
"The delta variant emerged in a largely unvaccinated country," Adalja said, referring to India, where the variant drove soaring case rates starting in the spring of 2021. "The more the virus spreads, the more chance there is for variants to emerge."
In her post, Lindsay pointed to Marek's disease in chickens as what she said is a "classic example" of what is happening with the COVID-19 vaccine and variants. Marek’s disease is a highly contagious form of herpes found in chicken dander, and is capable of causing widespread paralysis and death in unvaccinated chickens.
A 2015 study showed that chickens immunized against Marek’s disease lived longer, but infection wasn’t prevented and the virus continued to evolve and spread to other chickens.
But the person who wrote the Marek’s disease study, Andrew Read, director of the Huck Institutes for the Life Sciences at Penn State University, said Lindsay’s claim citing his study muddles the facts and misapplies his work. Marek's disease and COVID-19 are totally different viruses, with different vaccines and different hosts, he said. Read pointed to an article describing a scientific analysis of how rapidly the delta variant spread during an outbreak in Guangdong, China. The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, found that while it is possible for vaccinated people to transmit the delta variant, unvaccinated people or people who only had one dose of the vaccine were much more likely to transmit the virus than those who were fully vaccinated.
"We simply have no idea at the moment how much transmission is coming from vaccinated people, but to the extent that vaccines stop people getting infected in the first place and then shorten infectious periods and lower virus titers (levels of the virus), then, by definition, less spread is coming from vaccinated people," Read said.
Towards the end of her claim, Lindsay stated that vaccines should stop and be replaced with treatment of "cheap, safe and effective hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin until the virus is driven out." PolitiFact has previously fact-checked claims on both of these medicines, and reported that the FDA revoked its approval of hydroxychloroquine in June 2020 due to its ineffectiveness in treating COVID-19, and did not approve of ivermectin as a treatment because it is not a drug used to treat viral infections, and large doses of it can be dangerous.
PolitiFact reached out to Lindsay for a request to comment, and she stood by her full claim.
A Facebook post claimed that it is vaccinated people, not unvaccinated, who spread mutant variants of COVID-19.
Alpha, beta, gamma and delta variants were first detected in unvaccinated populations. Most variants were detected before vaccines were even approved for use and they have accelerated in unvaccinated populations. While research has found that vaccinated people who become infected with COVID-19 are able to transmit the virus, studies also show that unvaccinated people are far more likely to contract and spread the delta variant than vaccinated people.
We rate this claim False.
PolitiFact staff researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.
Facebook post, Aug. 13, 2021
Phone interview with Dr. Dan Fagbuyi, emergency room physician and former appointee by the Obama administration to the National Biodefense Science Board, Aug. 23, 2021
CDC, Emergence of SARS-CoV-2
World Health Organization, Tracking SARS-CoV-2 variants, accessed Aug. 24, 2021
Email interview with Dr. Amish Adalja, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, Aug. 23, 2021
PLOS Biology, Imperfect Vaccination Can Enhance the Transmission of Highly Virulent Pathogens, July 27, 2015
Email interview with Dr. Andrew Read, director of the Huck Institutes for the Life Sciences at Penn State University, Aug. 23, 2021
MedRxiv, Transmission dynamics and epidemiological characteristics of Delta variant infections in China, Aug. 13, 2021
PolitiFact, Fact-checking claim about the use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19, April 23, 2021
PolitiFact, The coronavirus variants: What you need to know, July 7, 2021
PolitiFact, Post overstates study’s ‘200%’ finding on hydroxychloroquine’s power vs COVID-19, June 14, 2021
Email interview with Dr. Janci Lindsay, managing director of Toxicology Support Services, LLC, Aug. 24, 2021
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