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Guadalupe Flores, 15, right, from East Los Angeles, gets vaccinated with the Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine by licensed vocational nurse Rita Orozco, far left, at the Esteban E. Torres High School in Los Angeles, Thursday, May 27, 2021. (AP) Guadalupe Flores, 15, right, from East Los Angeles, gets vaccinated with the Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine by licensed vocational nurse Rita Orozco, far left, at the Esteban E. Torres High School in Los Angeles, Thursday, May 27, 2021. (AP)

Guadalupe Flores, 15, right, from East Los Angeles, gets vaccinated with the Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine by licensed vocational nurse Rita Orozco, far left, at the Esteban E. Torres High School in Los Angeles, Thursday, May 27, 2021. (AP)

Emily Tian
By Emily Tian June 1, 2021

No, vaccine ‘shedding’ will not give unvaccinated people natural immunity

If Your Time is short

  • Experts and health officials have said that it is impossible for COVID-19 vaccines to shed viral particles.

  • In order to become vaccinated, you have to get the vaccine. 

While new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that half of U.S. adults are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, one widely shared social media post suggests that those who are not vaccinated don’t actually have to get the shot to become immune.

"They don’t want you to wear a mask now because those who are vaccinated will ‘shed’ the viral particles all over you," reads a May 25 Instagram post. "... Pfizer even said during trials not to be around pregnant women because they could miscarriage simply by ‘shedding’ from someone who was vacs-inated. You will become ‘vaccinated’ regardless of whether or not you received the shot."

As evidence, the post also cites "Pfizer vaccine warnings page 67."

The 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.)

Featured Fact-check

The claim is wrong. The only way a person can become vaccinated is to receive the vaccine.

(Screengrab from Instagram)
 
The post’s claim appears to be rooted in the debunked notion that the COVID-19 vaccines can be "shed" like the coronavirus itself. But there is no biological mechanism for any COVID-19 vaccine side effects or components to be transmitted to others.
 
COVID-19 vaccines produce a spike protein inside the cells of the person contained deep within the muscle and lymph nodes. The messenger RNA, or mRNA, used by the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines and the altered adenovirus used in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine cannot shed because they do not replicate. 
 
Adam Wheatley, a senior research fellow in microbiology and immunology at the University of Melbourne, said that these vaccines do not cause shedding because they encode only the spike protein, which cannot form a virus and pass from one person to another. 
 
Akiko Iwasaki, an expert of immunobiology at Yale and a principal investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, said that the vaccine protein vector will face a "dead end" inside the vaccinated person and degrade naturally. 
 
The CDC has advised that there is no evidence that any authorized COVID-19 shot will result in fertility problems or miscarriages. Likewise, there is no truth to the claim that people who are not vaccinated can suffer miscarriage or fertility problems by being around those who are. 
 
The CDC reports that those who are trying to become pregnant also do not need to avoid pregnancy after COVID-19 vaccination.
 
Asked about the post’s claims, a Pfizer spokesperson said that the vaccine can enter the human body only through an administered dose. 
 
By citing "page 67" of the "vaccine warnings," the post appears to be referencing page 67 of the Pfizer clinical vaccine protocol. There, a passage says that an environmental vaccine "exposure during pregnancy" is considered to have taken place when:
 
"A female family member or healthcare provider reports that she is pregnant after having been exposed to the study intervention by inhalation or skin contact.
 
"A male family member or healthcare provider who has been exposed to the study intervention by inhalation or skin contact then exposes his female partner prior to or around the time of conception."
 
Asked about this passage in the protocol, a Pfizer spokesperson said that, based on current knowledge, experts believe that COVID-19 vaccines are unlikely to pose a risk to the pregnant person or fetus. FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines cannot cause COVID-19 infection in the mother or infant. According to the CDC, any of the currently authorized COVID-19 vaccines can be administered to pregnant or lactating people. 
 
In short, the passage is described by experts as standard language meant to widely cover any possible exposures and ensure that the clinical trial process is rigorously regulated. Its inclusion in the safety protocol means that investigators are made aware when, say, a pregnant person has been environmentally exposed to the vaccine. This information enables them to study whether there is any effect. However, exposure to a person who has received the Pfizer vaccine will not transmit virus particles, since no COVID-19 vaccine authorized for use contains the live virus.
 
Our ruling

An Instagram post claims that "you can be 'vaccinated' regardless of whether you receive the shot or not."

That’s wrong. The only way to be vaccinated against COVID-19 is to receive a vaccine. It is biologically impossible for COVID-19 vaccines to result in virus shedding that will expose others to the virus, let alone in a way that would give unvaccinated people immunity. 

We rate this claim False.

Our Sources

Instagram post, May 26, 2021

Email, Akiko Iwasaki, professor of immunology, molecular, cellular and developmental biology, and epidemiology at Yale University School of Medicine, May 26, 2021

Email, Adam Wheatley, senior research fellow at the University of Melbourne, May 26, 2021

Email, Pfizer Media Relations, May 31, 2021

PolitiFact, "Debunking the anti-vaccine hoax about ‘vaccine shedding," May 6, 2021

PolitiFact, "In his continued sparring with Fauci, Sen. Paul oversimplified the science," March 26, 2021 

PolitiFact, "COVID-19 vaccines did not cause a 366% increase in miscarriages, as article claims," April 2, 2021

PolitiFact, "No, women’s cycles and fertility are not affected by being around vaccinated people," April 21, 2021 

MedPageToday, "The Latest Anti-Vax Myth: ‘Vaccine Shedding," April 29, 2021 

New York Times, "‘Natural Immunity’ From Covid Is Not Safer Than a Vaccine,"  December 5, 2020 

NIH Research Matters, "Lasting immunity found after recovery from COVID-19," January 26, 2021 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID Data Tracker, "COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States"

USA Today, "Fact check: No evidence of miscarriage surge since vaccine rollout," April 12, 2021 

Pfizer Clinical Protocol, April 30, 2020

Hopkins Medicine, "COVID-19 Vaccines: Myth Versus Fact," May 14, 2021

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "COVID-19 Vaccines While Pregnant or Breastfeeding," May 14, 2021 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Interim Clinical Considerations for Use of COVID-19 Vaccines Currently Authorized in the United States," May 14, 2021

New England Journal of Medicine, "Preliminary Findings of mRNA Covid-19 Vaccine Safety in Pregnant Persons," April 21, 2021

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Different COVID-19 Vaccines," May 13, 2021

Associated Press, "COVID-19 vaccine does not spread by inhalation or skin contact," May 6, 2021

FactCheck, "No Scientific Basis for Vaccine ‘Shedding’ Claims,"  May 11, 2021

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More by Emily Tian

No, vaccine ‘shedding’ will not give unvaccinated people natural immunity

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