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Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines are administered at Providence Edwards Lifesciences vaccination site in Santa Ana, Calif., on May 21, 2021. (AP/Hong) Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines are administered at Providence Edwards Lifesciences vaccination site in Santa Ana, Calif., on May 21, 2021. (AP/Hong)

Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines are administered at Providence Edwards Lifesciences vaccination site in Santa Ana, Calif., on May 21, 2021. (AP/Hong)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher June 7, 2021

No proof for researcher claim that COVID-19 vaccines’ spike protein is a ‘toxin’

If Your Time is short

  • Experts say there is no evidence that the vaccines produce a toxin that could cause heart problems and neurological damage, as Canadian viral immunologist Byram Bridle maintained.

  • Bridle has not produced evidence to prove his claim, which has been widely shared on social media.

A university expert claimed on talk radio that he has new evidence that COVID-19 vaccines produce a "toxin."

The credentials of Byram Bridle, a viral immunologist at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, include research funding from the Canadian government and the Canadian Cancer Society, as well as dozens of publications in research journals.

But experts told PolitiFact that, despite a document Bridle cites, there is no evidence to back his claim that what is known as the vaccines’ spike protein produces a toxin that could cause heart problems and neurological damage.

"There is no data that the spike is a toxin," said Dr. Drew Weissman, a vaccine expert and professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. "The document he cites is an anti-vaxxer product with no real scientific data supporting its claims."

Bridle’s interview sparks social media burst

Bridle began a Canadian talk show interview with a dramatic warning: "I’ll forewarn you and your listeners that the story I’m about to tell is a bit of a scary one." 

Describing himself as "very much pro-vaccine," Bridle said he had assembled scientific information that he intends to make public, but "your listeners are going to be the first to hear the public release of this conclusion." 

He claimed the information shows that the spike protein produced by the vaccines, which is intended to prevent the coronavirus from infecting the body, does not remain in the shoulder muscle but gets into the blood — and can lead to clotting, bleeding, heart problems and neurological damage.  

"In short, the conclusion is, we made a big mistake," Bridle said. "We didn’t realize it until now. We thought the spike protein was a great target antigen. We never knew the spike protein itself was a toxin, and was a pathogenic protein. So, by vaccinating people, we are inadvertently inoculating them with a toxin. Some people, this gets into circulation, and when that happens in some people, they can cause damage, especially in the cardiovascular system. And I have many other legitimate questions about the long-term safety, therefore, of this vaccine."

The interview led to claims widely shared on websites and social media, including posts that linked to an article from the website of the Hal Turner Radio Show, which uses internet and radio broadcasts to float conspiracy theories and hate speech. The article carried this headline:

"Doctor on COVID Vax: ‘We Screwed-Up. We didn't realize the Spike Protein is a TOXIN’ Does this mean everyone vaccinated is manufacturing their own Spike Protein Toxins in their own bodies?"

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.)

Explaining "spike proteins"

COVID-19 mRNA (messenger RNA) vaccines use the human body’s natural immune response to its advantage. The shot contains the recipe for making the molecule known as the spike protein, which the COVID-19 virus uses to bind to cells. Once the cell receives these instructions, it creates the protein and displays it on its surface. The immune system then spots the unknown protein and makes antibodies to fight it.

The technology in the vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna stems from research that began in the early 1990s, said Weissman. He and his colleague Katalin Karikó, a senior vice president of BioNTech, are credited with the breakthrough discovery that enabled these vaccines to be safe and highly effective.

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The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which calls the spike protein harmless, says: "Our immune systems recognize that the protein doesn’t belong there and begin building an immune response and making antibodies, like what happens in natural infection against COVID-19. At the end of the process, our bodies have learned how to protect against future infection."

Bridle’s evidence seen lacking

PolitiFact emailed Bridle on June 3 asking for the evidence to back his statement, and received an automated reply from him. The reply said that the radio interview led to "vicious attacks," including a website that emerged May 28 bearing his name. Bridle’s email said that he believes the website — which anonymously critiques Bridle’s claims — to be libeling him.

Also in the email, Bridle cited a document that he said supports what he said in the interview, and that he would be writing a more comprehensive public report.

The document claims that "recent studies suggest that the spike protein produced in response to vaccination" could result "in damage to various tissues and organs. This risk, no matter how theoretical, must be investigated prior to the vaccination of children and adolescents." 

On that point, the document links to one Journal of Respiration article published Dec. 31, days after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave emergency use authorization to the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. The article describes how the spike protein in the coronavirus affects lung cells and says that because the spike protein will be administered in vaccines, "it is critical to understand the biological effects of this protein on human cells to ensure that it does not promote long-term adverse health consequences."

Weissman said Bridle’s conclusion that the vaccines are toxic is off-base, especially given that the vaccines do not deliver spike protein to the lungs.

"Reports of spike protein trouble are interesting and important for coronavirus infection, but they do not mean that the vaccines themselves are going to cause similar problems," said a May 4 commentary in Science Translational Medicine, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The commentary notes that "the spike protein is not released to wander freely through the bloodstream," and says the fact that the vaccines "are aimed at the spike means that they’re protective in more ways than we even realized."

Despite the widespread administration of the vaccine, Dr. Walter Orenstein, professor and associate director of Emory University’s Emory Vaccine Center, said he is "not aware of any data to support the allegations" made by Bridle. 

"It would be nice to have any direct evidence if this were true," said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center and an attending physician in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. 

"We are at nearly 300 million doses given (in the United States) and a robust surveillance system in a population that is certainly not shy about reporting problems" about vaccines to public health authorities, Offit said.

Our ruling

A post widely shared on social media claims a viral immunologist said COVID-19 vaccines’ spike protein means people are being inoculated "with a toxin."

Experts say there is no evidence that the spike protein produced by the vaccines is a toxin that could cause heart problems and neurological damage. The Canadian viral immunologist who made the claim has not produced evidence to back it up.

We rate the claim False.

 

Our Sources

Hal Turner Radio Show, "Doctor on COVID Vax: ‘We Screwed-Up. We didn't realize the Spike Protein is a TOXIN.’ Does this mean everyone vaccinated is manufacturing their own Spike Protein Toxins in their own bodies?", May 31, 2021

OMNY.FM, "On Point with Alex Pierson" interview with Byram Bridle (8:25), May 27, 2021 

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

PolitiFact, "Ask PolitiFact: How can COVID vaccines be safe when they were developed so fast?", March 29, 2021

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Understanding mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines," March 4, 2021

Canadian Covid Care Alliance, "Why Parents, Teens, and Children Should Question the COVID-19 Vaccine," accessed June 3, 2021

ByramBridle.com, accessed June 3, 2021

Email, Dr. Drew Weissman, vaccine expert and professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, June 3, 2021

Email, Dr. Walter Orenstein, professor and associate director of Emory University’s Emory Vaccine Center, June 3, 2021

Email, professor Joe Schwarcz, director of the McGill Office for Science and Society at McGill University in Montreal, June 3, 2021

Journal of Respiration, "SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein and Lung Vascular Cells," Dec. 31, 2020

Science-Based Medicine, "The ‘deadly’ coronavirus spike protein (according to antivaxxers)," May 24, 2021

Science Translational Medicine, "Spike Protein Behavior," May 4, 2021

Interview, Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center and an attending physician in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, June 3, 2021

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More by Tom Kertscher

No proof for researcher claim that COVID-19 vaccines’ spike protein is a ‘toxin’

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