Stand up for the facts!

Misinformation isn't going away just because it's a new year. Support trusted, factual information with a tax deductible contribution to PolitiFact.

More Info

I would like to contribute

Pfizer coronavirus vaccines before being administered. (AP) Pfizer coronavirus vaccines before being administered. (AP)

Pfizer coronavirus vaccines before being administered. (AP)

Daniel Funke
By Daniel Funke March 4, 2021

COVID-19 vaccine does not cause death, autoimmune diseases

If Your Time is short

  • There is no evidence to suggest that the COVID-19 vaccines that have been approved for emergency use in the U.S. cause autoimmune diseases or death.

  • Clinical trials — which lasted months and included tens of thousands of participants — indicated no connection between the vaccines and autoimmune diseases.

President Joe Biden says the U.S. will have enough coronavirus vaccines for all adults by the end of May. On social media, anti-vaccine advocates falsely say that effort could lead to autoimmune diseases and death.

A Feb. 9 video features former Nevada City, Calif., Mayor Reinette Senum and Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, an osteopathic physician. Over the course of an hour, the two women characterize the coronavirus vaccine as "deadly" and a "bioweapon." The video was published on Bitchute, a video platform similar to YouTube, but one that researchers say hosts large amounts of hate speech and disinformation.

A PolitiFact reader asked us to fact-check the video. One claim in particular stuck out:

"Some people are going to die from the vaccine directly," Tenpenny said in the video, which has nearly 1 million views. "But a large number of people are going to start getting horribly sick and get all kinds of autoimmune diseases, 42 days to maybe a year out."

The video was also flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) It has been shared thousands of times on the platform — despite Facebook’s ban on anti-vaccine content.

(Screenshot from Bitchute)

Tenpenny is wrong. There is no evidence to suggest that the COVID-19 vaccines used in the U.S. cause autoimmune diseases or death.

Tenpenny is a licensed osteopathic physician based in suburban Cleveland and the author of "Saying No To Vaccines: A Resource Guide for All Ages." She runs an alternative health clinic and has previously said vaccines cause autism, a claim public health officials have debunked. Her Facebook page was removed in December for spreading misinformation, but her Instagram account still has more than 126,000 followers.

During her interview with Senum — who stepped down from the Nevada City council in July after saying she would not enforce a statewide mask mandate — Tenpenny cited an article she published Dec. 28 on Vaxxter, an anti-vaccine website.

In that article, Tenpenny linked to a study about a phenomenon in other coronaviruses, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, in which certain antibodies can actually worsen the disease. The study does not support her claim that COVID-19 vaccines cause autoimmune diseases, which include conditions like type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis that cause the body to mistakenly attack healthy cells and organs.

Featured Fact-check

Public health agencies say the coronavirus vaccine is safe and effective.

The Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency use authorization to three coronavirus vaccines: one from Pfizer-BioNTech, one from Moderna, and one from Janssen, a pharmaceutical company owned by Johnson & Johnson. Clinical trials — which lasted months and included tens of thousands of participants — indicated no connection between the vaccines and autoimmune diseases.

The FDA found "no specific safety concerns" associated with any of the three vaccines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that safety data does not apply to people with autoimmune conditions, but the vaccines are still recommended.

Millions of Americans have received the coronavirus vaccines. If they caused widespread autoimmune diseases, those instances would be documented in the federal government’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. But the system indicates only a handful of self-reported autoimmune diseases, and even that data is unverified.

"While very important in monitoring vaccine safety, VAERS reports alone cannot be used to determine if a vaccine caused or contributed to an adverse event or illness," the CDC says. "The reports may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable."

There have been reports of people who received the coronavirus vaccines and later died. But that doesn’t mean the vaccine killed them — the vaccines have been proven to be safe and effective in tens of thousands of people.

We reached out to Tenpenny for a comment, but we haven’t heard back.

Her claim is inaccurate and ridiculous. We rate it Pants on Fire!

CORRECTIONThis story was updated June 15, 2021, to correct an error regarding Tenpenny's profession. She is an osteopathic physician. 

RELATED: The coronavirus vaccine doesn’t cause Alzheimer’s, ALS

Our Sources

Amazon, "Saying No To Vaccines: A Resource Guide for All Ages"

Associated Press, "Biden stands by May timeline for vaccines for all US adults," March 3, 2021

Associated Press, "No evidence COVID-19 vaccines lead to autoimmune disease," Jan. 5, 2021

Bitchute video, Feb. 9, 2021

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, About The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Autism and Vaccines

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

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Vaccine Considerations for People with Underlying Medical Conditions

CrowdTangle, accessed March 4, 2021

Food and Drug Administration, COVID-19 Vaccines

Food and Drug Administration, FDA Briefing Document: Janssen Ad26.COV2.S Vaccine

Food and Drug Administration, FDA Briefing Document: Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine

Food and Drug Administration, FDA Briefing Document: Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine

The Guardian, "Facebook bans misinformation about all vaccines after years of controversy," Feb. 8, 2021

Instagram, Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, accessed March 4, 2021

International Journal of Infectious Diseases, "Antibody-dependent enhancement of coronavirus," November 2020

Mashable, "BitChute welcomes the dangerous hate speech that YouTube bans," Dec. 14, 2020

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Autoimmune Diseases

NewsGuard, "COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation on Instagram PART 1," Sept. 22, 2020

Ohio License Lookup, accessed March 4, 2021

PolitiFact, "Alternative health website spreads false claim about COVID-19 vaccine side effects," Dec. 9, 2020

PolitiFact, "A Nashville nurse did not develop Bell’s Palsy after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine," Dec. 30, 2020

PolitiFact, "Deaths after vaccination don’t prove that COVID-19 vaccine is lethal," Feb. 16, 2021

PolitiFact, "No evidence that COVID-19 vaccinations caused deaths of senior citizens," Feb. 5, 2021

PolitiFact, "No, the new coronavirus vaccines are not more dangerous than COVID-19," Dec. 18, 2020

PolitiFact, "The coronavirus vaccine doesn’t cause Alzheimer’s, ALS," Feb. 26, 2021

The Sacramento Bee, "Former Northern California mayor who denounced Newsom mask order resigns from council," July 9, 2020

Tweeted video from ABC News "This Week," Feb. 28, 2021

Tweet from Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, March 11, 2020

The Union, "Reinette Senum resigns from Nevada City Council," July 8, 2020

Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, accessed March 4, 2021

Vaxxter, "Coronavirus Pt. 6: The COVID Vaccines – part 2 – UPDATED," Dec. 28, 2020

The Washington Post, "The Trump administration bailed out prominent anti-vaccine groups during a pandemic," Jan. 18, 2021

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Daniel Funke

COVID-19 vaccine does not cause death, autoimmune diseases

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up