A medical worker fills a syringe with the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine in Los Angeles, California on February 16, 2021 (AFP / Apu Gomes)

Covid-19 shots not designed to increase cold, flu lethality

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Instagram posts claim Covid-19 vaccines will leave people exposed to deadly illness during the next cold and flu season, and that germ theory -- the proven concept that pathogens can cause disease -- is a hoax. These claims are false; experts say they are biologically implausible, germ theory is a foundation of modern medicine, and the shots against coronavirus are safe and effective.

“The vaxx is designed to work in conjunction with the common cold. The vaxx didnt get mass deployed until cold/flu season was ending for a reason. It will make the common cold/flu extremely lethal, so next cold season is when it begins, at which point it will be called a covid variant and labeled covid-21,” reads the text of an image in a May 9, 2021 Instagram post.

The image appears to be a screenshot of an anonymous forum post that includes multiple typos and claims: “This time real people will die of it, appearing to die of cold-like symptoms, it wont be a scamdemic but an artifically created real one because germ theory is a hoax so you cant release a pandemic virus like movies program you to think, they had to prime it first with the vaxx.”

Screenshot of an Instagram post, taken on May 12, 2021

The claim also appears on Instagram here, here, here, and here, on accounts that have a combined 40,000-plus followers.

More than 268 million Covid-19 vaccines have been administered in the United States. Although the rate of new infections is declining in many regions, misinformation about vaccines continues to spread.

Below, AFP Fact Check breaks down the claims in the posts.

Cold and flu lethality

The Instagram posts claim that Covid-19 vaccines are designed to work in conjunction with the common cold to make it and the flu “extremely lethal,” and that the shots were strategically released at the end of the previous flu season to accomplish that goal during the next one.

This is false.

“All currently produced Covid vaccines target the specific ‘spike proteins’ of the coronavirus” and “do not work in conjunction with the many different viruses that cause the common cold,” said Dr Jason McKnight, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine.

Dr Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said: “There's no evidence that the vaccine has any ability to prime you for any illness or any mechanism that might do so.”

The claim “doesn’t make any sense biologically,” said Richard Kennedy, co-director of the Vaccine Research Group at the Mayo Clinic, because “the common cold is a term we use to describe probably 40 or 50 different types of viruses and bacteria that cause the same type of symptoms.”

He also pointed out that flu season starts in the fall and ends in the spring, so the three Covid-19 vaccines that received emergency use authorization (EUA) in the winter were rolled out in the middle, not the end, of the 2020-2021 US flu season.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports on flu season from October to May. Pfizer-BioNtech received an EUA on December 11, 2020, Moderna on December 18 and Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) on February 27, 2021.

“Millions of people in the United States have received Covid-19 vaccines under the most intense safety monitoring in US history,” according to the CDC, which says the shots are safe and effective.

Kennedy said that while fear of new vaccines is understandable, scientists have actually been working with mRNA vaccine technology -- which is used in the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots -- since the 1990s.

“We’ve got decades of experience in some ways, with these vaccines,” he said. “They did not cut any corners on the approval process.” 

Germ theory is ‘a hoax’

Germ theory has been the accepted model to study illness for more than a century.

It is “the entire basis for the whole field of infectious disease,” Adalja said. 

“There's absolutely no reason to doubt the germ theory at this point… it’s as if you're saying that gravity doesn't exist or that DNA doesn't exist,” he said.

Kennedy agreed. “There's hundreds of years of evidence that the germ theory works. So, I rely on the hundreds of years of evidence that it works, rather than some anonymous post that says it's a hoax,” he said.

Dr David Gorski, surgeon and managing editor of Science-Based Medicine, dismissed germ theory denialism as a “conspiracy theory” and shared his January 2021 article that delves into the phenomenon as it relates to the Covid-19 pandemic.

AFP Fact Check has debunked hundreds of false or misleading claims about Covid-19 here