An army health official (R) inoculates a woman with a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in Colombo on August 12 ( AFP / Ishara S. KODIKARA)

False posts claiming 'vaccination causes coronavirus to mutate' spread online in Sri Lanka

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Social media users in Sri Lanka have shared a video featuring an indigenous medicine practitioner who claims Covid-19 vaccinations cause an increase in coronavirus variants and kill more people. But these claims are false. Experts told AFP viruses mutate "independent of the vaccine", and approved Covid-19 vaccines prevent severe disease and death.

The video was shared here on YouTube on August 23. It has been viewed over 200,000 times since.

The video features an interview with an indigenous medical practitioner named BA Rathnapala.

He claims: "Vaccination will cause an increase in variants... The correct approach to combating Covid-19 is to build immunity, not vaccines."

"This vaccination is killing people. This is a sinful act... The more you vaccinate, the more people will die."

Screenshot of the misleading post taken on August 31 2021

The video circulated online as local media reported the Sri Lankan government is mulling making Covid-19 vaccination cards mandatory for citizens to access public facilities.

The video was also shared on Facebook here, here and here.

But the claims in these posts are false, according to multiple health experts.

Not causing mutations

"There is no basis to claim the vaccine causes mutations of the novel coronavirus," Indika Karunathilake, Professor of Medical Education at the University of Colombo, told AFP on August 29.

"Since the beginning of time viruses have mutated, it is in their nature," Karunathilake said. "This process is independent of the vaccine."

"Mutations are created not based on whether or not a person is vaccinated," according to Chandima Jeewandara, Director of the Allergy, Immunology, and Cell Biology Unit of the Sri Jayewardenepura University, in this lecture.

"A mutation is an inherent quality in the virus and vaccines are aimed at building our immunity," Jeewandara said.

AFP has previously debunked similar misleading claims that vaccinated people are "creating" coronavirus variants.

Vaccines prevent disease

Vaccines "support the natural immunity," Dr. L. P. A. Karunathilake, a senior lecturer of indigenous medicine at the University of Colombo, told AFP on August 27.

"It is misleading to claim that vaccines are a farce," he said.

"Based on what we know so far, vaccines are proving effective against existing variants, especially at preventing severe disease, hospitalization and death," according to the World Health Organization.

"Vaccines are likely staying effective against variants because of the broad immune response they cause, which means that virus changes or mutations are unlikely to make vaccines completely ineffective."