Covid-19 vaccines approved for emergency use by WHO have been thoroughly tested and proven to provide a high degree of protection against serious illness and death ( AFP / RAJESH JANTILAL)

Retired US chiropractor makes multiple false claims about Covid-19

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During a meeting in Orange County, Florida, a retired chiropractor made several false claims about Covid-19 and vaccines. A three-minute video of his testimony has been shared widely on social media. In the video, Kevin Stillwagon repeats previously debunked myths about Covid-19. AFP Fact Check takes a look at them.

Multiple Facebook posts (here and here) with more than 1,000 shares between them published Stillwagon’s comments that he made during the Orange County Florida Board of County Commissioners meeting on September 14, 2021.

“Real doctors know, like DR. kevin stilwagon [...] We have doctor susan vosloo here in south africa and many more coming forward (sic),” reads one of the posts with more than 5,600 views of the video.

A screenshot of the false Facebook post taken on October 7, 2021

The caption refers to South African heart surgeon, Susan Vosloo, whose misleading claims about the Covid-19 vaccine were the subject of a recent debunk by AFP Fact Check.

The clip of Stillwagon has been published on various video-hosting platforms, including BitChute, attracting shares and comments from users opposed to public health measures designed to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Who is Stillwagon?

A Google search for “Dr. Kevin Stillwagon” yields few results, other from these links that reveal he is a retired chiropractor (since 1988) and a former airline captain.

Other results also include blog posts that publicised his recent address to Orange County commissioners, with some users claiming that he “obliterated the mask and vaccine mandates narrative”.

However, his claims are based on recycled Covid-19 misinformation.

For starters, Stillwagon repeats a refrain that fears about Covid-19 are overblown because the disease has a 99 percent survival rate.

However, this is misleading. Theo Vos, a professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, told AFP Fact Check in May 2020 that the survival rate is not the best measure of a disease’s severity.

“A survival rate is measured with cases of disease in the denominator, not total population. If you would do this for cancer, for example, you would also get fantastic looking survival,” Vos said.

As previously debunked by AFP Fact Check here, while people of all ages can be infected with Covid-19, the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions can be more susceptible to the virus, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Thus, the survival rate also differs among different demographics.

This is supported by data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

And while most people recover within weeks, Stillwagon does not mention the long-term effects of Covid-19.

Mask wearing hesitancy

Stillwagon misleadingly claims that masks decrease the amount of oxygen in your lung tissue and increase the chances of upper respiratory infection.

AFP Fact Check has previously debunked several claims about mask-wearing and oxygen-related issues (here, here and here), including that masks can cause hypoxia or hypercapnia.

While the prolonged use of medical masks can be uncomfortable, the WHO maintains that wearing masks does not lead to carbon dioxide (CO2) intoxication or oxygen deficiency.

“While wearing a medical mask, make sure it fits properly and that it is tight enough to allow you to breathe normally. Do not reuse a disposable mask and always change it as soon as it gets damp,” the WHO website reads.

The CDC echoes this: “CO2 molecules are small enough to easily pass through mask material. In contrast, the respiratory droplets that carry the virus that causes Covid-19 are much larger than CO2, so they cannot pass as easily through a properly designed and properly worn mask.”

Masks are most effective when used in conjunction with other preventative measures including physical distancing, avoiding crowded and close-contact settings, good ventilation, cleaning hands and covering your mouth when you sneeze and cough.

Vaccines do offer protection

In his remarks, Stillwagon also misleadingly states that Covid-19 vaccines do not protect against infection and decrease the ability to keep viruses out.

AFP Fact Check previously looked into a similar claim. Experts, however, are clear that vaccination does not increase the likelihood of Covid-19 infection, as explained by the WHO.

“All Covid-19 vaccines approved for emergency use by WHO have been thoroughly tested and proven to provide a high degree of protection against serious illness and death.”

Alison Galvani, director of the Yale Center for Infectious Disease Modeling and Analysis, told AFP Fact Check that “regardless of waning immunity, people who have been vaccinated are much less likely to become infected, hospitalised or die from Covid-19”.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, explained that the Covid-19 vaccines are protecting people as intended.

“The vaccines are doing exactly what we’re asking them to do when it comes to keeping you out of the hospital, out of serious disease, and certainly preventing your death”, he said at a press briefing on August 2, 2021.

Variants and the vaccinated

Stillwagon further claims that variants of the virus are emerging from those who are vaccinated.

Dr Anna Durbin, an international health professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, refuted the claim, which gained traction with the spread of Delta, a highly infectious coronavirus variant responsible for a global surge in cases.

“The Delta variant did not arise because of vaccines. The Delta variant arose out of natural competition with the Alpha variant. The best way to prevent the variants is to vaccinate as many people as possible,” Durbin said.

AFP Fact Check previously debunked a similar claim in August 2021. Experts told us at the time that Covid-19 vaccines reduce rather than enhance the risks posed by the virus and cannot create mutations.

Pennsylvania State University biology professor Andrew Read told AFP Fact Check that the Delta variant is “spreading like wildfire” among the unvaccinated.

“It is irresponsible for people to use hypothetical concerns ... as a reason to withhold life-saving vaccines now,” Read added.

FDA approved vaccines

Stillwagon also claims that vaccines are still only authorised for emergency use and that none of them have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

An Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) is used to “facilitate the availability and use of medical countermeasures, including vaccines, during public health emergencies, such as the current Covid-19 pandemic”.

The FDA has authorised three vaccines for “emergency use” in the United States, made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Janssen.

However, Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine received full approval by the FDA, under the name Comirnaty, in August 2021.

While Comirnaty is fully approved in the United States for those 16 and older, “the vaccine also continues to be available under emergency use authorization (EUA), including for individuals 12 through 15 years of age and for the administration of a third dose in certain immunocompromised individuals,” reads the August 23, 2021, FDA press release.

Animal trials were conducted

Stillwagon then claims that animal trials were not conducted for Covid-19 vaccines to ensure they are safe for people.

AFP Fact Check previously debunked a similar claim that pharmaceutical companies had “skipped” animal trials while developing Covid-19 vaccines because the subjects kept dying.

Pfizer-BioNtech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines all underwent animal testing, the results of which were released in separate statements.

All three companies reported that the vaccines created an immune response that protected animals against a SARS-CoV-2 infection.

“If safety and efficacy are not guaranteed in the preclinical trials, the study would not proceed,” said Kirk Leech, executive director of the European Animal Research Association.

Both Leech and Akiko Iwasaki, an immunobiologist at Yale University, confirmed that testing on animals did take place during the development of Covid-19 vaccines.

But the urgency of the pandemic resulted in some testing on humans and animals being conducted simultaneously for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, they said.

An AFP graphic shows the different Covid-19 vaccine development stages

AFP Fact Check has debunked more than 1,000 false or misleading claims about the virus and the vaccines.