An elderly woman receives the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre as part of vaccinations for senior citizens over 75 years old, in Seoul on April 1, 2021. (AFP / Chung Sung-jun)

South Korean social media users share misleading vaccine posts

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Social media posts circulating in South Korea claim that people who are vaccinated against Covid-19 shed viral particles that are harmful to unvaccinated people. The posts also claim Covid-19 vaccines have deadly side effects. The claims are misleading: health experts told AFP it was “impossible” for vaccinated people to shed harmful viral particles. They also said any side effects from Covid-19 jabs are “extremely rare”.

The Korean-language claim was shared here on Facebook on May 12, 2021.

The post states: “The terrible warning from US doctors: 1. Covid murder vaccines cause blood clots, nerve damage, strokes and infertility. 2. People who are inoculated with the Covid murder vaccine spread spike proteins created by the vaccine.”

Screenshot of misleading Facebook post captured on May 20, 2021

The post includes a link to an article posted on the social networking site Naver Blog. It is titled: “America’s frontline doctors warn that covid vaccinated can transmit ‘spike proteins’ into the air.”

Spike proteins are the crown-like bumps found on the surface of the virus that causes Covid-19 which enables it to enter human cells.

As of May 26, 2021, South Korea has been administering the Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines to its citizens.

The vaccine brands use different technologies -- messenger RNA for Pfizer-BioNTech and a viral vector for AstraZeneca.

Similar claims were also shared on Facebook here, here, here and here

The claims are misleading.

‘No evidence’

There is no scientific evidence that spike proteins can spread from a vaccinated person to another vaccinated person, multiple health experts told AFP.

AFP has debunked similar misleading claims that vaccinated people shed harmful spike proteins here.

“It is impossible for spike proteins to reproduce or spread by themselves, as they are mere components of the virus,” Kim Shin-woo, an infectious disease expert at Kyungpook University Hospital, told AFP on May 24, 2021. “This applies to all [Covid-19] vaccines,” he said.

Dasantila Golemi-Kotra, a microbiologist at Canada’s York University, told AFP the claim was based on “skewed science”.

“No spike protein gets shed when we get vaccinated,” she said. 

Side effects claim

Studies in South Korea and abroad have not found evidence that Covid-19 vaccines can cause nerve damage, strokes or infertility as claimed in the misleading posts.

“[To prove the vaccines cause these side effects], these responses have to be more common after vaccinations than in normal circumstances,” Jung Jae-hun, a professor of preventive medicine at the Gachon University College of Medicine and Science, told AFP. “But such evidence has not yet been seen.”

South Korea’s health ministry says cases of blood clots linked to the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine are “rare”.

In this advisory published on May 7, 2021, it states: “Currently 5.2 out of 100 elderly people aged 60 or older who are infected with Covid-19 are dying… [But] rare blood clot side effects affect about 5-10 people for every 1 million people.” 

"Various OECD countries have begun their vaccination drives [with AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines] without major issues. Members of the public need not be overly anxious about inoculations and receive jabs when their turn arrives."

Health authorities in the United Kingdom and Australia -- two countries that also administer the AstraZeneca vaccine -- have published similar advice. The UK government advisory described the clots as “extremely rare”.