A man prepares to get his Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination hub in League City, Texas, February 5, 2021 (AFP / Mark Felix)

US cardiologist makes false claims about Covid-19 vaccination

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Video of a cardiologist claiming that there is no reason for healthy people under the age of 50 or those who have recovered from Covid-19 to be vaccinated against the virus has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times on social media. But medical experts say younger people should be inoculated because they can still be affected by the virus, and that the shots also benefit those who have already had the disease.

“People under 50 who fundamentally have no health risks, there’s no scientific rationale for them to ever become vaccinated,” Dr Peter McCullough says in testimony to the Senate of the US state of Texas around the 13-minute mark of this video.

Screenshot of a Facebook post taken on April 8, 2021

The video of the March 10, 2021 testimony was shared on Facebook by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, an organization described on its website as “fighting the good fight to preserve the practice of private medicine since 1943.” Its YouTube post of the video has been viewed more than 200,000 times.

The video was also shared via various websites, and shorter clips of the testimony circulated with French subtitles.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Health Canada and the World Health Organization all recommend vaccination against Covid-19.

As of April 9, 2021, more than 560,000 people in the United States and 23,000 people in Canada have died from Covid-19. Multiple Covid-19 vaccines are being administered or are in trials around the world, and inaccurate claims about the shots are spreading across the internet.

More than 174 million Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the United States, and 7.4 million have been administered in Canada. 

Below, AFP Fact Check examines three false claims made by McCullough.

Healthy people younger than 50 do not need a Covid-19 vaccine: FALSE

The CDC says on its website that risk of severe disease from the novel coronavirus increases with age, but National Center for Health Statistics data shows that people under age 50 account for four percent of deaths involving Covid-19.

And a March 26, 2021 article in Science also found that by mid-August 2020 “the resurgence in the United States was largely driven by adults 20 to 49 years of age.” 

Olivier Schwartz, head of the Virus and Immunity Unit at the Pasteur Institute, told AFP by phone: “It is obvious that people under 50 who are in good health should be vaccinated” because they can still be affected by the disease.

Bruno Lina, professor of virology at the University of Lyon, said that the aim of a mass vaccination campaign is to reduce the transmission of a virus.

This would not be effective if only people over 50 years old received the vaccine. That is less than half the population, and “under these conditions, we will never slow down the circulation of the virus,” he said.

Both Schwartz and Lina said that while the Covid-19 vaccines currently authorized cannot guarantee that a person will not catch the disease, they have been shown to lessen symptoms and prevent death

Lina also explained that if a vaccinated person does contract Covid-19, the amount of virus present compared to an unvaccinated person is “16 times less,” reducing the likelihood of transmission.

AFP Fact Check has debunked other claims that vaccination against Covid-19 is unnecessary or should be halted from medical professionals from Texas, Canada and Belgium.

People who have recovered from Covid-19 do not need the vaccine: FALSE

Around the 12-minute mark of his testimony, McCullough claims: “People who develop Covid have complete and durable immunity.” 

He goes on to say, “You can’t beat natural immunity. You can’t vaccinate on top of it and make it better. There’s no scientific, clinical or safety rationale for ever vaccinating a Covid recovered patient.”

However, an article in the journal BMJ found reinfection is possible.

Lina said that “we have the feeling today that the vaccine induces better immunity than certain natural infections.”

He said that for people with less symptomatic bouts of Covid-19, “we observe a rapid loss of antibody titer, and therefore a potential for reinfection faster than that observed with vaccination.”

The Pasteur Institute’s Schwartz also confirmed that people who have contracted Covid-19 have an interest in being vaccinated “because the antibody level decreases in all people.”

He said boosting antibody levels, even in those vaccinated, will be particularly important against variants “which need more antibodies to be neutralized.”

There are also indications that some people suffering from lingering symptoms of Covid-19, or “long Covid,” have experienced relief after vaccination.

No evidence of asymptomatic spread of Covid-19: FALSE

McCullough testified: “One of the mistakes I heard today as a rationale for vaccinations is asymptomatic spread and I want you to be very clear about this -- my opinion is there is a low degree, if any, of asymptomatic spread.

“Sick person gives it to sick person. The Chinese have published a study in the British Medical Journal, 11 million people, they’re trying to find asymptomatic spread. You can’t find it,” he said.

AFP examined other misleading claims about this Chinese research in an article in January.

The study, published in the scientific journal Nature, was conducted in the latter half of May 2020 after Wuhan relaxed a strict lockdown that had been in place for months.

Fujian Song, one of the report’s authors, said in an email on January 6, 2021 that, “It is misleading/incorrect/wrong to conclude that ‘all asymptomatic’ individuals infected with Covid-19 are not infectious, based on the results of the paper.”

A couple wearing face masks ride a scooter through a market in Wuhan, in China’s central Hubei province on May 22, 2020 (AFP / Hector Retamal)

The BMJ published a report on the research on December 1, 2020. Citing the study’s authors, it said that “the findings cannot be extrapolated to countries where outbreaks have not been brought under control successfully.” 

University of Lyon’s Lina confirmed that it is incorrect to claim that asymptomatic people can’t spread the virus.

He explained that asymptomatic people often have lower amounts of the virus so they may be less contagious, but “as this virus is very transmissible, in particular the British variant, there can be transmission from asymptomatic carriers.”

AFP Fact Check has debunked hundreds of false and misleading claims about Covid-19, available here.

CORRECTION: The seventh paragraph was corrected on April 26, 2021 to indicate that the figure is for doses administered instead of people who received a Covid-19 vaccine.
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