Injection of truth required for vaccine illness claim


An Australian Instagram user has pointed to a TV segment about an upsurge in coughs, runny noses and other illnesses as supposed evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are making people sick.

But the suggestion that COVID-19 vaccines are responsible for a rise in respiratory illness is false. Experts say the increase in cold and flu symptoms is due to reduced community following the COVID-19 pandemic and an influx of new viruses.

The implied claim was made on an Instagram page called Rise Melbourne, which regularly posts content questioning the purpose and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.

On August 18, Rise Melbourne published a clip of a news report originally aired on August 15 by New Zealand current affairs show The Project. The TV segment centered on research that found cough, fever, illness, runny nose, sore throat and other respiratory symptoms doubled in NZ in 2022 when compared to 2021.

But while health experts told The Project that increased community respiratory illness in NZ was due to a mixture of factors including weakened immune systems, a return of influenza from overseas and virus-friendly winter weather, the Instagram post implied COVID-19 vaccines were the true cause of sickness.

COVID vaccines have played no role in contributing to a rise in sickness, experts told AAP FactCheck

“At 95% Double Waxxed … Why is Everyone so Sick … Maybe someone should address the herd of Elephants in the room … Not once would they dare suggest it could be because the worldwide rollout of an experimental concoction,” the post said.

The Project’s segment was based on a Stuff news story titled: “Two years on from our ‘immune holiday’, it’s party time for germs.” Stuff’s report was based on as-yet-unpublished data from the WellKiwis study, a multi-agency research project that monitors influenza transmission in NZ led by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR).

ESR’s principal investigator Dr Sue Huang told AAP FactCheck that the rise in acute respiratory illness was due to a renewed circulation of viruses following border reopenings and had nothing to do with COVID-19 vaccines.

“COVID vaccines only have a specific protective effect on (the) SARS-CoV-2 virus. It will not cause people to become ill with other viruses that cause common cold or flu,” Dr Huang said in an email.

“In the last two years (2020 and 2021), NZ’s border was closed to non-NZers and NZ residents had to go through quarantine and isolation in managed isolation hotels. This meant less viruses imported into NZ.

“However, in 2022, we don’t have travel restrictions. This would increase the opportunity for viruses to get into NZ and circulate in the NZ community.

“COVID vaccines have no role in contributing to this increase in sickness. On the contrary, COVID vaccines provide a protective effect when an individual encounters SARS-CoV-2 virus especially preventing people from severe illness.”

University of Auckland vaccinologist Dr Helen Petousis-Harris also told AAP FactCheck that the increase in sickness this winter was due to increased virus circulation, not COVID-19 vaccines.

“One (reason) is that many common infections were removed from circulation for a couple of years which meant people were not being exposed and making immune responses to them. This results in a build-up of ‘susceptibles’ in the community, a greater proportion of people than usual who are able to be infected and pass the infection to others,” Dr Petousis-Harris said in an email.

Another reason for the spike in sickness was that COVID-19 border controls had stopped many viruses from entering NZ but “these are now flooding back in”, she said.

Dr Petousis-Harris said there was no truth to the suggestion COVID-19 vaccines were responsible for the illnesses.

“We are seeing the normal pattern of infectious diseases outbreaks … We had a holiday from many infectious diseases during 2020 and 2021 but during that time we collected a lot of new susceptible hosts for viruses,” she said.

The Verdict

The post’s implied claim that COVID-19 vaccines are responsible for an increased level of general sickness in the community is baseless.

Health experts say there are a number of reasons more people are getting sick including weakened immune systems and a post-pandemic surge in the circulation of viruses.

False – The claim is inaccurate.

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