IN SHORT: A US doctor, who has previously made untrue claims about Covid-19 and vaccines, is on thin ice in saying the vaccines make your body produce a “toxin” spike protein which causes a number of cancers. There is no evidence for this.
In a video circulating in South Africa in September 2022, a man identified as “Ryan Cole, MD” claims that “all coronavirus vaccines” make your body produce a spike protein which he says is a “toxin”.
Cole makes specific mention of the Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccines. He says “the lipid nanoparticle carries the mRNA [messenger RNA] to your dividing stem cells … and it turns that cell into a spike factory … it inhibits the ability of your DNA to repair itself”. He also claims that that spike protein can induce cancer pathways.
The video has been shared over 15,000 times on Twitter.
But is it true that all the Covid vaccines cause your body to produce a toxic cancer-causing spike protein? Here’s what the science says.
What different vaccine designs tell us about their safety
Although Cole does not draw a distinction between the different vaccines developed against Covid-19, it is important to note that they are different in design and help our bodies develop immunity to the coronavirus in different ways.
For the body to fight off any new virus, it must first be taught to identify the threat. Vaccines work by introducing the body to weakened or inactive parts of a virus. These fragments are largely harmless, at most inducing a minor immune response.
To trigger an immune response, most vaccines against Covid introduce weakened elements of or modified versions of the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus which causes Covid-19. These are the spikes we often see in illustrations of the coronavirus.
The AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines both use a harmless virus of a different strain, known as a viral vector, to inject a fragment of the coronavirus, usually the spike protein gene, into our bodies. Once a response from the immune system is received, this vector disintegrates.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use messenger RNA, or mRNA, that carry instructions, teaching our cells how to produce an altered version of the spike protein. The mRNA also breaks down once it has delivered this message. This disintegration happens within a few days.
(For more on how mRNA vaccines work, see our June 2020 fact-check.)
Vaccine-induced spike proteins not free-roaming
The vaccines against Covid-19 are an intramuscular injection, usually given in the deltoid muscle in the upper arm in small doses. As studies show, the vaccine does not roam from its injection site and does not travel to “any cell of your body” causing damage, as Cole claims.
What does remain in the body after many months are the antibodies which the immune system produces. These antibodies either act against Covid infection or reduce the damage the virus is able to cause.
Rigorous safety checks, no links to cancer
In addition to the fact that injections are administered in very small doses, there is no evidence to show that the vaccine versions of the spike protein are toxins or cause us harm.
Africa Check previously looked into claims that Covid-19 vaccines cause ovarian cancer. As medical virologist from University of Cape Town Stephen Korsman explained then, the vaccines cannot come into contact with the DNA in our bodies and therefore do not cause cancer.
Before they are made available for public use, all vaccines go through various clinical trials. The World Health Organization works with vaccine manufacturers, health officials in every country and panels of experts to ensure the vaccines are safe and effective.
These claims by Dr Ryan Cole are not true.