Prashant Bhushan's Tweets on COVID Vaccine Misleading, Here's Why
Prashant Bhushan's recent posts about the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines have been criticised by many.
Micro-blogging platform Twitter on Monday, 28 June, labelled senior SC advocate Prashant Bhushan's tweets on COVID-19 vaccines as "misleading". Bhushan's recent tweets about the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines and the coronavirus-induced lockdowns have garnered widespread criticism.
In the tweet that was flagged by Twitter, Bhushan had said, “The healthy young have hardly any chance of serious effects or dying due to Covid. They have a higher chance of dying due to vaccines. The Covid recovered have much better natural immunity, than the vaccine gives them. Vaccines may even compromise their acquired natural immunity.”
We spoke with doctors and health experts who said that the claims and assertions made by Bhushan were neither correct nor backed by evidence. We also found several studies in reputed medical journals that contradicted some of the claims put forth by Bhushan.
Claim 1: 'Healthy And Young People Do Not Need COVID-19 Vaccine'
While it is true that the fatalities in the younger age groups (less than 40) is comparatively less than the elderly, but the number of young people who got infected during this phase increased substantially.
We spoke with Dr Narinder Kumar Mehra, Indian Council of Medical Research Emeritus Scientist (Hon) and former dean of the AIIMS, New Delhi about Bhushan's assertions. He agrees that younger adults were less affected by COVID-19.
"Only those young people who have immunosuppression due to genetic causes might face problems, but might still not have severe COVID-19," he said.
"However, this is not a reason for young people to not get vaccinated, specially since they can still be asymptomatic carriers and infect others with lower immunity," he adds.
According to the Maharashtra public health department’s data, "About 48 percent of the COVID-19 infected cases were children and youth (up to 40 years) while only 18 percent were senior citizens (above 60). One of the reasons for this was increased number of vaccinations in the elderly."
During an earlier conversation with FIT, Dr Rakesh Mishra, former director of CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad said, “We haven't seen anything in the virus that indicates it prefers certain age groups."
Dr Giridhar Babu, epidemiologist and professor at Public Health Foundation of India, also said, "The virus will seek those who are uninfected. So any age-group that is uninfected or unvaccinated, the virus will find them when it transmits. These people, who we call susceptible, are at risk of catching the virus in the future waves."
Claim 2: 'Healthy Young People Have Higher Chances of Dying From the Vaccine Than COVID-19'
Bhushan also said that younger adults had a higher chance of dying due to vaccines. There is no proof or evidence to support this claim. As of 28 June, over 11 crore people in the age group of 18-44 have been vaccinated, government data shows.
"It's not true that young people are dying from the vaccine. We have vaccinated over 33 crore people and roughly 30,000 AEFIs have been recorded so far and very few deaths," Dr Mehra said.
Dr Mehra said that AEFIs are not unique to COVID-19. AEFIs have been recorded after all kinds of vaccinations for a very long time.
"Only those who have allergic reactions are at risk from vaccinations and to ensure that it does not affect the recipient, they are kept under observation for 30 minutes," Dr Mehra added.
As per the CDC, "More than 318 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered in the United States from 14 December 2020, through 21 June 2021. During this time, VAERS received 5,479 reports of death (0.0017 percent) among people who received a COVID-19 vaccine."
However, in most cases the cause of death has not been directly linked to the COVID-19 vaccine.
A report published on 29 June in AP said that "nearly all COVID-19 deaths in the United States now are in people who weren’t vaccinated".
Claim 3: 'People Who Recovered From COVID-19 Don't Need The Vaccine'
This claim is inaccurate and misleading.
Although rare, cases of reinfections in COVID-19 recovered patients is possible and has happened.
"It's not true that those who have natural immunity from infection don't need the vaccine. We have found that the vaccines provide a wide range of spike-specific antibodies with more potent binding ability than the natural infection. The antibodies produced from the natural infection will be very narrow", Dr Mehra said.
A study on COVID-19 reinfections, first published in The British Medical Journal (BMJ) in January said that, "To date, most of the SARS-CoV-2 reinfections that have been reported have been milder than first encounters with the virus, although some have been more harmful — and two people have died as a result."
A study published in Nature journal found that antibodies from a COVID-19 infection could possibly last a lifetime. However, the paper mentioned that the emergence of variants of COVID-19 would mean that the protective response of antibodies will be reduced and people will need vaccinations to restore the antibody levels.
"A COVID-19 vaccine may offer more reliable and sustained immunity than a previous infection. At the very least, it will add an extra layer of targeted protection," Cassandra Berry, Professor of Immunology at Murdoch University wrote in The Conversation.
Claim 3: 'Government is Not Monitoring AEFIs From COVID-19 Vaccines'
In the same tweet thread, Bhushan said, "The [Indian] govt is not monitoring adverse events from vaccine nor releasing data."
After an initial delay in reporting of Adverse Events Following Immunisation (AEFI), the MoHFW is now updating the details of adverse events reported after people were administered with the COVID-19 vaccine.
The ministry uploads PDFs on its website that details adverse events among people, and assesses the causal relationship between the vaccine and the side effects. The National Adverse Event Following Immunisation (AEFI) Committee for COVID-19 then studies the reports and determines whether the vaccine caused the adverse events or not. The number of adverse side effects are also reported through the Co-WIN platform.
As per a 4 June document, "the reporting rate [in India] is 2.7 deaths per million vaccine doses administered and 4.8 hospitalisations per million vaccine doses administered."
This data was from the AEFIs studies between February-April.
Dr Mehra mentioned that the central government had recommended that all states should monitor vaccine recipients for adverse events following immunisation (AEFI) for 28 days, instead of the previously mandated 72 hours and the details will be updated on the Co-WIN website and mobile application.
Dr NK Arora, a member of the national AEFI Adverse Events Following Immunisation (AEFI) committee also said that all states will be asked to update data on AEFIs and make it public.
The panel has so far reported only one death that can be directly linked to the vaccine. A 68-year-old man died due to anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction) after being vaccinated on 8 March, a report in The Hindu said.
Claim 4: 'Current Prophylactic Vaccines Will Create Vaccine Resistant And More Virulent Mutant Strains'
Bhushan repeated a claim by self-described “independent virologist and vaccine expert” Geert Vanden Bossche that said that mass vaccinations using the currently available vaccines will create more virulent mutants.
In the 54-minute long video shared by Bhushan, Bossche makes several false or misleading claims about COVID-19 vaccinations, possible mutations and loss of innate immunity because of vaccinations combined with lockdowns.
FIT had previously debunked these claims by Bossche after speaking with experts in immunology and virology.
We spoke with Dr Satyajit Rath, an adjunct faculty of IISER Pune and an immunologist, who said, "If most people are 'immune' to the original virus strain, then the original strain cannot establish infection easily. But variants that are not as sensitive to that immunity might then get an advantage and will begin to spread."
"We should keep in mind that these variants will not necessarily be any more 'lethal', since all they will have been 'selected for' is avoiding pre-existing immunity just enough so as to establish infection and spread," he added.
Health Desk, a COVID-19 resource for journalists powered by public health experts dismissed the claim by Bossche on losing innate immunity and explained, "Studies have shown that when infants and children are raised in a home that is “too clean,” they may be more likely to have allergies or autoimmune problems later on. This “hygiene hypothesis” causes confusion sometimes. The hypothesis does not mean that the immune system needs to be exposed to germs all the time to remain strong."
It is also important to note that Bossche's work, which is not published in any reputed peer-reviewed journal, is often cited by anti-vaxxers such as Bigtree, Wakefield, and Robert F Kennedy Junior.
Claim 5: 'Masks Don't Work'
Apart from tweeting about the harmful effects of vaccinations, Bhushan has also been a strong critic of COVID-induced lockdowns and masking guidelines.
On 10 April, Bhushan posted a message on his social media handles that said that face masks are ineffective against COVID-19 based on a ‘study’ by a US-based cardiologist. The paper was also shared by other social media users with a similar claim.
Twitter later removed Bhushan’s post as it did not meet its community standards and COVID-19 guidelines.
We found the paper was a hypothesis by one doctor and had not been reviewed nor was backed with scientific proof.
Many of the references cited in the paper also talked about the effectiveness of masks in preventing COVID-19 transmission. The WHO, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) have said that masks are generally safe to use and help to curb the spread of COVID-19.
A study published in The Lancet in January 2021 found that “communities with high reported mask-wearing and physical distancing had the highest predicted probability of transmission control”.
"If I am infected and sitting across a table from a healthy person while wearing an N95 mask, 95 percent of my aerosol stays inside the mask. Even though 5 percent escapes, its velocity is less and it falls down as it escapes the mask. It will not reach the person sitting at a distance of 1 metre. If the person in front of me is also wearing a mask then it is safer because the viral particle will stop on the surface of his mask. Surgical masks and cloth masks offer similar protection but the degree is reduced."Dr Arvind Kumar, Founder Trustee of Lung Care Foundation
Bhushan in his tweet thread on Monday said that he was not "anti-vaccine per se", however, he has been amplifying tweets of famous anti-vaccination activists from around the globe like Robert Kennedy, Naomi Wolf and Dr Peter McCullough among others. He has also cited anti-vaccination websites as reference in some of his tweets like Great Game India, Lifesite News etc.
Although the anti-vaccination movement in India is not as large and organised as the West, misleading posts by influential people like Bhushan could still lead to vaccine hesitancy among his followers.
We already have enough data to prove that vaccines work against severe diseases and prevent deaths due to COVID-19. Therefore, it is crucial for everyone to get vaccinated as fast as they can.
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