Well, this is a new one — anti-vaxxers are pushing a myth that the COVID-19 vaccine causes AIDS. Of course, those of you with solid science neurons would say to me, “Wait, what? You must have read it wrong.” Unfortunately, I read it right.
This is going to be an easy one to debunk because I can’t even figure out how one gets from a COVID-19 vaccine to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. But here we are, the anti-vaxxers will try anything to discredit vaccines because they have been empowered to spread disinformation by social media. Of course, I’ll debunk this ignorant myth, and tomorrow I’ll probably be trying to debunk a new myth that COVID-19 vaccines will turn your kids into alien lizards.
So here I go again. I just hope I don’t lose my few functioning neurons reading this junk science from a quack.
AIDS in a nutshell
I’m going to start with the very basics of AIDS, because if you understand these basics, you will know, without a doubt, that the COVID-19 vaccines could not possibly be a cause of some new form of AIDS.
AIDS, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, is a spectrum of conditions caused by infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), a retrovirus. This is settled science — HIV causes AIDS. Only HIV/AIDS deniers, who claim that AIDS is not caused by HIV, will say otherwise. There are a few well-educated scientists who have and continue to make the claim that something else causes AIDS — but that’s an opinion, not based on the body of evidence.
I cannot make this any clearer — there are no forms of AIDS that are caused by something other than HIV. Without HIV, you cannot have AIDS, no matter what the deniers say.
After HIV enters the body, there is a period of rapid viral replication, leading to an abundance of viruses in the peripheral blood. During primary infection, the level of HIV may reach several million virus particles per milliliter of blood.
This response is accompanied by a marked drop in the number of circulating CD4+ T cells, which are critical to the adaptive immune responses to pathogens. In other words, HIV weakens the immune system so it not only cannot battle HIV itself but also is weakened against other pathogens.
Following the initial infection, the infected individual may not notice any symptoms or may experience a brief period of influenza-like illness. Typically, this is followed by a prolonged incubation period with no symptoms.
If the infection progresses, it interferes more with the immune system (as described above), increasing the risk of developing common infections such as tuberculosis, as well as other opportunistic infections, and tumors which are otherwise rare in people who have a normal immune function. This stage is described as AIDS.
Let me repeat myself — AIDS is caused by HIV.
Anti-vaxxers claim that COVID-19 vaccine causes AIDS
Anti-vaxxers claim a lot of things about the COVID-19 vaccine but claiming it causes AIDS is just another broadside against science. These anti-vaxxers are nothing more than disease mongers, and it’s frightening.
But let’s get back to this AIDS myth.
This started with a blog post (I hope this blog post sends that one into a black hole) that was widely shared on social media (of course). It claimed that by the end of February 2022, everyone in the UK who has received a COVID-19 vaccine will develop AIDS. The blog post also alleges that the COVID-19 vaccine-related myocarditis has a 50% five-year fatality rate in children. I’m not going to debunk that now, but well over 90% of myocarditis cases resolve in a few days. I wish I didn’t read that blog post.
Like a lot of these stupid conspiracy theory claims from anti-vaxxers, they claim to have access to “Official UK Government Data” that states that “Brits” who have been “double or triple” vaccinated will develop AIDS by February 2022. Of course, the blog doesn’t actually show us anything that would confirm the existence or veracity of such data. Maybe James Bond has hidden it in a secret vault in MI-6 headquarters.
As best as I can tell, the crackpots have misinterpreted UK health ministry data on the number of cases of COVID-19 in the UK from week 47 to week 52 of 2021, categorized by vaccine status. The blogger then uses this data to extrapolate out to the end of February claiming that the COVID-19 vaccines will have -100% effectiveness, meaning getting the vaccine guarantees you will contract the disease.
I’m going to pause a minute to allow you all who just read that to spend some time screaming at your iPhone, iPad, or laptop. I did. I think the people around me were wondering if I was sane.
You cannot use a comparison in the case rates among vaccinated and unvaccinated populations to estimate vaccine effectiveness. Vaccine effectiveness must be determined by comparing infection rates in either a controlled clinical trial or a case-control epidemiological study. You cannot take population-level statistics and make any specific claims, as this blogger did.
The blogger then made the leap, and it was an awesome leap, that because the COVID-19 vaccine will reach -100% effectiveness this would mean anyone with the vaccine will contract AIDS.
My brain hurts.
I’m going to list out everything wrong with these claims.
- To get -100% effectiveness, the unvaccinated population would have to have 0 cases of COVID-19. That is simply not happening. There is no evidence of that happening. Period.
- Even if the COVID-19 vaccine was that ineffective, it would not make you suddenly susceptible to opportunistic infections unrelated to COVID-19. In other words, you would not suddenly develop AIDS.
- HIV can only be transmitted by direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected individual.
- There is no HIV in any COVID-19 vaccine — the vaccines contain mRNA, adenoviruses, or S-proteins, depending on the vaccine, and the HIV virus comes nowhere near these vaccines.
A COVID-19 vaccine simply cannot cause AIDS. That’s a scientific fact.
- Piatak M Jr, Saag MS, Yang LC, Clark SJ, Kappes JC, Luk KC, Hahn BH, Shaw GM, Lifson JD. High levels of HIV-1 in plasma during all stages of infection determined by competitive PCR. Science. 1993 Mar 19;259(5102):1749-54. doi: 10.1126/science.8096089. PMID: 8096089.
- Sepkowitz KA. AIDS–the first 20 years. N Engl J Med. 2001 Jun 7;344(23):1764-72. doi: 10.1056/NEJM200106073442306. PMID: 11396444.