I have been ignoring Robert Malone and his claims that he “invented” the mRNA vaccines. I just thought he would disappear, but now he’s like the other quacks in the COVID-19 vaccine world, spreading misinformation and disinformation about mRNA vaccines.
He’s become the go-to talking head to discredit the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. And he uses his claim that he “invented” the vaccine to become the false authority on the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines. All over the internet, I’m reading COVID-19 vaccine deniers invoke his name as proof that no one should get that vaccine.
Well, I’ve reached my maximum level of annoyance at Robert Malone, so it’s time for the old feathered non-avian dinosaur to tell you what he did with the mRNA vaccines and why he should be ignored.
Who is Robert Malone? And why should I care?
Robert W. Malone does have an impressive set of credentials — he has a BS in biochemistry from the University of California – Davis, a master’s in biology from the University of California – San Diego, and an MD from Northwestern University. However, I must remind you that credentials don’t matter, only scientific evidence when we’re talking about vaccines. So, we’ll get to the evidence later.
In the late 1980s, Malone conducted studies on mRNA technology, discovering that it was possible to transfer mRNA protected by a liposome into cultured cells to signal the information needed for the production of proteins. He proceeded to test out the ability to use mRNA in other cell models. Undoubtedly, these first studies did lead to the development of mRNA vaccines — but I need to be very clear, none of these were mRNA vaccines, it was merely the development of a concept that mRNA from one species of organisms could be used to produce proteins from the mRNA in the cells of another species.
Dr. Malone routinely promotes himself as the inventor of mRNA vaccines, and he complains that he doesn’t get credit for it. Like I said he was involved in some early research into the technology, but his role in the actual creation of the vaccine was limited, if at all.
And today, Robert Malone is pushing all kinds of conspiracies and outright misinformation about the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines. Orac recently discussed the edit wars on Wikipedia, where Malone’s fans were trying to whitewash his biography to make it appear that Malone was the inventor of the vaccine. Those efforts failed!
Orac wrote that the quack Joe Mercola jumped on the conspiracy train to claim that “they” (not sure who they are, maybe it’s Orac) are trying to erase Malone from the history of mRNA vaccines.
My article is not going to “erase” Robert Malone from the history of mRNA vaccines. He got the ball rolling by showing that mRNA could be harnessed to create foreign proteins (like the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein) in other cells. However, he had nothing to do with developing vaccines, and certainly the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines, because there are many steps from sticking mRNA fragments into cell cultures to developing an injectable vaccine that needs to deliver that mRNA fragment into a living, breathing human.
Robert Malone is not a vaccine scientist let alone the inventor of the mRNA vaccine. Because at the time he was conducting those preliminary experiments on mRNA, it was not known how to protect the fragile RNA from the immune system’s attack. Without that important step, we would never have mRNA vaccines, and Malone had absolutely nothing to do with figuring it out.
Malone and five other researchers published a widely-cited paper in 1990 that showed that they could inject mRNA into muscle and produce the target proteins. The authors did speculate that it could be used for vaccines.
However, according to the New York Times:
But Dr. Malone was not the lead author on the paper and, according to Dr. Acsadi, did not make a significant contribution to the research. While the paper stated that the technology could “provide alternative approaches to vaccine development,” Dr. Acsadi said none of the other authors would claim that they invented the vaccine.
I know it may seem like I’m nitpicking because of Malone’s early work, we may not have mRNA vaccines. That is true, though moving from simple cell models to actually produce a safe and effective vaccine took nearly 20 years, and to put it bluntly, Robert Malone had no contributions to that effort.
Let me put it this way. Jonas Salk didn’t come up with the idea for vaccines, that goes to early Chinese physicians who use variolation against smallpox and Edward Jenner who created a safe vaccine for the same disease. But it was Salk who invented the Polio vaccine, we do not give credit to the Chinese or Edward Jenner. The same with these mRNA vaccines, it was other researchers, using Malone’s early non-vaccine studies to create safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines.
Setting aside his seemingly false claims about his involvement in the development of mRNA vaccines (which was pretty close to zero), Malone was an early adopter of the quack treatments of hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, both of which have been shown to not affect the outcomes of COVID-19.
And he has been misusing the genuine policy debates going on in the medical community about what should be done in the future with vaccines given the speed of development for the COVID-19 vaccines to cast doubt on the clinical trials and approval process. And he gets a forum because he continues to claim that he was the inventor of the vaccine.
I’m not going to dig into Robert Malone’s psyche and why he makes these claims. Maybe he felt wronged by the lack of attention he’s been given. There are people online (along with Malone himself) who are pushing for him to receive the Nobel Prize for his work on mRNA vaccines. I might agree except for the fact that he had nothing to do with the vaccine.
So who did “invent” the mRNA vaccines?
It’s pretty hard to pinpoint one person who gave us these mRNA vaccines. Like with most medical advancements, it takes dozens, maybe hundreds, of researchers over the decades who contribute little bits and pieces to the overall knowledge about injecting mRNA to give us a vaccine.
I don’t want to minimize Malone’s contribution on the pathway to getting us an mRNA vaccine — his initial research was instrumental. However, his claims that he invented the mRNA vaccines are unfounded and not supported by evidence.
As I mentioned before, the main obstacle they faced was that the RNA was causing unwanted immune and inflammatory reactions as adverse responses. Malone had nothing to do with overcoming this problem, as he was not involved in the vaccine development process.
If I were the all-powerful emperor of the Nobel Prize, I’d give it to University of Pennsylvania scientists Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman who discovered the method to place the mRNA fragments in lipid nanoparticles to deliver them to the cell without inducing an attack from the immune system before the target protein is produced. Without this work, we would not have a single mRNA vaccine. And I cannot imagine how bad the COVID-19 pandemic would be without their research.
Both Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna licensed their research for the COVID-19 vaccines.
Of course, I could spend an hour listing out every researcher on mRNA vaccines to get where we are today. There are probably close to 1000 names there. But Karikó and Weissman took the leap that got us to a usable vaccine, which, if it isn’t the most important step, it’s probably pretty close to it.
The early work of Robert Malone certainly got researchers started on the path of developing an mRNA vaccine, but since that time there are over 6000 published articles on mRNA vaccines, none of them involving Malone.
From my perspective, Robert Malone is the epitome of the appeal to false authority — he has just enough credentials to make him appear credible in the world of mRNA vaccines, but his contributions were very early on, and he had zero influence on the development of these vaccines.
Malone can continue to claim that he “invented” the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine. Except he didn’t, and we have facts to back that up. If you really need to give credit to the true inventors of the vaccine, stick with Drs. Karikó and Weissmann. And they are both pro-vaccine.
It is troublesome, however, that he took his knowledge about mRNA to push false claims about the mRNA vaccines — they are safe and effective, according to published evidence. If Malone thinks they aren’t safe or effective, he needs to do research and publish it, his opinion has no scientific impact.
Furthermore, he pushes the discredited COVID-19 ”treatments,” like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin. I don’t know why a somewhat legitimate scientist cannot review the data about these ineffective drugs and not talk about them. But that’s his choice, and the New York Times called him out on it.
Update 08 April 2022 — Malone threatens the New York Times
Well, this was fast. Malone has apparently threatened to sue the New York Times for libel. I know some COVID-19 vaccine deniers will use this as proof of Malone’s integrity who is a victim of attacks from the press. However, it is just a letter to the newspaper, and we’ll eventually let a jury decide if they get that far.
I’ve read the article several times, and everything the newspaper wrote seems to be accurate and supported by facts. We all know someone else who tried to use lawsuits to silence critics — Andrew Wakefield.
- Dolgin E. The tangled history of mRNA vaccines. Nature. 2021 Sep;597(7876):318-324. doi: 10.1038/d41586-021-02483-w. PMID: 34522017.
- Karikó K, Buckstein M, Ni H, Weissman D. Suppression of RNA recognition by Toll-like receptors: the impact of nucleoside modification and the evolutionary origin of RNA. Immunity. 2005 Aug;23(2):165-75. doi: 10.1016/j.immuni.2005.06.008. PMID: 16111635.
- Wolff JA, Malone RW, Williams P, Chong W, Acsadi G, Jani A, Felgner PL. Direct gene transfer into mouse muscle in vivo. Science. 1990 Mar 23;247(4949 Pt 1):1465-8. doi: 10.1126/science.1690918. PMID: 1690918.
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