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Spikeopathy Speculative Fiction Contaminates the Blood Supply

The spike protein encoded in the COVID-19 vaccines has been the subject of much alarmism from anti-vaxxers. None of it is actually worrisome.

We have to talk about the word “spikeopathy,” not to be confused with “psychopathy.”

Our office recently celebrated its 25th anniversary—25 years of, among other things, separating sense from nonsense on scientific matters. I would argue that our work is harder now than it has ever been: as the dance of science becomes ever more convoluted, pseudoscience follows in its footsteps, imitating its complexity and looking more and more convincing.

When a panic-inducing claim is made about a serious topic, like the COVID-19 vaccines, some will be reassured when an expert they trust simply tells them not to worry. Others, however, find the evidence for the claim so detailed and academic-looking that, even if they do not understand it, they require a deeper debunk. As Brandolini’s law states, the amount of energy (and the number of words, I would add) required to refute nonsense is an order of magnitude bigger than was needed to produce it. Defecating on a pasture is easy; shoveling it out of there is a slog.

You may have heard from unscrupulous sources that our blood supply is now contaminated by the blood of the vaccinated, that the spike protein encoded by the COVID-19 vaccines is dangerous on its own and could now make the unvaccinated ill through transfusions. A prominent anti-vaxxer, the American Del Bigtree, even flew to Mexico to get a transfusion of “unvaccinated blood” following a substantial blood loss from hemorrhoids.

As we slide down this rabbit hole, you will see why scientists have had to write multiple 10,000-word refutations on this subject. Those of us trying to fairly explain our understanding of the science of vaccines are at a major disadvantage: we can’t simply make stuff up.

Seeing ghosts 

I am indebted to the work of medical doctors and scientists like David GorskiEd Nirenberg and Dan Wilson, who regularly tackle bad COVID studies and perform their extensive pre-mortem autopsies. It’s messy work. I will try to clean it up and summarize.

The tainted blood supply claim recently resurfaced thanks to a Japanese pre-print, meaning a scientific manuscript that has yet to be reviewed by other scientists. It paints a horrifying picture of studies apparently showing that the spike protein itself, divorced from the coronavirus, stays in the body and takes on weird shapes that are infectious much like the prions of mad cow disease. The alleged disease caused by the spike protein has been called “spikeopathy.” And now the blood of vaccinated people has infected blood banks. The twist is that these fears aren’t voiced by an inmate in a madhouse; they come with citations to actual scientific papers, making them appear credible.

Let’s look at the claim that the spike protein from the vaccine stays in the body for weeks, if not months. You will remember that the COVID vaccines contain molecular instructions, in the form of messenger RNA (mRNA) for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, for our bodies to make the coronavirus’ spike protein, which adorns the virus like a crown and helps it bind to the cells lining our airway. These instructions are read by some of our cells, the spike protein is made, and our immune system learns to recognize it in case it encounters it in the wild.

Anti-vaxxers claim this process, which was only supposed to last a few days, goes on for much longer in the body. We were lied to, they say. One study, coming out of Harvard and the Université de Montréal, reported seeing the spike protein in the blood of 11 people who had been vaccinated, and the spike protein was not even supposed to end up in the blood but to stay inside of immune cells. How much of this spike protein was detected? A few trillionths of a gram per millilitre of blood, almost nothing, because the authors used a highly sensitive method and they managed to detect a signal at the edge of the assay’s limit. It is likely that some of the immune cells now displaying the spike protein—a desirable thing for vaccines to work—were killed by other cells or simply died, and these bits and parts of dead cells were picked up by this incredibly sensitive test. This is similar to a paper from Italy and the United Kingdom in which fragments of the spike protein were found in the blood of vaccinated people up to 187 days post-vaccination. We have become the victims of our laboratory-enhanced eyes: we can now detect parts per quadrillion of chemicals, traces of traces. It’s not far from spotting a single grain of rice on a beach and thinking the sand is getting contaminated.

When it’s not the spike protein itself that is seen, it’s the mRNA coding for it. A Danish study showed that this mRNA molecule could be found in the blood up to a month after receiving either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. But what the researchers found weeks after vaccination were, again, small fragments of the mRNA, which cannot result in the production of the spike protein, like how a few lines from a recipe book aren’t enough to produce a cake. None of these findings are alarming once we contextualize them.

But can the spike protein make us sick divorced from the rest of the coronavirus?


The RNA instructions we get from the vaccines to make the spike protein are different from the ones found in the coronavirus. The RNA molecule is a string of bases, so-called “letters”, like beads on a string, and some of these bases have been modified for the vaccine through a process known as methylpseudouridylation. Without it, the RNA in the vaccines would have been recognized as foreign by our body and immediately destroyed, causing a bad immune reaction in the process. The vaccines would have failed. Scientists, knowing this, made these alterations so the RNA would be treated the same as human-made RNAs and would remain in cells long enough to be translated into the spike protein.

But panic erupted in anti-vaccine circles when it was discovered that this alteration meant the spike protein may not always be produced correctly. Rather, it was shown that the protein-producing apparatus would slip on this altered RNA molecule and read it differently. This is known as a frameshift. RNA is read three bases at a time and each triplet corresponds to a specific building block in the nascent protein. Imagine the phrase “BAD JAB,” where each triplet forms a word. If you slip and miss the initial “B,” you end up with “ADJ AB,” which is meaningless. Methylpseudouridylated RNA can slip in this way and produce “nonsensical” proteins. Could these nonsensical proteins, let loose in our cells, harm us?

We actually know, from using an artificial construct based on the vaccine mRNA, that these nonsensical proteins are much fewer in numbers compared to the actual spike protein (see the starred bands in figure 1E of this paper), and we also know from looking at the proteins made when we expose the Pfizer vaccine to the molecules in our cells that translate it into a protein that only the expected spike protein is easily detected. Anomalous versions of it, if they are there, are often too rare to be seen. Our bodies have already evolved to deal with the occasional wrong protein, so this is unlikely to be an issue.

Anti-vaxxers will tell you that frameshifting mutations can cause some diseases (many of which can also be caused by other types of mutations, by the way). But there is a vital difference here. In the case of the disease, the DNA itself has the frameshift mutation. The correct protein cannot be made from that bit of DNA. In the case of the COVID vaccines, frameshift can happen occasionally, but it is not baked into the molecule and the correct spike protein is almost always produced in the end.

A spiked literature

All of these individual claims are now routinely packaged into “narrative reviews,” often written by anti-vaccine celebrities like computer scientist Stephanie Seneff and ivermectin guru Peter McCullough, that scare the reader with speculative and decontextualized findings like these and that benefit from getting published in academic journals. These papers sneakily take findings in the coronavirus itself and the disease that it causes and speculate that it must also apply to the vaccine, as if our understanding of the damage the influenza viruscan do was relevant to the safety of the flu vaccine. One such infamous review contains 29 instances of the word “potential” or “potentially” and another 29 occurrences of “could” outside of its bibliography. With this much imaginary obsession over the spike protein, it’s no longer speculation; it’s “spikulation.”

One of these bits of “spikulation” is that the spike protein itself behaves like a prion. You may remember the scare over mad cow disease. Prion-based diseases are peculiar: they are caused by misshapen proteins whose altered shape is infectious. They corrupt our own version of the same protein and can cause nasty, degenerative conditions like Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. But calling the spike protein a prion is a stretch: it’s because looking at the protein’s sequence, scientists found regions that are commonly found in prions. This is not even in vitro work; this is in silico stuff, done on the computer. This is then combined with a report that 26 people were diagnosed with a prion disease within weeks of receiving a COVID vaccine. These oddities get repackaged in review articles to sound the alarm about mass harm.

So how do these fantastical, pseudoscientific review articles even get published in the first place? When the one with 29 uses of the word “potential” was published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology (the one which, appropriately enough, had published the infamous Seralini study wrongfully linking GMOs and the commercial pesticide Roundup to cancer in rats, before retracting it), an emeritus professor in oncology wrote to the editor-in-chief, calling the paper a “militant, agitational tract.” The editor did not take the paper down; in fact, you can still read it two years after its publication. Through either naiveté or kinship, some journal editors actually let anti-vaccine crusaders publish their sloppy work. Much of it gets published in journals that look predatory, with a quick turnaround time and little scrutiny. Then there is the impressive-sounding International Journal of Vaccine Theory, Practice, and Research, which appears to be a journal recently set up specifically to launder COVID-19 anti-vaccine speculation. Its editor-in-chief has a doctorate in general linguistics, and associate editors include noted anti-vaxxers like Seneff and Brian Hooker. 

The Japanese preprint about the tainted blood supply is similarly speculative and alarmist. It calls for the suspension of the vaccination campaign against COVID, using the same repackaged half-truths and fictions that so many other anti-vaccine review articles spew. One of its authors, Masanori Fukushima, has already published with Seneff and McCullough.

But if the mRNA vaccines were so dangerous, inoculating us with a prion protein comparable to what we see in mad cow disease, we would know by now. The intense scrutiny these vaccines are under resulted in the detection of a one-in-a-million blood clot risk with the Johnson&Johnson vaccine six weeks after it started to be widely distributed. Anti-vaxxers will then turn to the VAERS website and other databases dedicated to the reporting of illness following vaccination as proof of harm, but they refuse to understand how these databases work to protect the public. Just because I get a headache the day after receiving a vaccine does not mean the vaccine gave me the headache. We have to look at how common headaches are in general and see if there has been an increase. The same goes for prion diseases.

The COVID vaccines, administered over 13 billion times, are really, really safe. A massive review looking at 41 randomized controlled trials of 12 different COVID-19 vaccines on a total of nearly half a million participants concluded that there was probably little to no difference between most vaccines and placebos when it came to serious side effects. Yes, rare serious side effects do happen, and scientists are trying to figure out why, with their early clues misused by anti-vaccine activists to paint these vaccines as genocidal. But if the spike protein encoded by these vaccines was so deadly, you would not survive receiving 217 of these injections. Yet a German man did. Why? The article reporting on this oddity mentions “private reasons,” but his immune system was fine and he did not die.

I wouldn’t worry if he offered to donate some of his blood.

Take-home message:
- The claim that the spike protein or its messenger RNA can be detected for weeks or months after vaccination is based on studies where fragments were barely detectable, often trillionths of a gram, which is in keeping with our understanding of biology
- The fears around the wrong protein being made because the vaccine RNA has been modified is not backed up by the evidence, which shows that those wrong proteins are few and far in between and are likely destroyed by the cell like most malformed proteins we naturally produce
- The idea that the spike protein would behave like a prion and cause disease is not based on laboratory studies in cells and animals, but rather on computer analyses of its sequence
- Over 13 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccines have been administered, with robust data showing they are overwhelmingly safe


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