Not Real News

A health worker administers a dose of a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic in Reading, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 14. On Friday, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly claiming receiving the COVID-19 vaccine makes you more likely to get AIDS or cancer. 

CLAIM: Receiving the COVID-19 vaccine shot makes you more likely to get AIDS or cancer.

THE FACTS: The claim is false. On October 25, Facebook and Instagram removed a live video published by Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro. In the video Bolsonaro falsely claimed that people in the U.K. who had received two coronavirus vaccine doses were developing AIDS faster than expected.

Days later, social media posts repeated the false information. One popular Facebook post falsely claimed, “Y’all The shot is giving ppl cancer & HIV.” But immunologists, infectious disease specialists and cancer researchers contacted by The Associated Press said COVID-19 vaccines don’t cause cancer or make individuals more likely to contract HIV, which is the virus that causes AIDS.

Dr. Michael Imperiale, professor in the department of microbiology and immunology at the University of Michigan, said “there is no evidence linking the vaccines to cancer,” and that none of the ingredients in the vaccines are cancer-causing.

Dr. Mark Shlomchik, chair of the department of immunology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said the idea that any vaccine can cause cancer is inaccurate. “There is no practical way that a vaccine could cause cancer,” Shlomchik said. “No vaccine that we have ever studied or used to prevent infection has ever been associated with cancer.”

The claim that COVID-19 vaccines cause HIV or AIDS is “absolutely and categorically a false statement,” said Dr. Monica Gandhi, associate chief of the division of HIV, infectious diseases and global medicine at the University of California San Francisco Medical School. “There is nothing in the COVID vaccines that contain either HIV or increase a body’s susceptibility to contracting HIV.”

Individuals also can’t contract HIV while receiving the shot. “It is not possible to transmit HIV between people during immunization,” said Dr. Paul Bollyky, associate professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at Stanford University department of medicine. “The COVID-19 vaccines are not made using any human blood products and a single-use needle is used in each different person who received the vaccine.”

AIDS is the most severe phase of HIV infection, associated with a high viral load and a badly damaged immune system. But in clinical trials testing the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines, no evidence emerged suggesting people living with HIV were more likely to develop AIDS after receiving the shot.

“Many hundreds of thousands of people have participated in worldwide trials for the vaccines,” said Shlomchik. “‘Adverse events’ were studied in both vaccinated participants and non-vaccinated people who were part of the study. There was never any difference between the two groups in getting AIDS.”

Real world data also doesn’t show vaccinated people getting AIDS more often than unvaccinated people. “7 billion doses of COVID vaccines have been given out,” said Gandhi. “And there has been no evidence that vaccines make it more likely for individuals to get AIDS.”

— Associated Press writer Terrence Fraser in New York contributed this report.