Not Real News

On Friday, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly asserting that Pfizer admitted in its COVID-19 clinical trial protocol document that vaccinated people can “shed” the vaccine, emitting materials that can spread to unvaccinated people by inhalation or skin contact.

THE FACTS: Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine does not shed from person to person, nor has the company admitted any such thing.

“The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is a synthetic mRNA vaccine and does not contain any virus particles. Because there is no virus produced in the body, no shedding occurs within the human body,” Pfizer spokesperson Jerica Pitts told The Associated Press in an email. “The vaccine cannot be inhaled via shedding and can only enter the human body through an administered dose.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Pfizer’s vaccine in December after extensive clinical trials. Women who were pregnant or breastfeeding were excluded from joining those early clinical studies, and participants were instructed to take measures to avoid pregnancy.

False posts on social media are now misinterpreting a portion of Pfizer’s November clinical trial protocol that used standard language intended to protect pregnant women and monitor any potential exposure. The posts twist the meaning to promote the bogus theory that a vaccinated person can shed the vaccine or provoke supposed side effects in another person.

The Pfizer document says any exposures during pregnancy should be reported, and defines such cases broadly to include instances where a pregnant woman is exposed to the vaccine “by inhalation or skin contact” or if a man who received the vaccine or was exposed to it “then exposes his female partner prior to or around the time of conception.”

Dr. Justin Brandt, an assistant professor at the department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, said that language is “far-reaching to protect pregnant women,” and is relevant to certain other vaccines that contain live viruses, which Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine does not.

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Dr. Shobha Swaminathan, an associate professor of medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, referred to the document’s language as “generic” meant to cover cases of “any potential exposures, including possible accidental ones.”

Swaminathan said that “exposure” through inhalation or skin contact could refer to incidents where a pregnant woman was near a syringe of the product that accidentally broke. But in the case of COVID-19 vaccines, the degree of absorption from spilling the vaccine on your skin is “probably going to be negligible to non-existent,” Swaminathan said.

Regarding the document’s guidelines requiring reporting if a vaccinated man potentially exposes a woman “around the time of conception,” Swaminathan said the language is meant to gather information on any type of exposure before the risks are known.

“Initially, you might not potentially know whether any of the vaccine is actually getting into the semen if any of the semen are affected,” Swaminathan said.

At this stage of research, however, she said: “We know that it really does not affect fertility at all.”