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Debunked: No, a former Pfizer employee was not correct to say there is 'no need for vaccines'

Quotes attributed to Dr Mike Yeadon are inaccurate.

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A SOCIAL MEDIA post circulating this month has falsely claimed that vaccines are not needed to end the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Facebook post quotes former Pfizer employee Dr Mike Yeadon, who also suggested that “fit and healthy” people are not at risk of contracting the virus and therefore do not need to be vaccinated.

128991093_10159049108211477_6836792244462046108_n Source: Facebook

Pfizer has recently been given approval by the European Medicines Agency to distribute its Covid-19 vaccine in the European Union, with its first doses arriving in Ireland last Saturday.

However, Yeadon’s claims – which were made in a blog post on 16 October – have circulated online as part of attempts to discredit the company’s vaccine.

In the post, Yeadon argues that the pandemic is “effectively over” in the UK and that “there is absolutely no need for vaccines to extinguish the pandemic”. He also adds: “You do not vaccinate people who aren’t at risk from a disease.”

Yeadon’s employment by Pfizer suggests that his opinion on the rollout of the vaccine is credible.

However, Politifact has previously explained that Yeadon has not worked for Pfizer in nine years, citing both the Associated Press and his LinkedIn profile to show that he was formerly the chief scientific officer of allergy and respiratory research.

Several of the claims he makes in his blog are wrong, including the suggestion that the Covid-19 pandemic is over in the UK.

Earlier this month, parts of the UK – including Northern Ireland – re-introduced restrictions as new infections surged and fears of hospitals being overwhelmed mounted.

Even before Yeadon wrote his blog post, the country’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam warned that the UK was “at a tipping point similar to where we were in March”.

Latest data for the UK, published on 27 December, shows that there was over 30,000 new cases there in the previous 24 hours and almost 250,000 in the previous week.  

Yeadon is incorrect in his suggestion that vaccines are not required, a claim that was repeated in the viral Facebook post containing his quotes.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has long maintained that the development of a vaccine would be crucial to fighting the virus.

Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies programme, told reporters that the world needs “to develop more vaccines”.

“It’s not just the vaccines that matter, it’s vaccination,” he said recently. “It will be very important that we focus on that delivery part.”

Earlier this month, director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory Dr Cillian de Gascun also told The Explainer podcast that vaccines had “revolutionised the prevention of infectious diseases” like Covid-19.

“We would expect that if the vaccine doesn’t entirely prevent infection, it still should ensure that the amount of transmission that occurs from people who are vaccinated should be reduced,” he said.

Meanwhile, figures from the World Health Organization show that vaccines which protect against diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, influenza and measles save the lives of up to three million people each year.

A successful Covid-19 vaccine will likewise prevent millions from dying from that virus.

Yeadon also makes a related claim that people are not at risk from Covid-19, suggesting that ”millions of fit and healthy” people do not require the vaccine.

Both claims are untrue, because everyone is at risk of Covid-19. As an infectious disease transmitted by humans, anyone (except those who build up antibodies to it) can catch it.

In that sense, everyone – including fit and healthy people – either needs to get a vaccine or continue socially distancing to stop them both catching Covid-19 and from passing it on to others.

It is also worth noting that many of those who contract the virus, including young people, continue to suffer from after-effects for months afterwards.

There have been a number of instances of high-profile “fit and healthy” individuals – including Shamrock Rovers footballer Jack Byrne and Premier League footballers - being adversely affected by the virus.

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The WHO has even said that some patients “develop medical complications that may have lasting health effects”.

In a US study among those aged 18 to 34 years who were in good health before they contracted the virus, 20% reported that some symptoms were prolonged.

The WHO further warned that long-term health problems as a result of Covid-19 could include heart failure, lung failure, loss of smell, cognitive impairment, fatigue and anxiety and depression.

As a new illness, it still not fully known what the long-term effects of the virus are and more time and research is needed to understand them.

The suggestion that vaccines are not needed for “fit and healthy” people to avoid Covid-19 is simply untrue.

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There is a lot of false news and scaremongering being spread in Ireland at the moment about coronavirus. Here are some practical ways for you to assess whether the messages that you’re seeing – especially on WhatsApp – are true or not. 

STOP, THINK AND CHECK 

Look at where it’s coming from. Is it someone you know? Do they have a source for the information (e.g. the HSE website) or are they just saying that the information comes from someone they know? A lot of the false news being spread right now is from people claiming that messages from ‘a friend’ of theirs. Have a look yourself – do a quick Google search and see if the information is being reported elsewhere. 

Secondly, get the whole story, not just a headline. A lot of these messages have got vague information (“all the doctors at this hospital are panicking”) and don’t mention specific details. This is often – but not always a sign – that it may not be accurate. 

Finally, see how you feel after reading it. A lot of these false messages are designed to make people feel panicked. They’re deliberately manipulating your feelings to make you more likely to share it. If you feel panicked after reading something, check it out and see if it really is true.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here

Have you gotten a message on WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter about coronavirus that you’re not sure about and want us to check it out? Message or mail us and we’ll look into debunking it. WhatsApp: 085 221 4696 or Email: answers@thejournal.ie

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