Could the mRNA Vaccines Lead to an Increase in Neurodegenerative Disorders?

A viral Facebook post suggests that the messenger RNA vaccines produced by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna could lead to an increase in prion disease years from now. The post relies on a screenshot of a purported research article from J. Bart Classen, who writes that “we will see a rise in prion disease in 5-40 years.”

For starters, what is a prion disease? According to the Center for Disease Control, prion diseases are: “a family of rare progressive neurodegenerative disorders that affect both humans and animals.” The CDC defines prions as “abnormal, pathogenic agents that are transmissible and are able to induce abnormal folding of specific normal cellular proteins called prion proteins that are found most abundantly in the brain.” Per the CDC, “[T]he abnormal folding of the prion proteins leads to brain damage and the characteristic signs and symptoms of the disease.” Human prion diseases include Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease and kuru, among others. Bovine spongiform encephalopathy, otherwise known as mad cow disease, is an example of an animal prion disease. 

The author of the article, J. Bart Classen, is a noted opponent of vaccines. Classen wrote a letter to former President Donald Trump in 2017 calling on him to stop “disastrous government vaccine policies.” He wrote: “Vaccines cause chronic immune disorders such as autism, diabetes, asthma, allergies and multiple different autoimmune diseases. Because of vaccines these diseases are increasing at epidemic proportions.” 

Jacob Yount, associate professor in the Department of Microbial Infection and Immunity at Ohio State University, told The Dispatch Fact Check via email that “the strategy of proposing a far-fetched negative consequence of the COVID vaccines long into the future without evidence or data is calculated dishonesty.”

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