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Fact Check: Is There a Connection Between COVID Vaccines and Hepatitis C?
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Fact Check: Is There a Connection Between COVID Vaccines and Hepatitis C?

A viral tweet makes a false claim.

In a viral tweet from last week, Dr. Peter McCullough, a Texas cardiologist and frequent purveyor of COVID-19 misinformation, claimed that there is a connection between the COVID-19 vaccine and hepatitis C: 

McCullough’s claim leaves out the context that the study he cites is based on one patient. The study, which can be read here, acknowledges that it “cannot exclude a coincidental occurrence” of hepatitis C. And his claim that “reactivation syndromes suggest reverse transcription” is false.

The study examines “a case of a 82-year old patient with dementia who was admitted to a nursing home in the Netherlands. After vaccination with COVID-19 vaccination, physical examinations and lab tests were performed.” The results, per the study, indicated that the patient “had a reactivation of hepatitis C infection” after receiving the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

The fact that the study is based on a single case is significant, as Robert Garry, a Tulane University virologist, explained to The Dispatch Fact Check via email. 

“The case is simply that—a case. A single case,” he said. “It’s anecdotal. There is no epidemic of HCV [hepatitis C virus] reactivation after COVID-19 vaccination.”

In an email to The Dispatch Fact Check, Paul Offit, a pediatrician and virologist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, similarly pointed out that the study in question “is a coincidental not causal association.”

Garry further explained that: “​​Hepatitis C gets reactivated during cancer or immunosuppressive therapies. Being 82 years old is ‘immunosuppressive’ in its own right. Often HCV reactivates with no apparent trigger.”

“It’s no surprise that reactivation would be fatal in a 82-year-old person likely with other health issues,” he said. “The most likely explanation is that the hepatitis C would have reactivated in this individual with or without the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Garry also pointed out that McCullough’s claim that: “Serious viral reactivation syndromes suggest reverse transcription,” is false because “hepatitis C reactivation does not involve reverse transcription.” He added that “this person [McCullough] is not qualified to discuss virology.” 

For some context on reverse transcriptase, Garry explained that it is “an enzyme first described for retroviruses, the family of viruses that includes HIV.” Reverse transcriptase, he added, “converts ribonucleic acid (RNA) to deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Retroviruses convert their RNA genomes into DNA as part of their replication cycle.” 

Martha Sharan, a spokesperson for the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also addressed the claim in an email to The Dispatch Fact Check

“To date, CDC has detected no unusual or unexpected patterns of reactivation of hepatitis C infection after vaccination that would indicate COVID-19 vaccines are causing or contributing to this condition.” ”

McCullough did not respond to our request for comment.

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Khaya Himmelman's Headshot

Khaya Himmelman

Khaya Himmelman is a fact checker for The Dispatch. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and Barnard College.