Fact-Checking Claims That COVID Vaccines Cause a Brain Disorder

A viral article recently published at The Defender claims in its headline “COVID-19 Vaccines linked to New Type of Incurable, Fatal Degenerative Brain Disorder.”

The Defender is a news website of the Children’s Health Defense, a non-profit that claims “to end childhood health epidemics by working aggressively to eliminate harmful exposures, hold those responsible accountable, and to establish safeguards to prevent future harm.” 

As we have noted in an earlier fact check, the Children’s Health Defense and its founder, Robert Kennedy Jr., have a history of promoting vaccine misinformation, including pushing the false claim that masks may be linked to microplastics found in lung tissue. 

The most recent article from the Children’s Health Defense claims that “studies suggest a link between a rapidly progressing, incurable and fatal prion disease known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease and COVID-19 vaccines.” 

This is a false claim. 

This isn’t the first time a rumor like this has gone viral. We have previously fact checked a version of this claim that suggests RNA vaccines could lead to an increase in prion disease. 

Prion disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is “a family of rare progressive neurodegenerative disorders that affect both humans and animals.” The term prion “refers to 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,” according to the CDC.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease is a prion disease. 

A spokesperson for the CDC told The Dispatch Fact Check via email that: “To date, CDC has detected no unusual or unexpected patterns of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease following immunization that would indicate COVID-19 vaccines are causing or contributing to this condition. CDC continues to recommend that everyone who is eligible should get vaccinated.”

The article first cites a recent article from the Epoch Times, which claims that “studies link incurable prion disease with COVID-19 vaccines.” The two studies, mentioned here and by other outlets promoting the same falsehood, are a French pre-print paper and a Turkish study. 

The Gateway Pundit, a right wing media company and frequent purveyor of misinformation, has also been promoting the same false claim, citing the same two studies as evidence: “Two new clinical studies – one peer-reviewed by researchers in Turkey, and one pre-print by researchers in France – have begun to establish an alarming link between an incurable, degenerative brain disease called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) and the experimental Covid-19 vaccine.”

The French study in pre-print (which means it has not yet been peer reviewed)  looked at 26 cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease and found “of the 26 cases analyzed, the first symptoms of CJD appeared on average 11.38 days after the injection of the COVID-19 ‘vaccine’. Of these 26 cases, 20 had died at the time of writing this article while 6 were still alive.”

The Turkish study identified a single patient who, according to the study, “was admitted to the Pamukkale University Anesthesiology Intensive Care Units with the neurological findings that developed after the COVID-19 vaccine (CoronaVac, Sinovac Life Sciences, Beijing, China).”

But in an interview with The Dispatch Fact Check, Stanley Perlman, professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Iowa, explained that these two studies are coincidental and not causal. 

The Turkish report, he explained, only showed a single case of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. Perlman noted that there have been millions of people who have been vaccinated, adding, “if there was any kind of link, it would be much more present than in one patient in Turkey and in 26 cases in France.”

Infectious disease specialist and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine professor William Schaffner similarly pointed out that if these 26 cases in France were part of a larger pattern, we would have seen more cases in other countries. “Since these are mostly cases from France, why haven’t we seen similar phenomena in other countries now all around the world that have used millions upon millions of doses of this vaccine?” Schaffner asked. 

“The CDC, and certainly the British who have very rigorous vaccination surveillance systems have not found an increase in Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease,” he said. 

Schaffner also points out that the authors of the Turkish study never actually conclude that the vaccine caused Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

“They are very cautious,” he explained. “The reason they’re cautious is that they’re aware that being linked in time does not necessarily mean that there’s a causal link. And so the people who report this one case, I think they have that sense that they can’t conclude anything.”

Schaffner pointed out that many things that appear in pre-print never actually make it into the published peer review literature.

“People who are experts in molecular virology and experts in epidemiology have not had a chance to read it carefully, and then make comments to the journal about whether they think the methods and conclusions are valid or not,” Schaffner added. 

If you have a claim you would like to see us fact check, please send us an email at factcheck@thedispatch.com. If you would like to suggest a correction to this piece or any other Dispatch article, please email corrections@thedispatch.com.

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