Senator Ron Johnson, the Republican senator from Wisconsin, convened a round table with various actors known to be active in the anti-vaccine ecosystem with the premise that they would increase awareness of vaccine injury. This is not the first time he has done such a session, however the way that this session was put together does very little, if anything, to assist actual patients on their way to recovery. This is meant to advise the reader on how Sen. Johnson’s December 2022 roundtable was deceptive and used to push an agenda.

Here is the video from Rumble, not YouTube. Notice the logo of Del Bigtree’s Highwire. As the video rolls, notice how antivax doctors whom we’ve met before, such as Dr. Robert “inventor of mRNA vaccines” Malone, Dr. Peter McCullough (who has promoted “vaccine Holocaust” and “Great Reset” conspiracy theories), and Dr. Ryan Cole, whom we met most recently promoting Died Suddenly, an antivax propaganda film disguised as a documentary that promotes the conspiracy theory that COVID-19 vaccines are responsible for an epidemic of young people “dying suddenly” of massive blood clots.

First, a couple of themes that are woven throughout the presentation.

  1. The speakers seem to think that when they have been shown to be wrong, that equates to censorship. This is just categorically false. In the courtroom of science, when you do an experiment that shows your hypothesis was wrong, you generally close up shop on that hypothesis and investigate the biological question from another perspective. You don’t try to tell everyone you were censored. I clearly remember the time when I made a mistake with a DNA gel electrophoresis and have the blank gel sharply imbedded in my mind. I owned up to my mistake and apologized to my mentor – I did not seek out Senator Ron Johnson.

    This is a perennial feature of the antivax ecosystem; antivaxxers much older than the speakers have been using this tactic since the early years of the antivax movement.

  2. The whole point of the presentation was to raise awareness for vaccine injury – why didn’t they include speakers who are actually doing projects on vaccine injury?
  3. Normally Senate committee members have their fact-checkers and interns on hand to advise the actual senators, so that people who testify can have their findings challenged live (and allow the person testifying to also challenge the senator). Senator Johnson has access to all the fact checking he wants, but makes little to no effort to do this. Instead, he just expresses his approval.

Onwards to their claims.

Claim: The number of claims on VAERS has increased therefore all the COVID vaccines are bad

People in the antivax ecosystem have explicitly told their followers to game the VAERS system and create dubious reports. The VAERS website explicitly says to avoid using the website data in the manner that Liz is doing. Some VAERS reports even contain reports on changes on the size of genitalia. How should you actually use it? As an early warning system to help you figure out side effects. I have followed VAERS personally and done research in collaboration with other centers, on the issue of post-vaccination myocarditis. Other researchers used it to discover, characterize, and treat vaccine associated immune thrombocytopenia. Yet other researchers have used it to characterize the menstrual irregularities.
Claim: The Vsafe system not immediately releasing all available data is evidence of intentional deception
No it isn’t. The V-safe system was essentially created for the COVID-19 immunizations because the previously available systems (VAERS, VSD) were not capable of tracking people over time. V-safe also delivers survey questions directly to the end user in the hopes of getting more survey participation (since it is theoretically more convenient to the user). Registration is completed after completion of the first dose and then the system sends survey questions at several time points. While it is true that V-safe data are not released in full for the general public, any researchers interested in conducting a formal project can most certainly contact the system administrators and start such a project. A part of the V-safe project data was obtained via litigation from Aaron Siri’s law firm, however the way it is displayed to the public is misleading. One data point Siri and his colleagues present is the total number of people reported to have required medical care – which is a little over 800 000. They then state that over 10 million users were registered. Based upon surveying the older immunizations, most medical problems reported that are due to the immunization (such as rotavirus immunization associated intussusception) occur within the first two months after the dose. However, the data dump presents all instances of medical care without controlling for what the medical care actually was. The further away from an immunization you seek medical care, on average, the less likely it was due to the immunization. Siri’s data collection doesn’t even describe what medical care was actually done – I would be worried about a case of Guillain-Barre, but I wouldn’t be so worried about a case of a patient receiving Motrin in the Emergency Department then going home.

Claim: Vaccinated people in the UK are dying at a rate 26% higher than the unvaccinated

This demonstrates a lack of understanding of the base rate fallacy. When the number of unvaccinated individuals shrinks, the number of people dying from all causes in that group is also going to shrink. It doesn’t mean that vaccinated equals more dying.

Claim: Alarming increases in disabling conditions for the US Army were reported right after vaccination was mandated, and COVID vaccine deaths are higher than COVID disease deaths

This claim appears to originate from Dr Lee Merritt, an orthopedist by training. She claimed on video, that there were 20 deaths due to COVID-19, and 80 cases of myocarditis at the time of her announcement, and because 66% of people “with myocarditis die after 5 years”, more people died due to COVID immunization than due to COVID the disease. This is wrong on several counts – time travel hasn’t been invented yet, she has misinterpreted a myocarditis study in a very special subtype of adult myocarditis, and COVID immunization myocarditis skews to be a much milder disease than the specific kind of myocarditis she was quoting. She likely picked the 66% figure purely because it was bigger, for rhetorical effect, not because she was proficient in the epidemiology of myocarditis. We have actual statistics, from the actual US military, to refute her claims – the USAF alone reported 165 deaths due to COVID as of June 2022. The United States Department of Defense reports 690 deaths due to COVID as of December 2022. In contrast, no data in the presentation are provided to back up any verified military service member deaths due to a COVID vaccine injury. Certainly other militaries have reported immunization myocarditis, and the rates reported are likely similar in the US military. However the disease course mirrored what happened in the civilian population. In the US military, the rate of immunization myocarditis has been reported in one study to be 23 in 2.8 million. The “increase in disabling conditions” is based upon a misrepresentation of the Defense Medical Epidemiology database, and is discussed here.

Claim: A largely vaccinated public drives the virus to mutate even faster

No, this is playing virological magic tricks hoping you don’t notice. The coronavirus changes over time because its genomic error checking capability isn’t anywhere near the same capability in human cells. Therefore, changes that confer decreased fitness disappear, and changes that allow immune evasion are propagated forward. The virus requires a live human being to mutate, and the more people catch the virus, the more viruses can potentially change. The act of immunization is not the primary driving factor here.

Claim: Vaccine mandates can only be justified for vaccines that lower risk of transmitting the virus

It appears that the speaker here has not done his due diligence on the classical vaccination schedule, which contains vaccinations that decrease transmission to varying degrees. We still mandate a classical vaccine schedule in most countries! COVID immunization did effectively decrease transmission in the early variants, however the advent of Omicron made their effectiveness against transmission worse. Naturally, antivaccine actors collaborated with spin-doctors to say that all the epidemiologists lied, however it was not possible to anticipate exactly what would happen with each new variant of SARS-CoV-2. In addition, COVID vaccinations do somewhat decrease the forward transmission of Omicron.

Claim: Early treatment has always been our best line of defense

Well, has anyone found an effective antiviral against the common rhinovirus or enterovirus (the cold viruses)? No! It was certainly a reasonable idea to search for early treatments for COVID, but clinical proof needs to accompany those hypotheses. Designing effective antivirals has always been a very tough process, and many antiviral candidates have failed. The speaker in this case is a fan of ivermectin, and it should technically give the user a better outcome than compared to doing nothing. We actually have many clinical trials now showing that this is not the case (of which this is one). Could it be biologically plausible that some people got better here and there? Sure, but when a medication doesn’t help the majority of the population, and you try to propose a treatment without rigorous statistical controls, you can’t generalize the findings to everyone. Physicians propose new treatments all the time, and this is actively encouraged. If you don’t believe this, I recommend attending any professional medical society meeting. However, when clinical trial data says your hypothesis is no longer correct, the honorable thing to do is to shut the project down and attempt another line of inquiry. There were vested financial interests woven into the promotion of hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, and this is a major reason early treatments were still advertised despite a lack of evidence of efficacy. It is even worse when several of the studies used to back early treatment were found to have major statistical issues. While it is true that remdesivir has legitimate renal clearance issues in those with poor kidney function, it is a gross misrepresentation to say it does nothing, or to say its only role is to hurt kidneys.

Claim: We should have used vitamin C for COVID

While there is a plausible biochemical mechanism for how vitamin C may help, the studies available are currently small and conflicting. In the quantities specified in the FLCCC protocol, it is also capable of causing quantifiable harm such as kidney stones!

Claim: Since the vaccine rollout, we have had 750,000 additional COVID deaths in America

The actual number was accurate as of 2021, however this is an oversimplification of all-cause mortality data. Some people may die of COVID due to their bodies not making enough of an immune response after immunization. This makes no mention of the partial immune escape of Omicron. This makes no mention of the community of immunologists who recognize this as a concern, and are trying to make better immunizations. In addition, we have actual epidemiological data that says what would have happened in highly unvaccinated communities that are also not previously COVID exposed. Scaled up to the size of the United States, this would have caused much more devastation. In other vaccinations, it also took a while for the mortality to decrease (and this doesn’t even take into account that the other classical vaccine preventable diseases interact with the immune system in different ways).

Claim: COVID vaccines lose their efficacy and dip into negative efficacy after a few months

This is a misrepresentation of British public health data and some work in the NEJM. Again, this is a distortion of some calculations provided that actually describe reasonable immunity versus Omicron, which wanes over time. The fact that vaccine efficacy against Omicron is not as amazing as it was against older variants is well known by now, and is motivating multiple teams of professionals to come up with a better solution. Theoretically the speaker should have enough medical knowledge to know this, but chose to willfully misrepresent the project anyway. The reason the graph in the article appears that way is due to the lack of data points allowing estimation of the efficacy at the most distant time points (furthest amount of time away from the time of vaccination).

Claim: Federal reimbursement is increased to a hospital, if that hospital is treating a hospitalized COVID patient or uses remdesivir

This is partially correct in that a COVID patient requiring ICU level care will generate higher charges. However, the fee is sent to the hospitals themselves – the physicians don’t get direct bonuses unless it is specifically notated in their contract that they will get the bonuses. Hospitals need to charge more simply because ICU care is more complicated (and many American hospitals operate on a for profit basis). Myself and many other physicians have many, many criticisms of the finances of hospital medicine, but that is an entire degree program in itself.

Claim: Robert Malone is the inventor of mRNA

This is probably the most asinine statement of the entire roundtable – mRNA is probably billions of years old. The actual origin of the first molecules that can be considered “life” is currently hotly contested. It certainly is true that Malone played a role in the invention of mRNA vaccines, however he was part of an enormous team of people who did thousands of experiments to make mRNA immunization a reality.

It would not be correct to say Neil Armstrong was the inventor of spaceflight. He was an astronaut whose success depended on the teamwork of tens of thousands of scientists.

It would not be correct to say Vespasian personally built the Colosseum in Rome by himself. He had a team who did it.

It would not be correct to say Marie Curie invented radioactivity. She discovered the phenomenon through experiments and through her knowledge of chemistry.

In the same way, it is not correct to say that Malone is the sole inventor of mRNA immunization. He also advocates for a class of mRNA immunization that has failed in clinical trials and would cause more side effects than the current mRNA immunizations.

Claim: mRNA vaccinations affect fertility, they become plasmids in the sperm, and they integrate into the genome

The speaker here has a deficient command of the molecular biology involved in all these processes. The idea that mRNA vaccinations affect fertility was started by Michael Yeadon, who claimed that homology between a placental protein and spike would be damaging to the placenta. While it is reasonable to try and think of risks, it is no longer reasonable to persist on this viewpoint when an entire body of literature is now available showing the fertility of women who have received mRNA immunization is no different from those who have not. Another entire body of literature shows all the issues that women can sustain if they catch COVID during pregnancy. In order for a piece of RNA to become DNA and also become part of the genome, several additional proteins are required which are intentionally not delivered on the COVID mRNA immunization. The classical example for this is HIV. Plasmids exist in nature in bacteria and some protozoans, but it takes specialized protein machinery to make those. Sperm do not contain that machinery. Plasmids also do not generally integrate into human genomes unless they come with the proteins to do so. Citation for that? Campbell’s Biology. One cannot invent molecular processes that do not exist.

Claim: mRNA vaccinations are gene therapy

The speaker here is trying to play molecular sleight of hand and hope you don’t notice. Yes there are certain injectable RNA molecules like patisiran that do try to alter the expression of certain genes, but it depends completely on the information contained on the RNA. Not all injectable RNA is the same! No COVID vaccines contains the molecular machines and genetic sequences necessary to actually change your genes.

Claim: The only clinical trials that we had were not designed to measure rates of hospitalization and death

The speaker here is living in the past and willfully ignoring the evidence of the COVID immunization’s ability to decrease hospitalization and death. Here’s only one of many sources. The original trial of the Pfizer immunization for example explicitly stated in the protocol that they were looking at hospitalization as a secondary outcome. At this point one can only conclude the speaker is trying to selectively share information to weave a narrative.

Claim: The average vaccinated individual get larger doses of spike protein from the vaccine than the average COVID patient gets from the virus

That comes from an actually very good immunology article whose goal was to figure out how the immune system responds to mRNA immunization. If the spike protein disappeared quickly so would a portion of the immune response to it. The statement as given by the speaker is a distortion of the main research results which is explained in full here.

Claim: Ingredients of the COVID immunization were withheld from the FDA

No, the FDA had full access to the ingredients of the mRNA vaccination. The document circulated around contained many redactions because some trade secrets were involved in the manufacture of the immunizations (for example it is sometimes a trade secret on how water is purified for FDA-approved drugs).

Claim: Public health said COVID vaccines would prevent a vaccinated person from passing the virus to anyone else, but now that we know there is transmission, they intentionally lied

As some staunch opponents of the public health response to COVID would say, when the data changes, it is important to also change your position on something. This standard should not be applied in a lop-sided fashion. We had variants that became more transmissible, and public health staff needed to acknowledge that. However, when biology changes, you should change too. It could have been worded better – as in they could have said something like “here’s what we know about COVID now, but stay tuned, we may have to provide you updated information down the line”. However, when the COVID Omicron variant came, we had to change.

Claim: Vaccine safety monitoring steps were skipped

Much of the technology around COVID immunizations happened to be ready to be used around 2019, and so many steps of the usual regulatory process of vaccinations could be done in parallel. Nothing was omitted.

Claim: Vaccine quality control is being skipped for the mRNA vaccines

In fact the US COVID oversight committee has publicly criticized a supplier of COVID immunizations during the quality control process. Interested parties may read about the process in detail here.

Claim: Those who are vaccine injured are not getting enough support

This statement is in fact true! There is some biological plausibility for the COVID spike protein generating some of the symptoms that have been observed in the vaccine-injured population. However, the round table makes little effort to begin a research project, show patients how to enroll in a project, platform a researcher who is actually working on this issue, or propose any treatments. Here’s an example of actually good vaccine injury research on post COVID immunization postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome.

Claim: Myocarditis after COVID vaccination is not being taken seriously enough

Several pediatric cardiology centers and cardiologists (including myself) have treated patients with post-COVID-immunization-myocarditis, and continue to engage our communities in researching the medium- and long term outcomes of COVID immunization myocarditis. It is factually incorrect to say no US authorities are monitoring the rates of COVID immunization myocarditis – one only needs to see the ACIP updates to get these rates. We already have cardiac MRI studies that have preliminary information on how people heal from COVID immunization myocarditis. If the pediatric cardiology community was not taking this seriously, we would be researching other things rather than helping this patient population. I challenge the speaker in this instance to join the rest of the cardiologists and help us research this condition better.

Claim: mRNA vaccinations bypass barriers of the body, and spike protein may leave the area of injection, therefore we were all deceived about the biodistribution

If an immunization did not bypass the barriers of the body how would you expect it to work? An immunization does absolutely nothing while sitting on the surface of the skin. Yes it is accurate that exosomes (little mail envelopes of the body) have been demonstrated to contain spike protein after immunization. It is also biologically plausible that this may be responsible for some of the side effects that have been discovered. However, the study cited does not by itself prove this to be the case. It is also true that immunization mRNA has been detected in the bloodstream in recipients of immunization in very small quantities (but we don’t know if they are full-length immunization mRNA). More work is needed to show these things as being the proximal cause of side effects. Senator Johnson’s comment about a deception at this point is a reflection of his own misunderstandings of the biochemistry. The lipid nanoparticle is mainly going to merge with the cells at the injection site (and the mRNA is going to enter those cells). There is also a misinterpretation of the Pfizer biodistribution study – that study was done in mice with an equivalent immunization dose that is much larger than anything that would be given to a human. When one looks at the vaccine equivalent dose, the amount of mRNA nanoparticle leaving the injection site is less than 1%. None of this was discussed during the roundtable. Also, Pfizer and Moderna both produced information saying the lipid nanoparticles would be metabolized in the liver.

Conclusion: Senator Johnson’s round table fails at science

I think that some of the intentions of sharing the experiences of the vaccine injured are honorable intentions. Some of these people have legitimate suffering and need our assistance. However, the senator had the potential to call in teams of fact-checkers to corroborate all their claims. He chose not to do that. The patients featured in this round table and previous ones could have been enrolled in research projects. The round table failed to help them accomplish this through any publicly discernable information. Multiple speakers made mistakes in really simple molecular biology. Multiple speakers, physicians included, failed to present balanced interpretations of the journal articles that they cited, at times completely misrepresenting them. At least one physician in the group threatened a Dallas publication with a defamation lawsuit while in the very next breath, claiming he wants debate. Certainly in normal scientific conferences invitations for debate are welcome, but both parties are generally expected to agree upon the fundamental facts of the situation. I suspect the invitees who declined participation partially did so because they are well aware of the reputation of the speakers in this round table. Based upon their actions during this talk, they do not have normal scientific debate in mind. The debate tactics they have in mind more closely resemble the debate between Steve Kirsch and Dr Avi Bittman. These tactics are typically used in the court of law, which is not how emergent biological truths are discovered. We’re supposed to be building public policy and legislation on solid peer-reviewed science, and this senator’s round table fails at that most fundamental task.

Posted by Frank Han

Frank Han, M.D. is an academic board certified pediatrician/ pediatric cardiologist. He splits his time between cardiac imaging (Nuclear, CT, MRI, and echocardiography), inpatient cardiology, and outpatient cardiology. He primarily cares for cardiology patients of all ages with congenital heart disease, and is dedicated to educating pediatric residents and medical students. Dr. Han first became aware of and interested in the incursion of pseudoscience into his chosen profession while completing his pediatric residency at Connecticut Children's Medical Center and saw it explode during the COVID pandemic. He has since focused his efforts on spreading the joy of science literacy and teaching patients how to take charge of their own health while navigating the tricky online world of medical information. Dr. Han has no conflicts of interest to disclose and no ties to the pharmaceutical industry. He can be found on Twitter as @Han_francis. The comments expressed by Dr. Han are his own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of OSF Medical Center, or the University of Illinois College of Medicine.