COVID-19 vaccines don’t destroy T cells or weaken immune system
CLAIM: A study from the Francis Crick Institute in London found that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine destroys a type of white blood cell called the T cell and weakens the immune system.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The vaccine doesn’t destroy T cells or weaken the immune system. On the contrary, it generates a strong T cell response and boosts immunity, according to experts. A researcher at the Francis Crick Institute told The Associated Press the claim distorts his team’s work, which did not examine T cells.
THE FACTS: Articles that have amassed thousands of views across social media this week misrepresent a June study from Britain’s Francis Crick Institute, which looked at the ability of COVID-19 vaccines to produce neutralizing antibodies against viral variants.
The articles claim that the study shows the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine “destroys T cells” and “weakens the immune system.”
But that’s not at all what the research shows, according to the Francis Crick Institute’s Dr. David Bauer, one of the study’s authors.
“Our work to date has not studied T cells at all,” Bauer told the AP in an email. “All research published to date shows that the Pfizer (and other) vaccines generate a strong, positive, protective T-cell response against SARS-CoV-2.”
Outside experts confirmed that the COVID-19 vaccines don’t destroy or damage T cells.
“There’s a lot of data that shows that the vaccines induce strong T cell responses that recognize the virus and probably lead to protection,” said Dr. Joel Blankson, a professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who has personally studied T cell responses to COVID-19 vaccines.
“There is no evidence that any SARS-CoV-2 vaccine destroys any pre-existing T cells, rather the truth is the opposite,” said Dr. Grant McFadden, director of the Biodesign Center for Immunotherapy, Vaccines and Virotherapy at Arizona State University. “The vaccines all create new T cells that together with the antibodies all help to protect us from the COVID disease.”
The claim that the vaccines weaken the immune system is also false, Bauer confirmed. Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others shows the vaccines boost the immune response. The mRNA vaccines work by training the immune system to recognize the spike protein on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19, allowing it to generate an immune response, experts say.
The Francis Crick Institute study examined how antibodies generated by COVID-19 vaccines are able to neutralize new strains of the virus. It found that levels of antibodies generated by the vaccine were six times lower against the delta variant than against the original strain of the coronavirus. However, the vaccine still produced more protective antibodies against the delta variant than exist in unvaccinated people who have not had COVID-19, since unvaccinated people do not have the antibodies.
Therefore, Bauer explained, getting the vaccine offers more protection against the delta variant than going without it.
This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.