STORY UPDATED: check for updates below.
Does a video presentation prove that the spike protein in COVID-19 mRNA vaccines replaces the sperm in men? No, that's not true: No scientific evidence supports the claim. The spike protein is a harmless protein found on the surface of the coronavirus. It is the target of the immune response COVID-19 vaccines aim to trigger. The mRNA vaccines, such as those developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, work by instructing cells in the body to produce a small piece of the spike protein, which then stimulates the immune system to produce a protective response when next the body encounters the spike protein on the COVID virus.
The claim appeared in a post on Rumble (archived here) published on February 20, 2023, under the title "Dr Arne Burkhardt Confirms Sperm Has Been Almost Entirely Replaced By Spike Proteins." The claim also appeared in a post on Instagram. The description for the second post says:
Once again, with the medical data to back up what they've been saying.
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This is what the post looked like on Rumble at the time of writing:
(Source: Rumble screenshot taken on Mon Jun 5 15:45:11 2023 UTC)
This is what the post, sharing the same headline, looked like on Instagram at the time of writing:
(Source: Instagram screenshot taken on Mon Jun 5 15:54:03 2023 UTC)
The video is from an undated presentation by the late Arne Burkhardt, a German pathologist who, in the 2:19 clip says:
We could confirm that the spike protein is produced in the deltoid muscles where the vaccine is administered, injected. But we could show it in almost all organs, more or less, explicitly. And here you see a case where we show the testes and you can see that in this 28-year-old man who had a healthy son and who died 140 days after injection, the spike protein is strongly expressed in the spermatogenic organ in the testes. And you can see there are almost no spermatocytes in here, but, and, it's strongly expression of spike protein in the spermatogenic tissue.
So, also, in another person, this is an old man and you can see here also a strong expression in the spermatogonia. There's not one single spermatozoa in this strong expression of the spike protein.
So, if I may make a personal comment, this is not a scientific comment. If I were a woman in fertile age, I would not plan a motherhood from a person, from a man who has been vaccinated.
The video gives little context for the information provided in the clip or the claim made in the headline.
Burkhardt, according to unofficial accounts found in a Google search, died on June 2, 2023.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health
Dr. John Beigel with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health told Lead Stories in a June 5, 2023, email that the spike protein is nothing to fear:
The mRNA COVID-19 vaccines do not contain spike protein; they contain genetic instructions (mRNA) for making spike protein. The vaccines do not cause sperm cells to be replaced.
A Nebraska Medicine article from November 1, 2022, says spike proteins have a short lifespan:
How long mRNA lasts in the body
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines work by introducing mRNA (messenger RNA) into your muscle cells. The cells make copies of the spike protein and the mRNA is quickly degraded (within a few days). The cell breaks the mRNA up into small harmless pieces. mRNA is very fragile; that's one reason why mRNA vaccines must be so carefully preserved at very low temperatures.
How long do spike proteins last in the body?
The Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA) estimates that the spike proteins that were generated by COVID-19 vaccines last up to a few weeks, like other proteins made by the body. The immune system quickly identifies, attacks and destroys the spike proteins because it recognizes them as not part of you. This 'learning the enemy' process is how the immune system figures out how to defeat the real coronavirus. It remembers what it saw and when you are exposed to coronavirus in the future it can rapidly mount an effective immune response.
In a June 6, 2023, email to Lead Stories, Keanna Ghazvini with Pfizer global media relations provided this statement from the company:
There are no data to suggest that the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine causes male infertility.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Press officer Scott Pauley with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided the public health agency's response to the claim in a June 5, 2023, email to Lead Stories. It said:
There's no evidence COVID-19 spike protein is replacing sperm, either after COVID-19 disease or from vaccination.
In an earlier story about infertility claims involving COVID vaccines, Dr. John Su of the CDC's Immunization Safety Office said the agency has found no reason for concern. In a June 21, 2022, email to Lead Stories, he said:
[The] CDC has detected no unusual or unexpected patterns of reduced sperm count in men 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 CDC recommends COVID vaccines for everyone ages 6 months and older, and COVID boosters for everyone ages 5 years and older, if eligible.
Asked for a response to the claims in the story, Andrea Pacetti, director of public & media relations at the Cleveland Clinic, provided a statement from the medical center in a June 5, 2023, email to Lead Stories. It said:
There is no evidence and no biological basis for this theory. There is also no evidence that the COVID vaccine negatively impacts fertility. However, studies have shown that in males, COVID infection itself can diminish fertility, at least temporarily.
Additional Lead Stories fact checks of claims related to vaccines can be found here.
Additional Lead Stories fact checks of claims related to sperm can be found here.
Additional Lead Stories fact checks of claims related to Arne Burkhard can be found here.
2023-06-06T14:37:39Z 2023-06-06T14:37:39ZAdds statement from Pfizer.