Did Dr. Peter McCullough, an American cardiologist who has repeatedly made anti-COVID-19 vaccine statements, successfully discredit the World Health Organization (WHO) and the global health community's approach to COVID-19 treatment during a speech in Strasbourg, France, on September 13, 2023? No, that's not true: McCullough bases his claims on rejected scientific papers with methodological flaws and long-debunked assertions. The physician is known for making controversial and debunked statements regarding COVID-19 treatments and vaccines.
The claims appeared in a post and video on Facebook (archived here) published on September 20, 2023, under the title "They lied. Are you going to let them get away with them?" The post's caption says:
When one of the world's most published cardiologists screams bloody murder...
This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:
(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Mon Oct 2 14:17:30 2023 UTC)
Dr. Peter McCullough
McCullough is a Texas cardiologist and COVID-19 vaccine skeptic who was formerly associated with Baylor Scott & White Health, which filed for a restraining order in September 2021 to prevent him from continuing to use that association when making false claims about COVID. The American Board of Internal Medicine has recommended revoking his certification over vaccine misinformation he propagates at speaking engagements around the world.
The more-than-16-minute video included in the Facebook post is an excerpt from a two-hour gathering (archived here) on September 13, 2023, titled "Health and Democracy Under WHO's New Proposed Rules." McCullough talked about the session on his podcast (archived here). It involved a few members of the European Parliament, but the gathering did not represent the body as a whole, nor was it an official EU Parliament meeting.
During his address, McCullough accused the WHO of being part of a coverup into the origins of the COVID-19 virus and also of being a part of "efforts that enhance human suffering." About 18 seconds into the video he said:
There have been two waves of injury to the world. The first has been the SARS-CoV-2 infection, which preyed upon the frail and the elderly, and then the second wave of injury now has been the COVID-19 vaccines.
The role of the WHO appears to be adverse in both of these. The role of the WHO appears to be operating within a biopharmaceutical complex, a syndicate, a complicated syndicate that has formed over time.
McCullough goes on to name a host of governmental and non-governmental organizations, including the WHO, the United Nations, the World Economic Forum, the U.S. Department of State, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and similar agencies in Europe, South Africa, and Australia that he alleges are part of this syndicate. McCullough continued:
This grouping of non-governmental organizations, with governmental public health agencies, is operating as a unit. They're carefully coordinated, and the impact has been adverse.
At the outset of the pandemic, there was an investigation by the WHO on the origins of SARS-CoV-2. That's when the beginning of the coverup began.
WHO spokesperson Tarik Jašarević provided a blanket response to the assertions about the global public health agency in the video by McCullough in an email to Lead Stories on October 3, 2023. He said:
Those claims are not correct.
After taking swipes at the global health community with unsupported claims, McCullough launched into a lengthy list of assertions against COVID-19 mRNA vaccines, saying they "have ravaged the population of the world." At 5:54 in the video, McCullough said:
Everything we've learned about the vaccines since they've come out is horrifying.
Lead Stories looked at McCullough's vaccine claims one by one.
Messenger RNA (mRNA) is not broken down (6:00 in video)
False, the FDA provided this response in an October 3, 2023, email to Lead Stories. It said:
The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine and Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine contain messenger RNA (mRNA), which is genetic material. The vaccine contains a piece of mRNA that instructs the body to make the virus's distinctive "spike" protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. When a person receives this vaccine, their body produces copies of the spike protein, which does not cause disease, but triggers the immune system to learn to react defensively, producing an immune response against SARS-CoV-2. There is no scientific data to indicate that the spike protein is toxic or that it lingers at any toxic level in the body after vaccination.
Additionally, Australia's Department of Health and Aged Care said:
The mRNA is broken down quickly by the body. It never enters the nucleus, and cannot affect or combine with our DNA in any way to change our genetic code.
Instead, COVID-19 mRNA vaccines teach the cell how to make a protein that triggers an immune response specific to COVID-19.
Cardiac arrest: people cannot exert themselves in athletics after COVID-19 shots or their hearts will stop (7:09 in video)
In the video, McCullough said:
[A]cross Europe and across the United States, sports leagues were injecting young people who had no medical necessity, no clinical indication with these vaccines, and we have seen a montage of cardiac arrests in young individuals.
Lead Stories has debunked this claim in previous fact checks. There is no causal link between COVID-19 shots and cardiac arrests:
Spike protein (6:40 in video)
Overlapping the cardiac arrest claim, McCullough also said in the video that "The spike protein is proven in 3,400 peer-reviewed manuscripts to cause four major domains of disease." He identified them as:
- Cardiovascular disease, including heart inflammation and myocarditis (6:50)
- Neurologic disease (8:28)
- Blood clots (8:50)
- Immunologic abnormalities (9:29)
While acknowledging that the vaccines aren't free of risks, the FDA told Lead Stories in an October 3, 2023, email that it "stands firmly behind the safety and effectiveness of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, which are fully supported by the available scientific data." Cherie Duvall-Jones, a press officer at the FDA, provided the agency's response. It said (emphasis ours):
To date, the systems in place to monitor the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines authorized or approved for use in the U.S. have identified several health problems potentially associated with vaccination. These include, myocarditis and pericarditis following the previous Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Novavax COVID-19 vaccines. The chance of having this occur is very low.
As soon as the FDA became aware of the risks of myocarditis and pericarditis and determined that there was reasonable evidence of a causal association with the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, a Warning was included in the Fact Sheets. As additional post-marketing data accrue over time, the FDA continues to evaluate the data and assess the robustness and the quality of the data to determine whether updates to the labeling are warranted.
In an October 2, 2023, email, the Immunization Safety Office at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said this about the risks outlined by McCullough:
- The known risks of COVID-19 illness and its related, possibly severe complications, outweigh the potential risks of having a rare adverse reaction to vaccination, including the possible risk of myocarditis.
- An increased risk for Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) and for blood clots due to thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS) were found to be associated with the Janssen COVID-19 which is no longer available in the United States.
- Safety monitoring has not established an association between COVID-19 vaccination and immunologic abnormalities.
Lead Stories has the following fact checks on the four conditions related to vaccines:
- Fact checks on myocarditis and vaccines
- Fact checks on neurologic disease
- Fact checks on blood clots
- Fact checks on immunologic abnormalities
Nearly 74 percent of the deaths after vaccination are due to the vaccine (10:05 in video)
In the video, McCullough said:
I'm the senior author on the largest autopsy study ever assembled of death after Covid-19 vaccination. Worldwide. We searched the literature, 600 papers, all the clinical findings, we reviewed them with contemporary knowledge, experts in pathology and clinical medicine.
Our conclusion: 73.9% of the deaths after vaccination are due to the vaccine. They are due to the vaccine.
There are several problems with this claim. First, it wasn't a study; it was a preprint, which is a preliminary report of work that has not been subjected to critical expert analysis through peer review. Second, it was never published in any scientific journal. Here's what Preprints with The Lancet, a medical journal, said about pulling it from their website:
This preprint has been removed by Preprints with The Lancet because the study's conclusions are not supported by the study methodology. Preprints with The Lancet reserves the right to remove a paper that has been posted if we determine that it has violated our screening criteria. Preprints available here are not Lancet publications or necessarily under review with a Lancet journal.
Lead Stories also fact-checked this claim in a separate story:
In its email, the CDC added:
Despite continued misinformation on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines, the findings from one of the largest studies ever conducted on the safety of a vaccine have been released and show once again that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. The results of the CDC study clearly illustrate that there is no increased risk of death after COVID vaccination. In fact, rates of death among those who received the vaccines were lower than those who did not receive them. This study's findings should reassure every American that these vaccines are safe.
CDC recommends the updated 2023-2024 COVID-19 vaccination for everyone ages 6 months and older to protect them from serious symptoms due to COVID-19 infection.
Additional Lead Stories fact checks of claims about COVID-19 vaccination can be found here.
Other Lead Stories fact checks about Peter McCullough can be found here.