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No evidence of link between COVID-19 vaccines and cancer

The claim: Post implicates link between COVID-19 vaccines and spike in cancer in people under 50

As new variants of COVID-19 gain momentum in the United States, health officials are urging the public to get vaccinated. A recent post on social media, however, establishes a link between the vaccine and cancer.

An Instagram post shared on October 17 juxtaposes screenshots of two articles. It shows the headline of a Reuters fact-checking article that debunked the claim that COVID-19 vaccines cause cancer. The date of the article – November 12, 2021 – is underlined in red.

Below is the title of a CNN article that explains how a global cancer epidemic could emerge in people under 50. The date of this article – October 17 – is also underlined in red.

“I risk being shadowbanned by sharing these types of memes that don’t claim causation but suggest a chance correlation,” reads the post’s caption.

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But the implied assertion here is false – and shows that the people citing the cancer study as evidence haven’t actually read it.

Infectious disease specialists told USA TODAY that COVID-19 vaccines have no connection to cancer. The CNN article cites a study that explains how the incidence of certain types of cancer has increased.

But this study looked at data from 2000 to 2012, long before COVID-19 existed.

USA TODAY has reached out to the social media user who shared the claim for comment.

Comparison between items is misleading

There is no link between COVID-19 vaccines and cancer, Dr. Patrick Jackson, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Virginia Health, told USA TODAY.

None of the active ingredients in the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna or Johnson and Johnson vaccines are carcinogenic, according to Jackson. Medical experts and state health officials also told USA TODAY in February that there was no significant increase in cancer rates during the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“It would be historic in terms of such an increase in such a short time,” said Dr Arif Kamal., the American Cancer Society’s first patient officer, told USA TODAY at the time. “Checking with cancer center directors and their colleagues across the country, no one sees this level.”

The CNN article featured in the post also does not support this claim.

Fact check: No evidence of cancer spike linked to COVID-19 vaccines

He cites a recently published study that looked at age-standardized data on cancer incidence in 44 countries. The study found that “early cancer incidence is increasing rapidly for colorectal cancers and 13 other types of cancers, many of which affect the digestive system,” according to CNN.

However, the study relies on data obtained from 2000 to 2012, which predates the COVID-19 pandemic. It has nothing to do with COVID-19 vaccines, Dr. Xavier Llor, director of cancer screening at Yale New Haven Health, told USA TODAY in an email.

The authors noted in a press release that many factors, such as a Westernized diet and lifestyle, which have changed over the past few decades, as well as “early detection through cancer screening programs “contributed to an increased incidence of certain types of cancer. COVID-19 vaccines are not referenced in the study.

PolitiFact also debunked the claim.

Our opinion: Missing context

Based on our research, we at MISSING CONTEXT assess the implication that there is a link between COVID-19 vaccines and a spike in cancer in people under 50. The CNN article referenced here does not cite COVID-19 vaccines as a possible cause of cancer since the study relies on data from 2000 to 2012, long before COVID-19 or vaccines existed. There is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are linked to cancer.

Our fact-checking sources:

  • Patrick Jackson, October 18, phone interview with USA TODAY
  • Xavier Llor, October 18, email exchange with USA TODAY
  • USA TODAY, February 17, Fact Check: No Evidence of Cancer Spike Linked to COVID-19 Vaccines
  • PolitiFact, October 17, Cancer study was based on data long before COVID-19 vaccines existed
  • USA TODAY, October 18, Step Away, BA.5: These new COVID variants are gaining traction in the United States
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, September 6, Leading Causes of Death
  • CNN, October 17, A global epidemic of cancer in people under 50 could emerge
  • Reuters, November 12, 2021, Fact Check-No Evidence COVID-19 Vaccines Cause Cancer
  • Nature, September 6, Is early cancer an emerging global epidemic? Current evidence and future implications
  • Brigham and Women’s Hospital, September 6, press release

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