Inadequate support: There is no evidence indicating that athletes who received a COVID-19 vaccine have a higher risk of sudden cardiac arrest. Moderna’s patent application filed in 2019 describes a general method for producing modified proteins in mammals. While this method was later used to develop the COVID-19 vaccine, the patent isn’t specific to this or any other vaccine and it doesn’t prove that Moderna knew about the virus at the time of application.
FULL CLAIM: “they were not able to find a single healthy child in america that died from COVID-19 […] but one in every 2700 people are getting myocarditis”; “athletes are collapsing on playing fields as for myocarditis and it's from the vaccines”; Stéphane Bancel applied to the U.S. patent office for his mRNA vaccine in March 2019, five months before “the escape”
On 10 May 2022, comedian Theo Von posted on Facebook a four-minute video clip of an interview between him and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. The clip was an excerpt of a 45-minute interview for Von’s podcast This Past Weekend, which was first published on YouTube on 9 December 2021. The Facebook post received more than 1,200 interactions on the platform and the full interview had more than 435,000 views on Von’s YouTube channel.
The Moderna patent
During the first half of the video, Kennedy discussed a conspiracy theory suggesting that the COVID-19 pandemic resulted from “an accidental or deliberate release of a laboratory-generated virus” at Moderna’s laboratories. Kennedy claimed that Moderna’s CEO Stephane Bancel foresaw the risks of a potential leak, which led him to apply for a U.S. patent of the mRNA vaccine in March 2019, months before the COVID-19 pandemic emerged.
However, this claim is inaccurate and conflates the patents of multiple different inventions that led to the development of the mRNA vaccine technology with the COVID-19 vaccine itself.
Biomedical developments like the mRNA vaccine technology typically don’t result from a single invention but rather from multiple innovations that ultimately lead to the final product. Patents protect those innovations by granting an exclusive right to the inventor that stops others from using or selling them without permission for a limited period.
Moderna has several patents related to the development of the mRNA technology that was later used in its COVID-19 vaccine. We couldn’t find the patent application that Kennedy alleged was filed by Bancel in March 2019. However, Bancel does appear as an inventor on a U.S. patent application (US20210115101A1) filed on 28 October 2019. This application, which doesn’t mention SARS-CoV-2, describes a general method for expressing modified proteins in mammals by administering “a recombinant protein, a modified RNA and/or a primary construct” using lipid nanoparticles. The description states that “the lipid nanoparticle may be formulated for use in a vaccine such as, but not limited to, against a pathogen”. [emphasis added].
In other words, this patent application describes general procedures for producing modified proteins in mammals using lipid nanoparticles. While Moderna’s researchers used these procedures later to develop the COVID-19 vaccine, this and other patent applications that predated the outbreak of COVID-19 contain no reference to SARS-CoV-2 and aren’t specific to this virus. Therefore, they don’t provide evidence that Moderna knew about SARS-CoV-2 before the pandemic began. Suggesting that would be like claiming that someone who patented a parachute knew that a specific plane would crash.
Risk of myocarditis following COVID-19 vaccination in young people
During the second part of the video clip, Kennedy claimed that “they were not able to find a single healthy child in America that died from COVID-19 […] but one in every 2,700 people are getting myocarditis”. This claim implies that the risk of COVID-19 vaccination in children and young adults is much higher than the benefits of the vaccine. But this implication is misleading and actually contradicts current scientific evidence, as Health Feedback explained in this earlier review.
Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle (myocardium). People with mild myocarditis may have no symptoms or mild symptoms such as chest pain, rapid or irregular heartbeats, and shortness of breath, which often resolve quickly with rest and medication. However, some cases develop into severe myocarditis, which can cause irreversible damage to the heart or even be fatal.
The cause of most cases of myocarditis are unknown, but when the cause is identified, it often involves an infection. On rare occasions, myocarditis can also occur after receiving certain vaccines, including mRNA COVID-19 vaccines[1,2]. But a 2022 study from researchers in Singapore suggests that the risk of heart inflammation isn’t higher after COVID-19 vaccination than after receiving traditional vaccines against other infections.
Public health authorities, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization, acknowledge myocarditis as a rare side effect of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, particularly in young male individuals and after the second dose. However, Kennedy exaggerated this risk based on the results of a 2021 study conducted by researchers in Hong Kong that was misused before to make similar claims.
The study evaluated the risk of myocarditis in adolescents aged 12 to 17 who received the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Kennedy’s claim that this study showed that “one in every 2,700 [young] people are getting myocarditis” is inaccurate. That figure refers specifically to Chinese male adolescents who received the second vaccine dose (37.2 per 100,000, or one per 2,688 vaccinated adolescents). However, the overall risk of myocarditis in adolescents reported in the study is almost half that rate (18.52 per 100,000, or one per 5,400 vaccinated adolescents). This study found one of the highest rates of myocarditis reported so far, also higher than the 1.6 cases per 100,000 vaccine dose reported by the Hong Kong Health Department based on safety monitoring data.
The study also has the limitation of using adverse event reports from pharmacovigilance systems. As Health Feedback explained multiple times, these data cannot on their own establish a causal association between the adverse event—myocarditis—and vaccination. That is, those reports cannot demonstrate that the vaccine caused the myocarditis.
Finally, Kennedy failed to explain that all the cases of myocarditis reported in the study were mild and resolved after simple treatment. In contrast to these rare, typically mild cases of myocarditis associated with COVID-19 vaccines, SARS-CoV-2 infection poses a higher risk of cardiac complications, including a more severe myocarditis than that reported after COVID-19 vaccination.
Recent estimates from the U.S. and Nordic countries suggest that the risk of post-COVID-19 vaccination myocarditis in young males might be higher than initially reported[5,6]. But this risk is still two to eight times lower than the risk of myocarditis after SARS-CoV-2 infection, according to estimates from the CDC.
COVID-19 vaccines provide benefits for children even if the mortality rate in this age group is low
Kennedy’s implication that COVID-19 doesn’t pose a risk to children and young adults because the COVID-19 mortality rate is low in this group is also misleading. While children and young adults have a much lower risk of death from COVID-19 compared to older age groups, some still get severely ill and die, even in the absence of other known medical conditions. For example, one study in the U.K. that analyzed COVID-19 deaths in children and young adults during the first year of the pandemic found that around 25% of the children who died had no apparent underlying health conditions.
Furthermore, complete recovery and death aren’t the only outcomes to COVID-19. SARS-CoV-2 infection in children and young adults also carries a risk of other complications that Kennedy completely disregarded, including long COVID and a rare but serious condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome that can affect the heart and other organs.
No evidence of a link between COVID-19 vaccines and anecdotal cases of athletes collapsing
In the video clip, Kennedy further claimed that “athletes are collapsing on playing fields as for myocarditis, and it’s from the vaccines, and there’s no question about that”. This claim is unsupported. In this fact-check by Reuters, several experts explained that there is currently no evidence of a rise in cases of cardiac arrest in athletes, nor of a link between the existing cases and COVID-19 vaccines. Instead, they pointed to greater online coverage of some anecdotal reports.
Some technologies patented before the COVID-19 pandemic were instrumental in successfully developing a COVID-19 vaccine later on. However, such patents aren’t specific to the COVID-19 vaccine and don’t support Kennedy’s claim that Moderna predicted or was somehow involved in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The evidence available so far contradicts Kennedy’s claims and indicates that the benefits of COVID-19 vaccines at preventing COVID-19 complications outweigh the low risk of myocarditis following vaccination in adolescents and young adults. This supports the CDC’s and the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation that everyone older than five who don’t have medical contraindications get a COVID-19 vaccine.
- 1 – Kuntz et al. (2018) Myocarditis and pericarditis are rare following live viral vaccinations in adults. Vaccine.
- 2 – Heymans and Cooper (2021) Myocarditis after COVID-19 mRNA vaccination: clinical observations and potential mechanisms. Nature Reviews Cardiology.
- 3 – Ling et al. (2022) Myopericarditis following COVID-19 vaccination and non-COVID-19 vaccination: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Respiratory Medicine.
- 4 – Chua et al. (2021) Epidemiology of Acute Myocarditis/Pericarditis in Hong Kong Adolescents Following Comirnaty Vaccination. Clinical Infectious Diseases.
- 5 – Oster et al. (2022) Myocarditis Cases Reported After mRNA-Based COVID-19 Vaccination in the US From December 2020 to August 2021. JAMA.
- 6 – Karlstad et al. (2022) SARS-CoV-2 Vaccination and Myocarditis in a Nordic Cohort Study of 23 Million Residents. JAMA Cardiology.
- 7 – Block et al. (2022) Cardiac Complications After SARS-CoV-2 Infection and mRNA COVID-19 Vaccination — PCORnet, United States, January 2021–January 2022. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports.
- 8 – Smith et al. (2021) Deaths in children and young people in England after SARS-CoV-2 infection during the first pandemic year. Nature Medicine.