It was December 2020. Francis Collins, then director of the National Institutes of Health, was just beginning his public push for the Covid-19 vaccines.
Hoping to enlist support from evangelical Christians, Collins granted an extended YouTube interview to his friend Russell Moore, leader at the time of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
During their interview, Collins tried to allay fears that mRNA vaccines might be unsafe because they inject foreign mRNA into the body that could linger there. Collins gave a comforting fact: “The RNA lives a very short time in your body. It is quickly degraded because RNA has a very short half-life. So there’s no residual of what you’ve been injected with beyond probably a few hours.”
Under the banner of fighting “misinformation,” the same message was spread by other health authorities. For example, the Centers for Disease Controls’s website still states that mRNA from the vaccines will disappear from the body “within a few days.”
Until being contacted for this article, the respected Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center likewise claimed vaccine mRNA will disappear “in about 72 hours.” This statement appeared on a webpage devoted to debunking “myths” about Covid-19 vaccines.
These claims now appear to be wrong.
New Study Shows mRNA Persists for Months
A few days ago, a peer-reviewed research article was published online by the science journal Cell, one of the world’s top molecular biology journals. The article was authored by pro-vaccine researchers at Stanford University and elsewhere. As part of their research, the researchers tracked how long mRNA from the vaccines persisted in the body.
Contrary to Collins’ previous assertion, the mRNA did not disappear in “a few hours,” a few days, or even a few weeks. In fact, mRNA from the vaccine persisted in a person’s lymph system some two months after vaccination. We actually don’t know how much longer it lasted because the researchers only tracked the mRNA for that long.
In other words, Collins’ confident assurance in 2020 now looks like misinformation.
Collins was just appointed acting White House science advisor, making him arguably the nation’s top science policy official. So what should happen to the nation’s top science official for promoting vaccine misinformation?
If you listen to Collins’ colleagues in the Biden administration and their supporters, you might think he should be banned from YouTube and driven out of government. After all, the president and the surgeon general have actively pressured journalists and tech companies to censor messages they regard as Covid-19 misinformation.
Taxpayer-funded NPR has all but urged licensing boards to strip medical licenses from doctors who offer dissenting Covid-19 opinions. Legislators in New York and California have proposed bills to punish those who spread supposed misinformation. The CEO of Pfizer has branded those circulating criticisms of his company’s vaccines as “criminals because they have literally cost millions of lives.”
Collins himself has suggested that the government should “track down” the purveyors of intentional misinformation. “And isn’t there some kind of justice for this kind of action?” he asked. “Isn’t this like yelling fire in a crowded theater? Are you really allowed to do that without some consequences?”
Misinformation or Difference in Opinion?
Lost in current discussions is the fact that much so-called “misinformation” represents either sincere but erroneous claims (like Collins’ apparent mistake about vaccine mRNA) or legitimate differences of opinion held by scientists and policy experts. Other pieces of so-called “misinformation” are true facts that those in charge would rather not deal with.
For example, it is fact, not fiction, that the government’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) has had more adverse reaction reports filed for the Covid-19 vaccines than for any other vaccine since VAERS started collecting data in 1990. Indeed, according to the latest data, 56 percent of all adverse reactions, 61 percent of all hospitalizations, and 72 percent of all deaths reported to VAERS are related to Covid-19 vaccines.
What this data means can be debated. But the fact the data exists is unquestionable. Yet if you spend much time discussing VAERS in social media or on YouTube, you are likely to be censored.
It gets worse. In the name of protecting the public from “misinformation,” tech companies are now blocking citizens’ access to their elected officials’ statements and deliberations about science and public policy. In one notorious case, hearings and expert panels convened by U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson from Wisconsin have been repeatedly censored by YouTube because they featured scientists and experts who offer evidence-based critiques of current Covid policies.
Yes, there is misinformation in public discussions of Covid and many other topics. Some of it comes from private parties. Some of it comes from government officials. But in a free society, the traditional way to combat misinformation is by adding speech, not suppressing it.
As John Milton wrote famously, we are wrong to restrict free speech because we “misdoubt” the strength of truth in open debate. “Let her [Truth] and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?”
So, no, Collins shouldn’t be banned for spreading misinformation. But neither should he try to ban others who disagree with him. That’s not how a free society is supposed to work.