SciCheck Digest

Livestock and poultry are not being vaccinated against COVID-19. But a meme is spreading the falsehood that those who eat meat from vaccinated animals will get “VAXXED” by consuming the meat. That simply isn’t possible, according to immunologists.

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We’ve already explained why some earlier claims about COVID-19 vaccine transfer were false. But a new claim has emerged on Instagram suggesting that eating meat from animals vaccinated against COVID-19 could transfer the inoculation.

The meme was first shared by an account that is selling a book titled “Detoxing The Rona Shot,” which is based on the false claim that the COVID-19 vaccines “put nano magnetic gene computers in everyone.” We’ve already addressed several other claims about microchips in the vaccines.

The recent meme claims, “IF YOU ARE EATING FARM RAISED MEAT THE ANIMALS ARE BEING VAXXED SO U R VAXXED.” The account that posted it wrote in the comments, “In their mind they are protecting animals from a deadly disease. Animals get the alleged covid too. Vaccinating them is just protection.”

First of all, livestock isn’t being vaccinated against COVID-19.

“It’s simply not happening,” Dr. Suresh Kuchipudi, a clinical professor of veterinary and biomedical sciences at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, said in a phone interview. He knew of no countries that were vaccinating livestock for COVID-19.

In the U.S., there are no COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in livestock and there are no federal recommendations that livestock should be vaccinated against COVID-19, Lyndsay Cole, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS, told us in an email.

APHIS regulates veterinary vaccines in the U.S., and it put out a call in November for COVID-19 vaccines that could be used in mink. Outbreaks of the disease on mink farms had been reported in multiple countries last year, including the U.S., which caused concern since mink could act as a reservoir for the virus to mutate and then be passed back to humans as a new variant.

In contrast to mink, which the World Organisation for Animal Health lists as highly susceptible to the virus that causes COVID-19, two of the major types of livestock in the U.S. — cattle and hogs — are listed as having “extremely low” susceptibility. Poultry is listed as having no susceptibility.

The virus’ effect on animals continues to be studied, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently says that the risk of spread from most animals is low.

Following APHIS’ request in November, at least two U.S. companies — Zoetis and Medgene Labs — began developing vaccines that could be used in mink. Zoetis announced on July 2 that its vaccine had been authorized for experimental use on a case-by-case basis for various animals in some zoos and sanctuaries. The vaccine has not been fully licensed and is not commercially available, company spokeswoman Christina Lood told us in a phone interview.

Medgene is still in the development phase of its vaccine, company spokesman Jason Melby told us in a phone interview.

Both companies are pursuing a subunit type of vaccine, Lood and Melby said. That means that the vaccines are introducing a small, inactive piece of the virus that causes COVID-19 in order to trigger an immune response in the recipient.

Russia also has reportedly developed a COVID-19 vaccine for animals, which was tested on dogs, cats, foxes and mink.

It’s also worth noting that, according to a list of COVID-19 policies on the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations website, no countries have implemented programs to vaccinate livestock against COVID-19.

No transfer

Beyond the fact that livestock and poultry aren’t getting the COVID-19 vaccine, experts we spoke to said that it wouldn’t be possible for the vaccine to be transmitted through the consumption of meat, anyway.

“These animals have always been given a lot of vaccines,” Kuchipudi said, and none of them pass on to those who eat the resulting meat. “That’s not how they transfer,” he said.

That would be true for subunit vaccines, like the ones Zoetis and Medgene are developing, and for the mRNA vaccines that account for the majority of shots administered to people in the U.S., he said.

The meme doesn’t specify which type of vaccine is supposedly being administered to livestock.

“It just simply can’t happen,” John Wherry, chair of the department of systems pharmacology and translational therapeutics and director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Immunology at the Perelman School of Medicine, told us in a phone interview. “It doesn’t work that way.”

Referring to the messenger RNA vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer, Wherry explained that once the mRNA gets into a cell, it doesn’t propagate any further — meaning it doesn’t spread from one cell to another.

And as we’ve explained before, the mRNA passes on instructions to make antibodies against the virus that causes COVID-19, then is quickly broken down and leaves the body.

“Even if you ate” the vaccine, Wherry said, it wouldn’t work.

It would be doubly impossible to get the vaccine from meat, he said, since cooking it would inactivate the RNA.

Gary Whittaker, professor of virology at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, agreed. He told us in an email that, in his view, it would be impossible for an mRNA vaccine to be transmitted through meat consumption.

“The RNA is just too unstable to survive – hence the need for all the freezers for the vaccine,” he wrote.

Addressing how other types of vaccines may behave if they were given to livestock, Whittaker wrote, “An adenovirus-vaccine (J+J/AstraZeneca) would be more stable, but still extremely unlikely to survive processing. A live attenuated-vaccine (not currently used) could theoretically survive, at least until the meat is cooked – but in this case there are way bigger risks associated with eating raw meat!”

Although COVID-19 vaccines aren’t being given to livestock, as Penn State’s Kuchipudi said, a number of vaccines are commonly given to poultry and livestock for other viruses. And there are already rules in place for how much time must pass between when a vaccine is given and when an animal is slaughtered, often referred to as the withdrawal time.

This withdrawal period “ensures the end product is safe for consumption and no medication would be present in the beef,” the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association explained in a Q&A at the beginning of the pandemic.

Simply put, the claim that vaccines can be transferred by eating meat “doesn’t make any scientific sense,” Wherry said.

Editor’s note: SciCheck’s COVID-19/Vaccination Project is made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation has no control over our editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation. The goal of the project is to increase exposure to accurate information about COVID-19 and vaccines, while decreasing the impact of misinformation.

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