Can you reverse the COVID vaccine?

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Pseudoscience

If you have been following the stream of misinformation surrounding COVID-19, you might be familiar with Carrie Madej, a Georgia osteopathic physician (DO) famous for claiming she saw ‘hydras’ in the vaccine.[1] Her latest claim is that you can reverse the COVID vaccine using a ‘detox bath’:

In a TikTok video that has garnered hundreds of thousands of views, Dr. Carrie Madej outlined the ingredients for a bath she said will “detox the vaxx” for people who have given into Covid-19 vaccine mandates.

The ingredients in the bath are mostly not harmful, although the supposed benefits attached to them are entirely fictional. Baking soda and epsom salts, she falsely claims, will provide a “radiation detox” to remove radiation Madej falsely believes is activated by the vaccine.  Bentonite clay will add a “major pull of poison,” she says, based on a mistaken idea in anti-vaccine communities that toxins can be removed from the body with certain therapies. 

Ben Collins, Covid vaccine holdouts are caving to mandates — then scrambling to ‘undo’ their shots

A lot of this is, of course, unfounded nonsense.[2]

For starters, there’s no such thing as a ‘radiation detox’. Radioactive substances can either be sequestered, chelated or uptake-blocked. An example of sequestration is the use of Radiogardase (Prussian blue) to sequester caesium isotopes from the gastrointestinal tract. Chelation is an acknowledged treatment (usually with classical chelators like DTPA) in removing plutonium or uranium isotopes.[3] Finally, uptake-blocking, e.g. by potassium iodide tablets blocking thyroidal uptake of 131I, is used in some contexts.

How or why this would be relevant at all, or why a radiation detox would be needed is not quite my area of expertise. I was more curious about whether you could reverse the COVID vaccine, or any vaccination in general. A number of TikToks claim to show how to undo the COVID vaccine, or at least reversing its effects. This made me wonder – what does the literature say about ‘reversing’ a vaccine?

Can you reverse a vaccine?

Regardless of type, the end result of a vaccine is lasting immunity. An antigen is introduced, the body responds. There is an initial phase during which the previously immunologically naive body mounts an acute immune response. This is quite short-lived – however, the body retains immunological memory using memory B cells, a type of white blood cell.[4] Methods of immunisation largely differ only on the way the antigen is ‘framed’: live antigen vaccines contain attenuated (weakened) versions of the pathogen, killed-antigen vaccines contain dead pathogens, subunit and polysaccharide vaccines contain individual surface markers only. mRNA vaccines are slightly different in that the body is producing the antigens (the Spike protein) in its own cells for a short time.

There are very few circumstances in which the loss of immunity from vaccines has been documented. That alone suggests you cannot reverse the COVID vaccine. In some cases, immune memory is lost if a large number of white blood cells, including memory B cells, die. This happens among others in bone marrow transplants preceded by ablative therapy.[5] Immune amnesia, which is a result of some illnesses including measles, might lead to the loss of immunity.[6] Finally, vaccine-induced immunity often decreases over time, a phenomenon we refer to as waning immunity in infectious disease modeling.

But can you reverse a vaccination intentionally? I have done a quick literature review on the most pertinent context where this would be performed: namely, accidental vaccination. Every once in a blue moon, someone gets a vaccine they shouldn’t have. Much of the literature on this is quite old, and almost all of it is either on rubella vaccination of ineligible persons (pregnant persons) or the smallpox vaccine.

What the literature says

There are, to the best of my knowledge, no cases of accidental vaccination with any of the COVID-19 vaccines. Thus, in this context, the question of whether you can reverse the COVID vaccine has not really come up. The closest cases involved a cohort of 790 personnel of the Israel Defence Forces, who have accidentally been administered the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine with a needle designed for shallow subcutaneous injection rather than the recommended intramuscular route – 98.2% of whom developed immunity.[7]

Although a number of cases of accidental vaccination have been documented, very few note treatment. Most of those that do involve veterinary vaccines.

A study looking at six cases where veterinarians injected themselves with Gudair, a vaccine for ovine paratuberculosis, found that most cases required surgical treatment and extensive surgery to remove the vaccine.[8] This, however, was a vaccine using Freund’s Complete Adjuvant, a strong adjuvant not used in human vaccines because of their propensity to cause localised granulomatous reactions. Of 26 individuals who accidentally injected themselves with the RB51 live bacterial brucellosis vaccine, only one required treatment other than post-exposure chemoprophylaxis – which in that case was, of course, surgical.[9] Pretty much the same was observed with oil-based veterinary vaccines.[10] These are, of course, not so much case studies of how to reverse a vaccine but rather how to keep a distinctly non-human-friendly veterinary vaccine from doing tissue damage.

For human vaccines, the situation is quite different. Most human vaccines do not cause localised pathologies if accidentally injected. There is one instance where immediate surgical intervention had to be used for a healthcare worker who stuck herself with the BCG vaccine, a vaccine used to prevent tuberculosis (TB).[11] However, in most other cases, ‘erroneous’ vaccination is not treated. So, for instance, nothing was done with the vaccination site itself in the context of accidental rubella vaccination of pregnant women.[12] Accidental influenza vaccine overdoses, again at the IDF,[13] were treated with watchful observation.[14]

The overall picture that emerges is that vaccinations cannot be undone through any transcutaneous means — this is not even attempted. In cases where there is an active intervention, it is not to remove the vaccine itself but to limit, eliminate or manage the damage the adjuvant would do. This, in any case, would be pointless to reverse the COVID vaccine (so please don’t try to perform surgery on yourself, whatever you think about the vaccine): whole-body PET-CT of 64Cu-labelled YF prME vaccines (an mRNA vaccine for yellow fever) shows fairly rapid drainage into nearby lymph nodes in cynomolgus monkeys.[15]

Conclusion

Immunisations are, in general, irreversible. There are rare cases where an immunisation is not immunogenic because the recipient is severely immunosuppressed. Absent such circumstances, however, once the vaccine has been administered, there is no way to remove it. And so, the answer to the question of whether you can reverse the effects of the COVID-19 vaccine is a clear ‘no’. You cannot ‘undo’ the COVID vaccine.

The good news is that there’s no point in doing so, either. Of the small number of cases where someone has received the COVID-19 vaccine unintentionally, no issues have been reported. The COVID-19 vaccine is safe — even if administered unintentionally. You cannot reverse the COVID vaccine. Neither will a ‘detox bath’ going to mitigate any side effects you might be experiencing, except perhaps the mild localised muscle aches.

Many treatments that claim you can reverse the COVID vaccine might be harmful. Borax, which is claimed to be an ingredient of one of the claimed treatments to reverse the COVID vaccine, is a Substance of Very High Concern (SVHC), and a potential carcinogen. In addition, borax can cause localised irritation of the respiratory system and, when ingested, nausea and diarrhoea. The risk is just not worth it for the clearly nonexistent benefit.

Stick to epsom salt, enjoy your bath, and your new immunity!

References

References
1 I am not kidding.
2 A small remark: while Collins’s article is overall very good, the idea that ‘toxins can be removed from the body with certain therapies’ is not necessarily a mistaken belief of anti-vax communities. Chelation therapy is the use of medical chelating agents, usually administered intravenously, which bind to certain targets and allow them to be excreted. Chelation therapy has been widely abused for various indications, but it does have a legitimate indication: heavy metal poisoning and iron overload. The latter occurs from time to time through intentional or accidental overdoses of exogenous iron, as a side effect of transfusions (transfusion haemosiderosis), as part of a hereditary disease called primary hereditary haemochromatosis or as a result of thalassaemia or sickle cell anaemia. Chelation is a first-line treatment for arsenic, mercury or lead poisoning, as well as of certain compounds of these, e.g. the organoarsenic blister agent lewisite. Chelation therapy is complex and must be supervised to avoid severe side effects, up to and including death from hypocalcaemia, but it is a legitimate medical treatment for heavy metal poisoning or haemosiderosis.
3 Fukuda S. Chelating agents used for plutonium and uranium removal in radiation emergency medicineCurr Med Chem. 2005;12(23):2765-2770. doi:10.2174/092986705774463012
4 Quast I, Tarlinton D. B cell memory: understanding COVID-19Immunity. 2021;54(2):205-210. doi:10.1016/j.immuni.2021.01.014
5 Casswall TH, Fischler B. Vaccination of the immunocompromised childExpert Rev Vaccines. 2005;4(5):725-738. doi:10.1586/14760584.4.5.725
6 Laksono BM, de Vries RD, Verburgh RJ, et al. Studies into the mechanism of measles-associated immune suppression during a measles outbreak in the NetherlandsNat Commun. 2018;9(1):4944. Published 2018 Nov 23. doi:10.1038/s41467-018-07515-0
7 Friedensohn L, Zur M, Timofeyev M, et al. Sub-cutaneous Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine administration results in seroconversion among young adultsVaccine. 2021;39(42):6210-6212. doi:10.1016/j.vaccine.2021.07.096
8 Windsor PA, Bush R, Links I, Eppleston J. Injury caused by self-inoculation with a vaccine of a Freund’s complete adjuvant nature (Gudair) used for control of ovine paratuberculosisAust Vet J. 2005;83(4):216-220. doi:10.1111/j.1751-0813.2005.tb11654.x
9 Ashford DA, di Pietra J, Lingappa J, et al. Adverse events in humans associated with accidental exposure to the livestock brucellosis vaccine RB51Vaccine. 2004;22(25-26):3435-3439. doi:10.1016/j.vaccine.2004.02.041
10 Jones DP. Accidental self inoculation with oil based veterinary vaccines. The New Zealand Medical Journal. 1996 Sep 1;109(1030):363-5.
11 Mundinger GS, Douglas KC, Higgins JP. Acute mycobacterial flexor tenosynovitis following accidental Bacillus Calmette-Guérin inoculation in a health care worker: case report. The Journal of Hand Surgery. 2013 Feb 1;38(2):362-5.
12 Allan BC, Hamilton SM, Wiemers MA, Winsor H, Gust ID. Pregnancy complicated by accidental rubella vaccination. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 1973 May;13(2):72-6.
13 The frequent occurrence of these instances in the literature is not because the IDF is incompetent but because they are much more amenable to reporting on these issues. Which is quite laudable.
14 Matzkin H, Nili E. Accidental tenfold overdose of influenza vaccine: a clinical and serological study. Israel Journal of Medical Sciences. 1984 May 1;20(5):411-5.
15 Lindsay KE, Bhosle SM, Zurla C, Beyersdorf J, Rogers KA, Vanover D, Xiao P, Araínga M, Shirreff LM, Pitard B, Baumhof P. Visualization of early events in mRNA vaccine delivery in non-human primates via PET–CT and near-infrared imaging. Nature Biomedical Engineering. 2019 May;3(5):371-80.
Chris von Csefalvay
I'm a data scientist and computational epidemiologist focusing on the intersection of public health, data science and artificial intelligence.

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