Posts link Covid-19 vaccines to 'turbo-cancers' without evidence

Social media posts claim Covid-19 vaccines have caused a surge in aggressive forms of cancer. This is unproven; experts say available data do not show an increased risk -- and health authorities recommend the shots for cancer patients, whose treatments can leave them immunocompromised and more vulnerable to the coronavirus.

"Doctors and Pathologists now reporting on 'TURBO CANCERS' due to damaging impact of ️(vaccines) on the immune system," says a January 2, 2023 Instagram post.

The post includes a clip from an hour-long video titled "Sudden Death + Turbo Cancer, Canadian Doctors Speak Out."

Children's Health Defense, an anti-vaccine organization that was banned from Facebook in 2022 for spreading Covid-19 misinformation, published the recording on Rumble in November 2022. In it, Charles Hoffe, a family doctor from British Columbia, claims he has observed a dramatic uptick in stage-four cancer diagnoses since the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines.

"New cancers being diagnosed, the tumors are bigger than ever, they seem to grow very aggressively, spread very aggressively and be very resistant to treatment. So this is being nicknamed 'turbo-cancer,'" he says in the video. "Cancer pathologists around the world have noticed this -- that unfortunately now, people who have previous cancers which were in remission are flaring up since their shots because of the damage to their immune system by the Covid shots."

Screenshot of an Instagram post taken January 18, 2023

AFP has previously fact-checked Hoffe's claims about Covid-19 vaccines. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia (CPSBC) has cited Hoffe for alleged misconduct, including inaccurate statements about vaccination, and he will face a hearing in February 2023.

The clip shared online also features Stephen Malthouse, a family physician from Denman Island, British Columbia whom the CPSBC suspended from practicing medicine in March 2022. Both Malthouse and Hoffe have appeared in other misleading, pandemic-related videos from a series titled "Canadian Doctors Speak Out."

Oncologists and public health authorities told AFP the doctors' claims about Covid-19 vaccination and cancer are baseless.

"There is no evidence in Canada or globally that vaccination leads to any forms of cancer or that Covid vaccines lead to rapid advancement in cancers," British Columbia's Ministry of Health said in a statement emailed January 11. "There is also no evidence to support Covid vaccines leading to harm to the immune system; on the contrary evidence strongly supports that Covid vaccines produce strong, effective immune responses that protect from serious illness from SARS CoV-2."

AFP has previously debunked social media posts linking the vaccines to cancer, a claim that the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City says is a "myth."

"None of the vaccines interact with or alter your DNA in any way, and therefore cannot cause cancer," the treatment center says on its website.

Bruno Quesnel, director of research and innovation at the French National Cancer Institute (INCa), agreed.

"There is no credible mechanism that could explain this, there is no biological rationale," he told AFP on January 13.

Spike protein

Unlike traditional vaccines, Covid-19 messenger RNA (mRNA) shots do not introduce a weakened or inactivated virus to produce antibodies. Instead, they give cells instructions for how to produce the spike protein on the surface of the coronavirus.

Some social media posts claim that spike protein production is the reason for a supposed increase in stage-four cancers, saying it "disrupts (the) P53 gene, our ability to suppress cancerous mutation."

But David Gorski, co-director of the Michigan Breast Oncology Initiative, said this is not possible.

"To cause cancer, long-term inhibition of P53 activity is required (months to years), which the vaccine can't do," he told AFP on January 14.

Gorski pointed to limited evidence from computer modeling "that SARS-CoV-2 spike protein can interact with P53," but noted that he is "unaware of any direct biochemical evidence to support this interaction."

The posts also mislead by invoking "turbo-cancer," he said, as the term is not used by oncologists.

"I can't recall ever having heard the term 'turbo cancer' before recently," Gorski said. "It does not appear in any paper I could find in PubMed. It's a term made up by anti-vaxxers."

One tweet shared an article focused on a Swedish study that found the spike protein may inhibit DNA repair.

The paper was published in 2021 in the journal Viruses, but it was retracted in May 2022 after the lead author said "improper experimental design" likely affected the integrity of the data. The study also did not examine the full spike protein.

"Statements regarding the effect of the spike protein on the adaptive immunity are misleading as in this article no experiments related to the adaptive immunity were performed, and the full-length spike-based vaccine was not studied," the retraction note says.

Shots recommended

Large studies have demonstrated cancer patients are at high risk for Covid-19 complications.

BC Cancer is among the Canadian provincial health authorities that strongly recommend vaccination. British Columbia's Ministry of Health told AFP there are cases where a cancer patient can be immunized during the course of treatment, while other situations require vaccination prior to or following treatment.

Covid-19 vaccines have undergone extensive safety monitoring around the world. Canadian health officials have not detected a causal link between the shots and cancer.

The best available statistics only detail the number of Canadians diagnosed with cancer through 2018, so it is unclear if there has been an uptick in cases during the pandemic. However, British Columbia's Ministry of Health said there are concerns that people may have skipped routine screening when lockdown policies were in place.

"The Covid crisis has created a delay and an underuse of screening and this may have led to diseases being screened at a more advanced stage, but we know that vaccination is particularly beneficial to vulnerable populations and in particular to people with cancer," said Pierre Saintigny, an oncologist at the Centre Leon Berard, a hospital specializing in cancer in Lyon, France, on January 12.

"It is criminal to blame vaccines as a 'booster' of tumors, especially since pharmacovigilance does not show any signals in this direction."

AFP debunked similar claims in French here. More of AFP's reporting on vaccine misinformation is available here.