By Anuj Chopra and Marisha Goldhammer/AFP, Washington
Vaccine skeptics blocking blood transfusions for life-saving surgeries, Facebook groups inciting violence against doctors and a global search for unvaccinated donors — COVID-19 misinformation has spawned the so-called “pure blood” movement.
The movement spins anti-vaccination narratives that center on unfounded claims that receiving blood from people vaccinated against COVID-19 “contaminates” the body.
Some have advocated blood banks drawn from “pure” unvaccinated individuals, while physicians in North America have fielded requests from people seeking transfusions from unvaccinated donors.
In closed social media groups, vaccine skeptics—who brand themselves as “purebloods”—promote violence against doctors who administer vaccines, along with false claims of mass deaths of vaccinated individuals.
Taking the hysteria to the next level was the high-profile case of a New Zealand couple, who last year tried to stop their infant’s life-saving heart surgery on the grounds that it might have come from a vaccine donor.
Their stance in November prompted a New Zealand court to take temporary custody of the child to allow the procedure, but the case has become a cause for concern among vaccine skeptics around the world.
“Cases like this spread like wildfire on both shore and mainstream news sites and then social media, giving attention to anti-vaccination conspiracy theories,” said Kathryn Wallace, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “There is no science behind these conspiracies. If you give blood from an unvaccinated donor to an unvaccinated person, the recipient will not be vaccinated.”
George Della Pietra, a Swiss naturopath, founded Safe Blood Donation, a global mediation service that falsely labels mRNA vaccines as a “health hazard” and seeks to match unvaccinated blood donors with recipients.
The Zurich-based nonprofit offers to receive “fresh or canned” unvaccinated blood for its patrons, Safe Blood says on its Web site.
The company said it has presence in Western Europe, America, Canada, Australia, Asia and Africa.
An e-mail to Pietra requesting comment from Safe Blood Media Director Clinton Ohlers elicited a response.
“There are a large number of scientists and doctors who not only have great concern about the covid vaccine, but they are convinced that it enters the body through the blood through the back door, so to speak and stays there,” Oehlers wrote, citing the website.
That claim directly contradicts scientific claims.
“Blood from people who have received the COVID-19 vaccine is safe for donation,” said Jessa Merrill, American Red Cross senior manager of biomedical communications.
“Like other vaccines … the COVID-19 vaccine is designed to induce an immune response to help protect a person from the disease, but the components of the vaccine are not found in the bloodstream,” she said.
Safe Blood members are required to pay an initial joining fee of 50 euros (US$54), then 20 euros each year, its Web site states.
“The ‘safe blood’ movement is based entirely on 100 percent anti-vaccine misinformation,” Wallace said. “As with all anti-vaccine misinformation, appealing to people’s fears is sadly profitable.”
The demand to stay “pure” extends beyond blood to social media posts asking for sperm from unvaccinated men – conspiracy theorists speculate online that the prized commodity will be “the next Bitcoin” – as well as breast milk from unvaccinated mothers.
These requests appear to stem from belief in debunked claims that COVID-19 vaccines can cause infertility or alter human DNA.
Demand for “unvaccinated” blood is unclear, but experts say it will be challenging to procure it in countries with high vaccination rates.
In the US, where more than 80 percent of the population has received at least one COVID-19 jab, US Food and Drug Administration guidelines do not request that blood collectors be tested for vaccination status. Hospitals are also unable to inform patients about the condition of donated blood.
“Is the American blood supply tainted?” Read the headlines for Children’s Health Defense, a nonprofit organization founded by famous vaccine misinformation advocate Robert Kennedy Jr.
It falsely claimed that the country’s vaccination campaign “may have contaminated the country’s blood supply”.
An Agence France-Presse reporter who infiltrated a closed “pure blood” Facebook group found posts describing doctors as “arms of the state” administering vaccines.
Other posts included a cartoon image of a nurse holding a syringe and standing in a field full of skulls, and another of “victims” on crutches and wheelchairs passing out bottles of vaccine.
Another post included a video of a shirtless muscular man headbutting and smashing a car window in what it claimed was public outrage against vaccines.
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