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Virologist Geert Vanden Bossche makes unsupported prediction that mass COVID-19 vaccination will cause an immune “collapse”

Posted on:  2024-04-15

Key takeaway

Immunity from either COVID-19 vaccination or from infection, exerts selective pressure on a virus and can drive viral evolution, potentially leading to new variants. However, not vaccinating and allowing the virus to spread freely carries the risk of severe disease and death and would also increase the virus’ opportunities to mutate. COVID-19 vaccines, while imperfect, help reduce the spread of the virus and the risk of severe illness and death.

Reviewed content


COVID-19 vaccines will cause a “massive tsunami” of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths due to immune escape; Immune “dysregulation” in vaccinated people is turning COVID-19 into “a more chronic disease that we call long COVID”

Source: Kunstlercast, Geert Vanden Bossche, 2024-03-31

Verdict detail

Misleading: Contrary to Vanden Bossche’s argument, both vaccine- and infection-induced immunity exert selective pressure that drives viral evolution. However, no evidence indicates that COVID-19 vaccines are major drivers in the evolution of new SARS-CoV-2 variants nor that they will lead to more dangerous variants.
Inadequate support: Long COVID is a condition that results from SARS-CoV-2 infection. Studies strongly suggest that vaccination reduces, not increases, the risk of developing long COVID.

Full Claim

COVID-19 mass vaccination has been “pushing the selection of more infectious variants”; Immune “dysregulation” in vaccinated people is turning COVID-19 into “a more chronic disease that we call long COVID”; Ivermectin prevents SARS-CoV-2 infections; Simian virus SV40 DNA in COVID-19 vaccines could theoretically accelerate cancer development in people


On 31 March 2024, journalist James Howard Kunstler published a podcast interview with virologist Geert Vanden Bossche. In the interview, Vanden Bossche referred to COVID-19 vaccines as “a large-scale experiment of gain-of-function” and predicted a “massive tsunami” of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths due to immune escape primarily caused by vaccination.

The conspiracy outlet InfoWars wrote about the interview in an article titled “Virologist Warns ‘Imminent’ New COVID Crisis Among Vaccinated Will Cause ‘Chaos’ & ‘Collapse’ Society” that circulated widely on Instagram. One tweet sharing the InfoWars headline received almost 400,000 views.

The claims made during the interview date back to 2021. Then, Science Feedback and others debunked similar predictions by Vanden Bossche, which haven’t come true. Below, we will analyze several of the misleading and unsupported claims made by Vanden Bossche.

Claim 1 (Misleading):

Mass vaccination at the peak of a pandemic has been “pushing the selection of more infectious variants”; “the booster shots have primarily been accelerating the immune escape of the virus”

Vanden Bossche claimed that mass vaccination when virus circulation is high causes the SARS-CoV-2 virus “to evolve into more dangerous variants that escape from the immune response”. He argued that the vaccine’s imperfect protection creates an opportunity for breakthrough infections and viral evolution, similar to how using suboptimal doses of antibiotics can contribute to the evolution of antibiotic resistance in bacteria.

However, no evidence indicates that COVID-19 vaccines have been major drivers in the evolution of SARS-CoV-2, as earlier reviews by Science Feedback and others explained.

Viruses evolve constantly by acquiring genetic changes called mutations. These mutations occur each time the virus makes copies of itself (replication) during infection. There is no question that vaccine-induced immunity puts selective pressure on the virus and contributes to its evolution[1]. But so does immunity from infection. The difference that vaccination also helps reduce the risk of infection and severe illness, thus lowering virus circulation and its chance to replicate.

Therefore, contrary to Vanden Bossche’s implication, withholding vaccination wouldn’t prevent new variants from arising[2]. In fact, widespread virus circulation in the early stages of the pandemic resulted in multiple SARS-CoV-2 variants that emerged before COVID-19 vaccines were available[3].

Despite waning immunity, COVID-19 vaccines still help reduce the spread of the virus[4]. By reducing the likelihood of infection and long illness, the vaccines also limit the opportunities for the virus to mutate, as virologists told Science Feedback in an earlier review.

Vanden Bossche also didn’t take into account that COVID-19 vaccines can and have been reformulated to better match emerging variants, which reduces immune escape and improves vaccine protection.

Claim 2 (Unsupported):

Immune “dysregulation” in vaccinated people is changing the pathology of SARS-CoV-2 from an acute disease “to a more chronic disease that we call long COVID”

Based on the argument that COVID-19 vaccines cause immune dysregulation, Vanden Bossche predicted “more and more cases of more and more serious long COVID” in highly vaccinated countries. This effect would supposedly become apparent “in the next coming weeks.”

It’s not the first time that Vanden Bossche has predicted COVID-19 vaccination would cause mortality rates to “dramatically increase”. In 2021, he predicted this event would occur “in just a few weeks”. Studies haven’t borne this out: vaccinated people don’t have a greater risk of all-cause or COVID-19 mortality compared to unvaccinated people[5,6].

The claim that COVID-19 vaccines increase the risk of developing long COVID also isn’t new, as Science Feedback and other fact-checking organizations documented. However, this claim contradicts evidence from scientific studies showing that long COVID is typically associated with infection, not vaccination.

Long COVID refers to a wide range of symptoms some people develop after SARS-CoV-2 infection. These symptoms include fatigue, difficulty breathing, and cognitive deficits that can persist for weeks, months, or years after infection.

While cases of persistent symptoms resembling long COVID have also been reported following COVID-19 vaccination[7-9], whether COVID-19 vaccines cause these symptoms is still unclear.

A spokesperson from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told FactCheck.org that “to date, no unusual or unexpected patterns of long-lasting symptoms or health problems following vaccination have been linked to vaccination by COVID-19 vaccine safety monitoring systems”.

The Paul Ehrlich Institute in Germany issued a similar statement based on data from the European Medicines Agency’s adverse reaction database. This suggests that long-term health complications after COVID-19 vaccination are uncommon.

Further contradicting Vanden Bossche’s claim, compelling evidence from published studies suggests that COVID-19 vaccination actually reduces the likelihood of developing long COVID in adults[8], children, and adolescents[11].

Moreover, getting more doses of vaccine is associated with lower risk of developing long COVID[12,13].

For example, one study published in The BMJ in November 2023 evaluated symptoms in roughly 600,000 people with long COVID who had previously received zero, one, two, or three doses of a COVID-19 vaccine and in Sweden[13]. The study reported that one vaccine dose was associated with a 21% lower risk of long COVID compared to unvaccinated people. However, two and three doses further reduced the risk to 59% and 73%, respectively.

This possible protective effect of vaccination against long COVID might also have implications in terms of mortality.

One 2024 study published in Nature Communications evaluating long-term symptoms in over one million people in Hong Kong showed that unvaccinated people had the greatest risk of post-infection complications, including cardiovascular diseases and mortality. The more COVID-19 vaccine doses people received, the less likely they were to experience long-term problems after infection[14].

Some studies suggest that vaccinating people who already developed long COVID might also relieve symptoms. However, the data in this regard is less clear, as some patients reported improvements, but others reported no change or even a worsening in their symptoms[15-17].

Overall, the findings from published studies aren’t consistent with Vanden Bossche’s claim that COVID-19 vaccination leads to worse disease and long COVID. On the contrary, they show that vaccinated people are less likely to develop severe disease and long COVID compared to unvaccinated people.

Claim 3 (Unsupported):

People “need to take anti-virals prophylactically”; Ivermectin is “the only antiviral that is cost-effective, that is widely available […] and that is safe. There is simply no alternative”

During the interview, Vanden Bossche argued, without providing any supporting evidence, that “people who start to show symptoms will pass out in 24 hours”. He claimed the only way to prevent a “dramatic loss of lives due to the collapse of the immune system” would be to avoid SARS-CoV-2 infection by taking the antiparasitic drug ivermectin before developing any symptoms, in other words, as a preventative.

But Vanden Bossche’s proposed use of ivermectin isn’t supported by scientific evidence. A March 2024 review of randomized controlled trials by the Cochrane Library explicitly stated, “No trial investigated ivermectin to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection”[18].

Ivermectin received much public attention in the early stages of the pandemic owing to preliminary evidence suggesting that it might help treat COVID-19. However, robust clinical trials conducted since then showed no benefit from ivermectin in improving recovery or in reducing COVID-19 severity and mortality[19-23], as Science Feedback explained in earlier reviews.

Due to the lack of reliable scientific evidence suggesting that ivermectin is beneficial to COVID-19 patients, public health agencies including the World Health Organization, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) don’t recommend using it to treat or prevent COVID-19.

Vanden Bossche also claimed that public health authorities would eventually issue ivermectin mandates and suggested that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had already changed its “position towards ivermectin in recent days.”

This may be a reference to a civil suit against the FDA, which argued that the agency overstepped its bounds with a consumer advisory warning people not to take ivermectin for COVID-19.

Many interpreted this statement to mean that the FDA changed its position on ivermectin. Science Feedback reviewed this claim at the time, and found it to be inaccurate. While the FDA acknowledged doctors’ legal right to prescribe ivermectin off-label, it hasn’t approved the drug for use in COVID-19 patients, nor has it changed its recommendation of not using ivermectin to treat COVID-19.

However, this lawsuit was settled in August 2023. Considering that Vanden Bossche said “in recent days”, he might instead refer to another lawsuit that the FDA agreed to settle in March 2024. Some claimed that the court had ruled the FDA’s advisory broke the law, proving that ivermectin is an effective COVID-19 treatment. But the court didn’t find such a thing. It was the agency that agreed to remove the advisory and related social media posts. This outcome also had no bearing on whether ivermectin is effective for COVID-19.

Claim 4 (Misleading):

“Simian virus promoter should not have been used” in COVID-19 vaccines; “theoretically, it could accelerate of course the development of cancer”

While Vanden Bossche correctly acknowledged that only DNA “remnants” of a simian virus were found in the vaccine, he claimed that the sequence identified could “potentially integrate” into the human genome.

The claim is likely based on an April 2023 preprint by McKernan et al. that measured the level of residual DNA present in vials of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines from several lots used in Canada[23]. The preprint claimed it found a DNA sequence from the simian virus SV40 in the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

Because SV40 has been shown to cause cancer in hamsters[24,25], the preprint’s findings led to viral claims that the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine might alter people’s DNA and cause cancer. Science Feedback reviewed this claim and found it to be unsubstantiated.

Small amounts of residual DNA can remain in the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines because manufacturing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine involves using recombinant DNA in bacteria to mass produce the genetic material for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.

But the fact that vaccines contain residual amounts of DNA doesn’t represent a safety issue in itself. People encounter much higher levels of foreign DNA every day through the food we eat and the microorganisms we are exposed to.

The preprint didn’t show that the specific fragments identified integrated into the genome or caused harm. There is also no other evidence suggesting that fragments or even the full SV40 increases the risk or accelerates the development of cancer in humans. Moreover, the vials analyzed in the preprint were of “unknown provenance” as they were sent to McKernan and colleagues anonymously, raising questions about sample integrity.

In a statement for an earlier review, Health Canada told Science Feedback that “[a]ny claims that the presence of the SV40 promoter enhancer sequence is linked to an increased risk of cancer are unfounded.” The agency pointed out that the presence of fragments of the SV40 promoter isn’t the same as the presence of the whole virus. It added that this fragment “is inactive, has no functional role, and was measured to be consistently below the limit required by Health Canada and other international regulators.”


Vanden Bossche’s predictions of a “massive tsunami” of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths due to immune escape leading to long COVID are unsupported. No evidence suggests that COVID-19 vaccination is a primary driver of SARS-CoV-2 evolving into more dangerous variants. There is also no evidence indicating that COVID-19 vaccination causes or increases the risk of long COVID. On the contrary, long COVID is a known complication of SARS-CoV-2 infection, which multiple studies suggest vaccination might help reduce.


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