• Health

Ninth Circuit Court appeal regarding mRNA vaccines misinterpreted by Infowars and social media posts

Posted on:  2024-06-17

Key takeaway

Vaccines stimulate immunity to infectious diseases with the purpose of reducing the risk of disease transmission, severe illness, and death. By this measure, COVID-19 mRNA vaccines are indeed vaccines. Evidence from clinical trials and real-world data show that they reduce the risk of infection, serious illness, and death from COVID-19.

Reviewed content


COVID-19 mRNA vaccines aren’t vaccines, according to court ruling

Source: Infowars, Instagram, Twitter, Social media users, Alex Jones, 2024-06-08

Verdict detail

Factually inaccurate: The claim that COVID-19 mRNA vaccines “aren’t vaccines” was made by the plaintiffs in an appeal filed with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, not by the court itself.
Incorrect: The plaintiffs’ claim that only traditional vaccines can “prevent transmission or provide immunity to those who get them” is incorrect. No vaccine prevents 100% of disease transmission or infection, but vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines, do reduce these risks.

Full Claim

“9th Circuit Court of Appeals rules mRNA COVID-19 jab is not a vaccine under traditional medical definitions”, “‘Traditional” vaccines’ [...] should prevent transmission or provide immunity to those who get them”


In June 2024, posts circulated on Instagram claiming COVID-19 mRNA vaccines weren’t actually vaccines under “traditional medical definitions”. The posts reference an article published 8 June 2024 on InfoWars, which claimed that the “9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the COVID-19 mRNA jabs do not qualify as vaccines”.

InfoWars is known for spreading misinformation—most notably, that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was staged to rally support for stricter gun laws. InfoWars and its founder Alex Jones were banned from X (formerly Twitter) in 2018 for violating the platform’s policy on abusive behavior.

In 2023, Elon Musk reinstated Jones’ X account. Jones’ post on X sharing the InfoWars article had more than 300,000 views and 6,700 likes by the time of this review’s publication.

What did the Ninth Circuit appeal say, and how did it come about?

On 7 June 2024, in a 2-1 vote, judges from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit sent a case regarding whether COVID-19 vaccines could be considered vaccines or medical treatments back to a lower court for further deliberation. The lawsuit was originally filed against the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) in response to a policy that “required [LAUSD] employees to get the COVID-19 vaccination or lose their jobs”.

Health Freedom Defense Fund, Inc., one of the plaintiffs listed on the appeal, previously opposed a mandate perceived to infringe upon personal medical choices. California Educators for Medical Freedom, another plaintiff, is active in grassroots campaigns against vaccine mandates.

The Ninth Circuit court document further explained the plaintiffs’ complaint:

“[T]he Policy interferes with their fundamental right to refuse medical treatment. Their complaint’s crux is that the COVID-19 ‘vaccine’ is not a vaccine. ‘Traditional’ vaccines, Plaintiffs claim, should prevent transmission or provide immunity to those who get them. But the COVID-19 vaccine does neither. At best, Plaintiffs suggest, it mitigates symptoms for someone who has gotten it and then gets COVID-19. But this makes it a medical treatment, not a vaccine.”

Yet the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals didn’t rule that COVID-19 mRNA vaccines aren’t vaccines—rather, they determined the case should be sent back to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, where the case was first argued, for further review. This is the function of an appellate court, as explained by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts:

“The appellate courts do not retry cases or hear new evidence. They do not hear witnesses testify. There is no jury. Appellate courts review the procedures and the decisions in the trial court to make sure that the proceedings were fair and that the proper law was applied correctly. […] An appeal is available if, after a trial in the U.S. District Court, the losing side has issues with the trial court proceedings, the law that was applied, or how the law was applied. […] The reasons for an appeal vary. However, a common reason is that the dissatisfied side claims that the trial was conducted unfairly or that the trial judge applied the wrong law, or applied the law incorrectly.”

In this case, the Ninth Circuit Court judges determined that the District Court applied the law incorrectly. The District Court’s initial decision referenced Jacobson v. Massachusetts, a 1905 Supreme Court case which ruled that states could mandate smallpox vaccination for the protection of public health. The Jacobson ruling has since been used to uphold compulsory vaccination as a method for reducing the spread of vaccine-preventable illnesses.

In short, the plaintiffs’ argument that mRNA vaccines are “medical treatments” rather than “vaccines” would render Jacobson as inapplicable in this instance.

Dorit Rubenstein Reiss, a professor of law at the University of California San Francisco whose research focuses on legal and policy issues related to vaccines, explained more about the appeal in an 11 June 2024 blog post for the Skeptical Raptor, a website that debunks scientific misinformation. In an email to Science Feedback, she further elaborated:

“The Ninth Circuit found that the plaintiffs’ claims cannot be dismissed at this stage, because, in the words of the court, ‘[a]t this stage, we must accept Plaintiffs’ allegations that the vaccine does not prevent the spread of COVID-19 as true.’ 

The court did not rule on whether this was true or not (it said: ‘We do not prejudge whether, on a more developed factual record, Plaintiffs’ allegations will prove true’), but many courts would not have sent such an obviously bad claim forward.” [emphasis ours]

Evidence shows COVID-19 mRNA vaccines do prevent disease transmission, albeit imperfectly

As the expression goes, the jury is still out on whether the U.S. federal court system may determine COVID-19 mRNA vaccines to be “medical treatments” rather than vaccines. The plaintiffs argue that vaccines should prevent infection and transmission of the disease, and that COVID-19 vaccines “[do] neither”. However, this is a misconception about how vaccines work in general, and isn’t consistent with the data available on COVID-19 mRNA vaccines.

Vaccines aren’t always 100% effective at preventing infection or transmission of a disease, but this hasn’t stopped them from significantly improving public health. According to the European Commission, vaccination is “one of the most cost-effective public health measures available”. This is supported by a systematic review of adult vaccinations against diseases including the flu, pneumonia, human papillomavirus (HPV), tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis (TDaP), and hepatitis B[1].

Science Feedback also explained in previous claim reviews that COVID-19 mRNA vaccines reduce the risk of virus transmission[2,3]. This is accomplished by two mechanisms: reducing a vaccinated person’s susceptibility to infection, and reducing a vaccinated person’s infectiousness—specifically by reducing their ability to shed and transmit the virus to others.

In brief, the imperfect nature of vaccines in preventing disease transmission doesn’t mean that COVID-19 vaccines aren’t actually vaccines. Contrary to the plaintiffs’ claims, evidence from scientific studies show that COVID-19 mRNA vaccines can reduce the risk of infection and virus transmission, albeit imperfectly. They also reduce the risk of severe disease and death[4,5,6]. By this measure, COVID-19 vaccines are indeed vaccines.


Science Feedback is a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to science education. Our reviews are crowdsourced directly from a community of scientists with relevant expertise. We strive to explain whether and why information is or is not consistent with the science and to help readers know which news to trust.
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