Facing the camera and standing against a backdrop with the European Parliament logo, Dutch MEP Marcel de Graaff explained that he had written to the EMA to ask the agency “to withdraw the market admission” of Covid vaccines. “This month, we received an answer from the EMA to our letter, and this answer contains shocking facts,” de Graaff continued.

The MEP is a member of the Forum for Democracy, a conservative and eurosceptic Dutch political party. Until late 2022, he belonged to the far-right Identity and Democracy political group of the European Parliament. He quit over what he called its “anti-Russia” stance and is now without a political group in the European Parliament.

During the press conference on vaccines and the EMA — which was held on November 21 — de Graaff said: “The EMA explicitly states that it has exclusively allowed the corona vaccines on the market for individual immunisations and absolutely not for the control of infection… This is devastating for governments that have gone all in with the message that you are doing it for someone else.”

He added that according to the EMA letter, “no one under the age of 60 should have been vaccinated, with only a few exceptions”. 

Others at the press conference spoke of “bad batches” of vaccines and adverse side-effects allegedly left unmentioned by government authorities. 

The video of the press conference posted to YouTube has been viewed more than 100,000 times. The footage has also been shared on social media in various languages, including Dutch, French, German and Bulgarian

In France, the video went viral on X where Silvano Trotta, who is known to spread Covid disinformation, claimed: “The European Medicines Agency thus confirmed that the ‘compulsory vaccine’ against Covid-19 was an illegal off-label use.” His post, which included a photo of the EMA letter, has been retweeted more than 900 times. 

Someone else wrote: “‘No one under the age of 60 should have been vaccinated…’ Vaccine: people are beginning to talk, it’s going to hurt!!!  The European Medicines Agency has just set everyone free”. The November 23 tweet has been shared more than 300 times. 

Another video on the same subject has also been circulating on social media. It is an interview de Graaf gave to the website “The Epoch Times”, which is known to spread disinformation. Various claims made by the site in English or French — including on Covid vaccines — have previously been debunked by AFP.

Screenshot of on X post taken on November 29, 2023

Real press conference, letter

Contacted by AFP on November 28, the European Parliament confirmed that the press conference had taken place the week before in a pressroom at the parliament in Strasbourg. The conference was called “Shocking confirmations about Covid-19 vaccines”.

“Any MEP has the right to use the press conference facilities, for any topic they wish,” the Parliament told AFP. “That being said, it is only the press conferences held by MEPs holding official positions (rapporteurs, chairs, political group leaders, etc) that are streamed/recorded and shown on the EP page,” it added. 

That was not the case with this particular press conference

The letter referenced by de Graaff is available in its entirety on the EMA website

Shotscreen of the EMA website taken on November 29, 2923

Dated October 18, it is notably addressed to two French MEPs who are known to hold anti-vaccine views and regularly produce disinformation: Gilbert Collard and Virginie Joron.

A read-through of the letter and other EMA documents makes it clear that de Graaff’s statements were inaccurate. 

Vaccine effectiveness on preventing transmission

In its letter to the MEPs, the EMA wrote: “You are indeed correct to point out that COVID-19 vaccines have not been authorised for preventing transmission from one person to another. The indications are for protecting the vaccinated individuals only.”

The agency also recalled that it had noted in its assessment reports on the authorisation of the vaccines “the lack of data on transmissibility” in the first clinical studies from 2020. 

This is nothing new. As AFP already mentioned in a fact-check, from December 2020, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) indicated clearly in a detailed report on vaccine results that “data are limited to assess the effect of the vaccine against transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from individuals who are infected despite vaccination”. The report added however that “demonstrated high efficacy against symptomatic COVID-19 may translate to overall prevention of transmission in populations with high enough vaccine uptake.”

Contacted by AFP on November 29, the EMA said: “we clarified very early on, prior to any vaccine authorisation, that the impact of the vaccine on viral transmission would not be immediately known.” 

“This was explained by our experts in a public meeting held on 11 December 2020, as well as in the press briefing held on 21 December 2020 regarding the positive opinion for Comirnaty” (the Pfizer vaccine), it added. 

Following De Graaff’s press conference, the EMA updated a Q&A section on its website with the question “Do COVID-19 vaccines reduce transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus?”. (The wording of the question has since been tweaked to: “Are COVID-19 vaccines authorised to reduce transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus?”.)

Screenshot of the EMA website taken on November 29, 2023, new question circled by AFP

“We published the information on our FAQ page in the last few days because indeed, despite us having clarified this point multiple times in the last three years, we saw misunderstandings and misinformation persisted,” the EMA told AFP.

In response to the question, the agency wrote on its website: “At the beginning of the pandemic, regulators asked companies to prioritise studies looking at how well the vaccines prevented severe disease and death. Regulators did not ask companies to look at the effects of their vaccines on transmission as part of their request for authorisation.”

As with the question, the wording of the response has also since been updated. It now reads “… at how well the COVID-19 vaccines protected against the disease” and the second sentence is no longer there. 

The EMA added on its website: “It is difficult to measure how well vaccines may reduce transmission in clinical studies. This can only be done in real-world studies that include large numbers of vaccinated people. Several studies carried out after their authorisation have shown that COVID-19 vaccines can reduce the transmission of the virus.”

In other words, the lack of early data on the vaccine’s effectiveness in preventing transmission did not mean it was not effective at preventing serious forms of the disease and nowhere in the letter did the EMA say that it was illegal to require vaccination or to introduce mass vaccination.

The agency noted in its letter that while its scientific committees issue recommendations, it is other bodies like the European Commission and national governments that are in charge of developing immunisation policies to protect the public.

Ever since Covid vaccines were introduced, AFP’s fact-checking team has debunked many false claims around vaccines and virus transmission, including here and here

People who came to be vaccinated against Covid in a gymnasium in Tunis in 2021 (AFP / FETHI BELAID)

Younger people not exempt from Covid risks

Another false claim from de Graaff: the MEP inferred from the agency’s response that “no one under the age of 60 should have been vaccinated, with only a few exceptions” because, according to him, “almost no one under the age of 60 ran the risk of serious complications due to the coronavirus.”

As AFP has previously shown, even if their risk of death from Covid is much lower than that of the oldest citizens, the under-60 age group is not immune to the most severe or even fatal outcomes of Covid. 

According to the French Institute for Demographic Studies (Ined), during the first 18 months of Covid in Italy, Spain and Germany, five percent of those who died were under the age of 60. 

In France, 95 percent of people who died of Covid at the hospital were at least 60 years old while 98 percent of them were at least 50, according to the French public health agency

And as this February 2022 article from the French daily Le Parisien explained, death is not the only factor to consider, as the under-60 group is also not exempt from serious forms of Covid. According to the paper, in January 2022 “more than 1,100 hospital admissions of unvaccinated Covid patients between the ages of 20 and 39 were recorded every day”.   

All side effects included in safety monitoring

Another speaker at the press conference, German far-right MEP Joachim Kuhs, called into question the safety of the vaccines: “The EMA mentioned in its letter to us that they expect, I quote, ‘reports of conditions occurring at or soon after vaccination’. He then said: “This implies that data on adverse events or side effects within 14 days of vaccination are of the utmost importance for assessing the risks related to the vaccines.”

“However, member state officials adopted the policy that as it would take 10 to 14 days for the vaccine to produce spike proteins, adverse events within 14 days after vaccination were not to be registered as related to the vaccination,” he claimed.

But the EMA told AFP that this was not true: “The reports of suspected side effects that occurred within 14 days of vaccination are not excluded from safety monitoring. When monitoring vaccine safety, EMA and EU Member States consider all reports of suspected side effects following COVID-19 vaccination, regardless of how much time has passed between receiving the vaccine and the side effect occurring.”

No ‘bad batches’ of vaccines

Finally, Vibeke Manniche, a Danish doctor who has previously made false claims about Covid, spoke at the press conference about “bad batches” of vaccines: “What we call the blue batches gave many more side effects than some of the other batches.” She claimed that her research revealed that the EMA and national institutions had not informed the public about these safety issues. 

But in this article from a Danish periodical, experts identified several errors concerning her study’s statistical methods and the data used.

For example, in the study, the batches presented as having produced the largest number of side effects were in fact the very first batches, which were never put on the market in Denmark. As in other countries at the time, the first vaccines were administered to the most vulnerable citizens who needed to be protected from Covid first — the elderly or the sick. But this segment of the population is also the most likely to report medical concerns following vaccination that do not necessarily stem from the vaccine itself but may be due to age or prior issues. When these medical concerns arise after vaccination, they are automatically recorded by health authorities but that does not mean they were caused by the vaccine.  

As for accusations of inaction on the part of EMA, the agency said: “EMA and the EU Member States continuously monitor the EU database of suspected side effects, EudraVigilance. EMA has seen no evidence suggesting that some batches of Comirnaty caused any more side effects or more serious side effects than other batches of the vaccine.”

The EMA added that official medicines control laboratories in the EU member states “check data on the quality of every batch of COVID-19 vaccines before it is released in the EU.”

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Translation : Anna Maria JAKUBEK

Vaccins Covid-19

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