Whenever it seems like anti-vaccine arguments can’t get any more absurd, someone in the conspiratorial milieu manages to take things one step further. Case-in-point: Over the last few months, prominent anti-vax channels have started to argue COVID-19 vaccines don’t just cause a host of imagined health problems. Now, some anti-vax activists falsely claim that the shots—which are overwhelmingly safe and effective—turn people’s blood into a thick, dark sludge flowing through their veins. And they say they’ve got the stories and the photos to prove it.
In October, a story in a prominent pandemic misinformation forum described a nurse supposedly telling a patient that they knew they were not vaccinated after performing a blood draw because vaxxed blood “just looks different, like darker or older.” Several other posters on the forum—which has tens of thousands of subscribers—quickly jumped in to say that they’d heard the same thing, with one adding that vaxxed blood “actually gives off a detectable bioluminance [sic].”
Since then, similar narratives have periodically cropped up in this and several other forums on the same site—including one with about 1.7 million followers.
This fall, a couple of major, far-right live-streams also started to feature interviews with so-called experts misleadingly claiming that, if you look at vaxxed blood under a microscope, you’ll see “the red blood cells are so deformed you can’t even make heads or tails of it.” Major anti-vax channels on social-media platforms like Telegram have been amplifying these and other narratives and interviews.
Recently, one channel with about 96,000 subscribers reposted a particularly evocative account, supposedly from an anonymous tattoo artist. This individual claimed that vaxxed people don’t even bleed when they get pricked anymore, because their blood is simply too slow and goopy. “Some nurses also report that the blood often clogs the catheters when blood is taken,” the post stressed.
These accounts often feature images of two bags, cups, or vials of blood next to each other, one dark and often gelatinous and the other red and watery, labeled vaxxed and unvaxxed, respectively. Or blood slides, showing supposedly vaxxed red blood cells all squished together and misshapen. Or clips of ostensibly vaxxed people getting pricked but either failing to bleed or only slowly bleeding some dark blood that quickly takes on the appearance of, as the admin of one Telegram channel said in a recent post, “CLOTTED JELLY.”
“Red blood cells are stacked like pancakes… in the vaxxed,” the admin of another Telegram channel with over 15,000 subscribers wrote in a recent post. “We may be ostracized” for not getting vaccinated, they added. “It’s still better than ending up like these poor bastards.”
All of these claims are, of course, utter bullshit. “Blood thickening to the extent that it could be visualized or hard to draw is not biologically possible, or consistent with life,” explained Jeffrey Klausner, a doctor who specializes in infectious diseases, and a contributor to The Daily Beast.
“Even people predisposed to blood clots do not demonstrate visible changes in blood color or thickness,” added Mark Crowther, a hematologist and a specialist in coagulation. “To hypothesize that you can see such changes… demonstrates a lack of knowledge about how blood works.”
Experts also say the images and videos used to support these claims are definitely cherry-picked and misrepresented. Hard evidence (for the nth time) actually shows that COVID-19 vaccines are overwhelmingly safe and effective.
But the story of the emergence of this absurd claim does shed light, misinformation watchers told The Daily Beast, on how anti-vaxxers iterate and escalate their arguments, making them wilder with every step.
At its core, this sludge blood claim appears to stem from legitimate reports that emerged early last year of a handful of people developing rare and potentially dangerous blood clots after getting the AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson vaccines. These reports led to temporary pauses on the rollout of those shots in many nations—including the United States, which was already administering the Johnson and Johnson shot at the time.
These pauses only lasted a few weeks in most jurisdictions, as it rapidly became clear that the risk of developing these clots was vanishingly rare. Studies released this month suggest that only 1 to 3 clots developed per million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and current CDC data shows that only 57 cases of the main blood-clotting disorder of concern have been confirmed following the administration of 18.3 million doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine across the United States. It also became increasingly clear that severe cases of COVID itself, as well as “long COVID”, are associated with dramatically increased rates of blood clotting, likely due to widespread inflammation.
“Vaccinated patients have lower risks of blood clots overall,” Crowther explained, “because they have a lower chance of developing the severe COVID cases associated with catastrophically high risks of developing blood clots.”
Still, in December, the CDC recommended people opt for mRNA vaccines over Johnson and Johnson shots whenever possible, as neither Pfizer nor Moderna show any signs of triggering blood clots. Any COVID vaccine far outweighs the minimal risks associated with it—and blood clots are often detectable and treatable—but it doesn’t hurt to favor a marginally safer option.
Mainstream medical experts view the detection of this rare complication as a clear signal of the success of vaccine safety monitoring systems, and the follow-up on this detection proof of the cautious and considered rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. “These are among the most heavily studied vaccines,” stressed Tim Brewer, a University of California—Los Angeles epidemiologist.
However, starting in March 2021, anti-vaxxers jumped on reports of post-shot clots as hard proof that, just as they’d scream-predicted for months at that point, the vaccines really were dangerous, and potentially lethal. “It’s different from the diffuse vaccine misinformation that circulates out there, like, ‘the vaccines contain toxins,’” said misinformation watcher Kathleen Hall Jamieson. “When there’s a headline like that, the anti-vaxxers can say, ‘Ha! Even the scientists admit it!’”
“I have had several patients express concern to me about the risk of all the COVID-19 vaccines causing clotting,” added hematologist and blood-clot specialist Adam Cuker. “This has been a fairly steady concern among a portion of my patients for months now.”
Once anti-vaxxers latch onto a compelling argument rooted, however loosely and misleadingly, in mainstream info and hard science, they follow a predictable progression. This involves escalating the hay they make out of it bit by bit, Jamieson explained. One specific type of vaccine can cause one specific type of blood clot in rare cases becomes all the COVID vaccines pose blood clot risks. Becomes these clots are much more common than the establishment wants to admit. Becomes literally any blood clot you hear about at any point after someone received a vaccine was actually caused by the vaccine, and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is a gaslighting, mainstream-agenda stooge.
Notably, earlier this month, the anti-vax world flipped a major shit when the CDC tweeted out a PSA about the general risk of blood clots, even among otherwise healthy individuals. “They are attempting to normalize blood clots and heart illness even in young people,” a major anti-vax Telegram channel blared. “They are blaming vaccine injuries on everything but the vaccines.”
In truth, blood clots are common, even in young and healthy people—and always have been. Even pre-pandemic, they affected up to 900,000 Americans, and killed up to 100,000, every year. And the CDC has run PSAs like this for ages. Anti-vaxxers just don’t do their research—at least not beyond selectively searching for and/or acknowledging information that will confirm their twisted agendas.
Parallel to the evolution of blood clot claims, anti-vaxxers have long argued that the COVID-19 vaccines will corrupt humans, distorting the vaxxed until they become a new and alien subspecies. Jonathan Berman, an expert on anti-vax history and rhetoric, noted that this is actually a very old trope, dating back to “early 19th-century claims that smallpox vaccines would turn people into cows,” as they were originally developed using cowpox pus. It reflects existential and enduring fears about foreign things entering the supposedly pure and inviolable human body, and by so doing polluting it. The use of relatively novel mRNA technology in the Pfizer and Moderna shots gave anti-vaxxers an accessible toehold to repackage these ancient fears as a new (but still utterly unfounded) scare about genetic alterations.
Despite their focus on abstract concepts like DNA manipulation and bodily purity, Bernice Hausman, another expert on anti-vax arguments, explained that conspiracists often channel these fears into panics about blood. Last spring, anti-vaxxers claimed the Red Cross wouldn’t take vaccinated blood because of its fundamental impurity. (The Red Cross actually clarified that it’d take blood regardless of COVID vaccination status all the way back in February 2021.) Last summer, anti-vaxxers started trying to refuse blood transfusions from vaccinated donors, for fear that the supposedly tainted plasma and hemoglobin itself would corrupt and alter their flesh. And by September, they’d taken to calling themselves “pure bloods.”
At some point, these strains of thought—reality-based but spun-out arguments about blood clot risks on one hand, and existential fears of bodily corruption and transformation focused on the blood on the other—collided. And thus anxiety about supposedly rampant blood clots transformed, for an influential and growing subset of the anti-vax world, into fears of the transformation of the blood into a sludge of clotted jelly.
“A blood clot is a frightening, yet relatively abstract thing,” Jamieson explained of the appeal of this evolution from the anti-vax perspective. “But if you say you’re drawing blood and it looks like sludge, then you’re going to trigger more disgust and fear of the unnatural.”
It’s visceral. It’s horrific. And, most disturbingly, it may be effective propaganda to drive the fearful farther from the vaccine.
The photos and clips anti-vaxxers attach to their sludge-blood claims can make them feel all the more plausible, palpable, and ultimately persuasive to their audiences, Jamieson argued. However, in truth, these images are a big nothingburger.
“Multiple variables can affect the appearance of blood,” Cuker, the hematologist explained.
Blood drawn from a vein will be darker than blood drawn from an artery, as it’s less oxygenated—and perhaps even darker if a person just did something that uses up more oxygen, like exercising. The amount or type of coagulant used when collecting blood, if any, and the time that a sample’s been sitting out in the open, can affect its color and texture, as well. Even minor shifts in lighting can have a major effect on blood’s appearance. The preparation of a slide of blood can also have major effects on the way the blood cells look under a microscope—even making two samples taken at the same time, from the same person, look radically different, or healthy blood look misshapen.
Cuker pointed out that the photos included in these posts rarely offer any information about when and how each sample was collected, or under what circumstances. Those that do offer basic details, like a “vaxxed blood” label and a date, offer no corroborating evidence or means of verifying their claims. David Gorski, a doctor who’s monitored anti-vax misinformation for several decades now, added that some of these images conspicuously omit details like the color of vial tops that might give clues about how they were collected. They sometimes also seem to feature uneven lighting.
“Without standardized collection, accurate information about storage and the patients from whom samples were allegedly collected, and their vaccination status, these photos and memes are meaningless,” Gorski argued. “And they’d still be meaningless with those details, because someone could easily cherry-pick non-representative samples” in order to make a striking visual.
Brewer, the epidemiologist, stressed that if sludge blood were real, we’d have seen it by now—and not just in dubious, grainy, decontextualized anti-vax memes on social media.
“Approximately 551 million doses of the COVID vaccines have been administered in the United States, and about 215 million people are fully vaccinated, 75 percent of the population over the age of 18,” he said. “These are among the most widely used vaccines in the world. And the vaccination rates are even higher in older individuals and those with comorbid conditions—the people who are most likely to get their blood drawn regularly. If this were a thing, we’d know.”
“I’ve had blood draws since I got vaccinated and boosted myself,” he added. “My blood looked perfectly normal each time it came out.”
https://www.thedailybeast.com/anti-vaxxers-are-obsessed-with-photos-of-jelly-blood?source=articles&via=rss Anti-Vaxxers Are Obsessed With Photos of ‘Jelly’ Blood