A popular claim on social media is that the vaccines themselves are causing the mutations in SARS-Cov-2 and are thus driving the variants. But is this true? Let's investigate.
This claim is approached from three different angles. One is that there is some chemical in the vaccines causing the variants so vaccinated people are spreading it. Another is the idea that the vaccines themselves have mutants already in them. The last concern is that the viral strains are being spawned by the vaccines via the process of Natural Selection.
The problem with the first two is that the variants of most concern evolved before any Covid vaccines (see timeline at bottom of page). Thus, those two claims can be confidently ignored. Concerns about strains being selected by nature are valid. The essential belief is that the virus is becoming stronger as it evolves to work around vaccine-induced protections. In other words, the more we vaccinate, the sicker people are getting. But does the evidence play this out?
Evolution by Natural Selection
Essentially, nature selects those biological entities that are able to reproduce and survive. Viruses that just so happen to have mutations (random genetic changes during replication) that allow them more access into a cell are selected by nature to continue this process because, well, it works. Notice that the environment didn't make the virus more infectious, it's random. However, since it works, it's passed on. Thus, you can see how evolution can be both random and directional(1). This is the same with one's body and the vaccines (the environment). They don't make the virus turn into more infectious mutants. However, what does happen is that the mutants may be allowed to spread. A newly infected person provides the environment where the virus is allowed to replicate freely. Slight errors in the viruses may get passed on to others. That strain may have mutations that are resistant to natural and vaccine-induced antibodies and can thus be more infectious and potentially more deadly.
Failing to stop transmission is what drives variants, not the vaccines.
Similarities to Antibiotic Resistance.
The process is similar to how antibiotic resistance occurs. A classic example is that you fail to finish your antibiotics. Some bacteria may have a slight resistance (through random mutations) to low levels of the antibiotic, so they are allowed to continue to reproduce. Some of those offspring, just through random chance may have even higher tolerances(2). So, if you attack the bacteria with the same antibiotic but a higher dose, it may not work. This is antibiotic resistance. Notice that the person failed to complete their dose so it was allowed to mutate and spread. The antibiotic didn't change the genes, nature did. This is exactly what happens with people who don't vaccinate, physically distance, or wear an appropriate and proper fitting mask. In other words, failing to stop transmission is what drives variants, not the vaccines. Vaccines, masks, and distancing reduce transmission significantly(3).
Why Vaccines Work
With the vaccines, the immune system is already primed to respond much more quickly to a viral threat. This means that the body can inactivate the virus much more quickly. The faster the reaction time, the less ability the virus has to replicate and mutate. In other words, vaccines can actually STOP the evolution of variants because it reduces the chances of unchecked infection(4). Can vaccinated people transmit too? Possibly(5). Though the original concern about high viral loads in vaccinated people turned out to be a hoax(6). However, the vaccinated transmit far less than the unvaccinated as they are able to extinguish the fire before it becomes a full blaze(7). Unvaccinated people that get infected need to build an immunity first which allows the virus more time to replicate and create mutants. However, as written in another article here at HealthandScienceFacts, this is not a good way to gain immunity[sic].
Some have argued that evolving strains contribute to (ADE). This is the belief that a lack of complete sterilization of the virus via vaccines can sometimes enhance a virus's infectivity. Essentially, the claim is that immune cells can become infected too if antibodies don't do their job at 100% efficacy. If the virus is not completely marked for destruction, it can escape neutralization and infect the very cells that are supposed to destroy them, the macrophages. It is often overlooked that natural-spawned immunity can cause this too. Regardless, I won't spend a lot of time on this as I have discussed this before here. However, I will simply state that if this were really happening, we should see increasing rates of vaccinated people with very severe Covid-related illnesses. This, however, is not the case. In Covid patients that have to go to the ICU, the unvaccinated are consistently taking up 97% of the beds and almost 99% of them are dying(8,9). We are just not seeing ADE occurring at this time.
The Variants Are Caused by Vaccines
Lastly, the most direct evidence we have that this isn't true, and as was mentioned earlier in this piece, is that the most dangerous variants of concern evolved BEFORE there were any Covid-19 vaccines. This, once again, reveals how unabated transmission is what spawns mutations, not the vaccines. Vaccines can put the virus in check. It's not 100%, but it doesn't have to be(10,11).
Please note that we had over 472,000 excess deaths in 2020(12). This was before vaccines. The timeline* below provides clear evidence that the deadliest of mutations were already here before vaccinations.
Alpha (B.1.1.7) in UK samples from Sept. 20, 2020
UK vaccinations started on December 8, 2020
Beta (B.1.351) in S. Africa samples Oct. & Nov. 2020
S. Africa vaccinations started Feb. 17, 2021
Gamma (P.1) discovered Brazil January 2, 2021
Brazil vaccinations started January 17, 2021
Delta (B1.617) discovered India December 2020
India vaccinations started January 16, 2021
Lambda (C.37) discovered in Peru August 2020
Peru vaccinations started February, 2021
Mu (B.1.621) variant found Colombia January 2021
Columbia vaccination started February, 2021
No, vaccines are not causing the dangerous variants. Vaccinated people are not more infectious. Vaccinated people are not spreading dangerous mutants.
Please, if you can and with the advice of your doctor, Get Vaccinated.
* Timeline provided by Dr. Anthony Cox.