Antivaccine nonsense Medicine

Novavax and “moth cells”: The latest antivax fear mongering

Recently, Novavax, an “old school” recombinant protein-based COVID-19 vaccine, was granted emergency use authorization. Now antivaxxers are fear mongering about its use of “moth cells” and “tree bark.” That’s because to antivaxxers, it’s about the vaccines, not any specific technology.

The key tool that antivaxxers have used to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) about COVID-19 vaccines has been the newness of the technology. Although introducing mRNA into muscle cells in order to provide them with the template to make a specific protein—in the case of COVID-19 vaccines, the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, which stimulates an immune response that also targets the virus—is an old technology, dating back more than three decades, the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA-based vaccines represent the first successful use of mRNA encased in liposomes as a vaccine administered to hundreds of millions of people. This has led to the repurposing of old antivax fear mongering about how vaccines “alter your DNA” or are “transhumanism” to result in antivax claims about COVID-19 vaccines that they “permanently alter your DNA“—contaminating it with that deadly spike protein!—and, like attenuated live virus vaccines, lead to “shedding.” The same fears were expressed about the adenovirus-based COVID-19 vaccines, like Johnson & Johnson‘s. None of this is true and, as is almost always the case, the claims were based on distortions, misunderstandings, and misrepresentations of research and biology. However, such misinformation can seem believable to those without the background in molecular biology to recognize it as the BS that it is, which brings me to the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine.

The Novavax COVID-19 vaccine was granted emergency use approval (EUA) a week ago. This particular vaccine has long been viewed with hope because, instead of being an mRNA-based vaccine (like Pfizer and Moderna vaccines) or a viral vector-based vaccine (like the Johnson & Johnson vaccine), Novavax is a subunit protein vaccine. For instance, this article about the EUA in Politico noted:

The vaccine, a two-dose series administered three weeks apart, is manufactured using a lab-made spike protein produced in insect cells and an adjuvant obtained from the bark of a tree native to Chile, offering a different and older vaccine technology than is used in the messenger RNA vaccines and Johnson & Johnson shot. It is authorized for people ages 18 and older as a primary series, meaning the shot is intended for the roughly 10 percent of adults who have not yet received a Covid-19 vaccine.

Novavax executives have said they hope the shot will see uptake in individuals who have expressed hesitancy toward other Covid-19 vaccines or are allergic to components of the others’ ingredients.

“Today’s authorization offers adults in the United States who have not yet received a Covid-19 vaccine another option that meets the FDA’s rigorous standards for safety, effectiveness and manufacturing quality needed to support emergency use authorization,” FDA Commissioner Robert Califf said in a statement.

While I welcome new vaccines against COVID-19, I’ve long been very skeptical of the Pollyannish hope expressed by public health officials and Novavax executives that this vaccine will somehow so reassure the vaccine-hesitant that they’ll finally—finally!—after more than a year and a half get vaccinated against COVID-19 because an “old school” vaccine that’s just protein and an adjuvant has been made available. Don’t get me wrong. I expect that there might be some people for whom Novavax could possibly be the final development that reassures them enough to be vaccinated, but, as anyone who’s dealt with the antivaccine movement knows, it’s probably going to be a small number, nowhere near enough to have the seemingly “game changing” effect that I’ve seen predicted on occasion.

In fairness, Novavax does look to be a good vaccine; it’s just that overcoming manufacturing difficulties delayed its debut:

The Novavax vaccine contains a synthetic coronavirus spike protein made with moth cells and compounds that encourage an immune response. This formulation is similar to older vaccines.

In a trial of more than 26,000 adults in the U.S. and Mexico, two doses of the Novavax Covid vaccine were more than 90 percent effective at preventing symptomatic disease. For adults 65 and older, effectiveness was more than 78 percent. There were no serious side effects or safety concerns, including for the approximately 21,000 adults who were followed for more than two months after their second shot.

In a press release, the FDA noted that it had conducted a thorough analysis of Novavax’s production capacity as part of its decision to authorize the shot.

The shot received strong backing from the Trump-era Operation Warp Speedeffort, but faced difficulties with manufacturing throughout its lengthy vaccine development process.

Longtime readers can probably predict what I started seeing not long after the news media started reporting that the FDA had granted an EUA for Novavax. Can you?

Here’s a hint, taken from the page of the official website of the antivax National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC):

Novavax and moth cells
Sure, it’s a straight up reference to a WaPo article, but it’s an antivaccine website. Just look at the comments, and you’ll see that posting this had the desired effect.

The above article, of course, was just an embed of a YouTube video and an excerpt from an old Washington Post article about Novavax. The YouTube video is actually brief and informative; so I’ll embed it too:

The cells used to grow up spike protein are ovary cells from the fall armyworm, or Spodoptera frugiperda.

The video notes that this is nothing more than making recombinant protein to be used as the antigen in a vaccine, something that’s long been used for vaccines against influenza, human papilloma virus (HPV), and hepatitis B. And, of course, we know that antivaxxers never, ever, ever demonize recombinant vaccines like these with fear mongering about ingredients, distortions of science, and nonsense, right? Oh, wait. antivaxxers were claiming that HPV vaccines integrate viral DNA with the DNA of the recipients…over a decade ago!)

I generally have a rule about antivaccine blogs (and, to be honest, most blogs other than my own):

I broke that rule this one time. (The things I do for my readers!) An intellectual giant known only as Pam observed:

I am not an entomologist but I do garden a lot and see many moths. Since the video only talked about proteins and mRNA, I wanted to know more about what moths can do to a human in general. Moths are of the paraphyletic group meaning many have a common ancestor. Does that suggest what affects one species genetically may affect other species? Not sure. Did they say what species of moth they used in the Novavax? I did some online research and found some moth caterpillar species cause lepidopterism (caterpillar dermatitis) if touched. Lymantria dispar, the spongy moth (has black and red spots in caterpillar stage) carries the NPV (spongy moth virus). Could this NPV make its way into moth vaccines? Would make a great sci-fi novel plot–every vaccinated person grows antennae and makes coccoons. The comment about “Mothman cometh” brought all sorts of sci-fi musings to mind. Have not gotten a vaccine since 2006 and won’t be wanting ANY soon. Adjuvants are on my no-list since the allergist said this may be what I react badly to when getting a vaccine. Being out in natural settings with Nature is wonderful. Science should stop messing with the genetic make-up of any living being. Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.

That’s right. An antivaxxer is invoking a new version of a very old antivax trope, one that dates back over 200 years:

It's not the spike protein, but wow.
Even before genetics or DNA were known, antivaxxers were promoting myths that vaccines somehow change your very essence. In the early 1800s it was the claim that vaccines could turn you into a cow because the vaccine used pus from cows. In 2022, it’s an anonymous antivaxxer on an antivax website thinking that because Novavax uses moth cells to grow spike protein the vaccine might turn you into a moth.

Is Pam joking about Novavax turning its recipients into moths? Partially. She is, however, echoing a very old antivax trope, namely the idea that vaccines somehow change your very essence to be more like the vaccine. In the 1800s, it was cows because cow pox lesions were used to vaccinate against smallpox. Now? It’s moths.

Jeff Goldblum agrees. No insect cells should be used to make vaccines!

The NVIC article, of course, was nothing new, just a resurrection of the same fear mongering about moth cells that had been going on ever since antivaxxers had discovered that spike protein to be used to manufacture Novavax was to be produced using a Baculovirus system and moth cells.

In fact, Baculovirus is a viral vector that’s long been commonly used to produce recombinant protein in the lab. It’s mainly used to infect insect cells and induce them to produce whatever protein is encoded by the DNA inserted into them, although it can also infect mammalian cells. Baculovirus-insect cell systems as a means of generating recombinant protein used to be fairly tedious in that it was difficult to engineer the virus and to isolate the proteins produced from the cells, but a lot of advancements in biochemistry and technology have made it much more feasible to use this system to generate the large amounts of high quality recombinant protein needed to manufacture a vaccine like Novavax. Baculovirus systems are also in wide use in research for purposes like cell-based assays, gene function studies, and, of course, production of recombinant proteins. As an aside, one other advantage of baculovirus and insect cells is that they allow for the generation of recombinant protein at a much lower temperature. Mammalian cells are generally grown at 37°C; insect cells are often grown at 27°C. One way to look at the baculovirus-“moth cell” system is that it’s just another method for using viruses to produce recombinant proteins in eukaryotic cells.

For example, for every approving Tweet like this:

I could find dozens of Tweets like this, going back months:

More predictably (for anyone familiar with longstanding antivax tropes) is this claim:

You don’t “feed” moths (or anything else) mRNA to get them to produce antibodies. Also, mRNA-based vaccines don’t produce antibodies; they induce cells to produce spike protein, which provokes an immune response that results in antibody production.
How long before antivaxxers start claiming that Novavax is contaminated with “moth DNA” that will integrate into your genome, just as antivaxxers used to claim that Gardasil is contaminated with HPV DNA that will integrate into your genome?

Then there’s this video:
This particular antivaxxer appears not to know the difference between DNA and mRNA. Also, WTF? Ruby refers to Novavax as a “deadly moth DNA spike protein”? What did she do? Throw a bunch of random antivax words into a blender?

We’ve encountered Dr. Jane Ruby twice before, most recently as one of the people claiming to have found “nanowires” in the “self-assembling clots” supposedly caused by COVID-19 vaccination. She’s also been spreading misinformation about “graphene oxide” in the vaccines, among other disinformation. I guess that she’s now on the “moth cell” fear mongering grift train.

On her website, she claims:

Dr. Jane Ruby is a medical professional and a pharmaceutical drug development expert with over 20 years of experience in regulatory processes for drug approval with the FDA and the EMA. She is also a published international health economist who has appeared on numerous TV and radio shows across America.  Dr. Ruby worked on the human research studies to launch some of the most famous compounds in the world in Depression, Alzheimer’s disease, Addiction, and Cardio-pulmonary diseases.

If all that’s true (doubtful), where did Dr. Ruby go so wrong that she would spew such idiocy as in the video? Inquiring minds want to know!

My brain hurts
“My brain hurts!”

“It’ll have to come out!”

As for the video, I must confess that I couldn’t get through the whole 18 minutes, because there was so much repetitive antivax nonsense in it that it actually made my brain hurt, which has nearly 25 years of experience dealing with nonsense like this, hurt. Early in the video, Dr. Ruby mentions that she’s gotten lots of emails and questions about Novavax from people who refuse to take mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines who ask her if they should take Novavax instead, given that it’s not an mRNA vaccine, but rather a potentially more “acceptable” recombinant protein-based vaccine. On the surface, this would seem to support the idea that Novavax might entice those afraid of new mRNA technology in vaccines to accept an “old school” vaccine. It doesn’t. Predictably, Dr. Ruby’s answer is not only just a “No,” but an “Oh, hell no!” After that, she starts listing every antivax trope you can imagine about the vaccine, starting out by claiming that Novavax is no more a “vaccine” than the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, which, as you’ll recall, were falsely characterized as “gene therapy” and not vaccines.

In a truly facepalm-worth bit, Dr. Ruby then goes on to claim that Novavax “uses the mRNA technology” and that “it doesn’t make it safer and it doesn’t make it better” than mRNA vaccines, while repeating yet again that Novavax is “not a vaccine.” Rather, to Dr. Ruby, Novavax is a “toxic poison designed to change your DNA forever,” which, she notes, is the “long game” and the “endgame.” She then disingenuously claims that she’s not trying to “scare you,” just to scare you out of taking any more shots.

Dr. Ruby, given that she uses religious allusions to spread antivax disinformation, deserves the Jesus facepalm. I will add, though, that while Jesus might forgive Dr. Ruby for spreading dangerous antivax disinformation, I do not.

After I finished facepalming over Dr. Ruby’s claim that Novavax uses the same mRNA technology as the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, I was curious how someone claiming to be a physician could say something so utterly at odds with molecular biology. So I kept watching. To explain what she means, Dr. Ruby references this illustration:

Dr. Ruby Novavax
See! The baculovirus DNA encoding spike protein is transcribed into mRNA! Checkmate, provaccine New World Order-loving fascists!

I just kept facepalming. Dr. Ruby went on and on and on about how supposedly Novavax is using “synthetic” codes for proteins “never before seen in nature”—she even uses the term “in silico“—to “stimulate moths” to make billions of copies of the “toxic spike protein” that they then extract noting that your body isn’t making the evil toxic spike protein (as is the case in mRNA vaccines) but that the moth cells are. This explanation, while technically correct (barely) deceptively conflates the use of a baculovirus containing the specific cDNA code to serve as the template for moth cells to make spike protein, which is later extracted, isolated, and used to make a more traditional protein-based vaccine, and the mRNA technology that induces the cells of the recipient of the vaccine to produce spike protein. Yes, mRNA serves as the final template for protein manufacture in both systems, but it’s not as though the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines involve harvesting cells from your deltoid muscle and isolating the spike protein being made by them due to the mRNA vaccine. This explanation is so deeply stupid that there are only two possible explanations. Either Dr. Ruby is deeply ignorant of some very basic molecular biology that was basic three decades ago when I first studied biochemistry and molecular biology, or she’s lying, knowing that her audience is deeply ignorant of very basic molecular biology. Take your pick. (I suspect the latter, but will concede that the former is quite possible.)

Remember my question in a caption above? Specifically, I asked, “How long before antivaxxers start claiming that Novavax is contaminated with “moth DNA” that will integrate into your genome, just as antivaxxers used to claim that Gardasil is contaminated with HPV DNA that will integrate into your genome?” Believe it or not, I asked that question as I was writing this but before actually watching Dr. Ruby’s video. And guess what? She very quickly went there, going on about how the spike protein is isolated with “moth DNA” that’s included in the nanoparticles, so that you still have a problem with a “genetic code that is going to embed in your cells and God knows what it’s going to create from the moths” and then you have “directly injected billions of these toxic spike proteins,” which will supposedly wreak havoc in your body, including causing infertility.

First, this is a common gambit, to refer to “billions” of spike protein molecules, as though that were a lot. I’ve noted before, billions of molecules is actually not very many. One billion = 109 molecules. Let’s say the vaccine makes 6 billion (for easy rounding). That’s only 10-14 mole (or 10 femtomole or 0.01 picomole, calculated roughly as ~6 x 109/~6 x 1023). Given that the molecular weight of the spike protein is 78.3 kDa, that means that we’re talking about only ~8 x 10-10 g of spike protein, or 0.1 ng. (These are rough, back-of-the-envelope calculations.) As I’ve pointed out before, doing similar calculations for mRNA vaccines, the amount of spike protein produced is very, very tiny. To conintue, Novavax contains 5 μg of recombinant spike protein, which works out to 5 x 10-6 g ÷ 78.3 x 103 g/mole ≈ 6 x 1011 mole, or ~60 picomole, which is actually a lot more protein than “billions” of spike protein molecules. The difference, of course, is that it’s injected into the muscle with adjuvant and doesn’t spread throughout the body, contrary to Dr. Ruby’s claim that it does. (Intravenous vaccines don’t work very well.)

Dr. Ruby goes beyond that, though. In her world, apparently, those rendered infertile by Novavax will be the lucky ones. Why? Well, let her explain:

If you are lucky enough to conceive—and this goes for all of these shots—the next generation through recombination of mom and dad’s genetic material can have offspring that will suffer and be damaged and freak—freak manifestations. We don’t even know what those are going to look like yet. So stop looking at Novavax as a possible safer alternative. To what? To tyranny? To a sick, psychopathic cabal that wants to damage God-given DNA forever and say, “Wooo, we’re better than God”?

Dr. Peter Venkman would like a word with Dr. Ruby.

Peter Venkman
“Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together…MASS HYSTERIA!”

This is very much like the idea of “purebloods” that antivaxxers co-opted from the Harry Potter novels, the idea being that, like the magical purebloods in the story, who are untainted by “muggle” (nonmagical) blood, those who are unvaccinated have “pure blood.” As I’ve long pointed out, a huge part of alternative medicine relies on the concept that “contamination” (these days more frequently referred to as “toxins”) cause most, if not all, disease, and various “detoxification” regimens that make up so much of alternative medicine (and, not coincidentally, the basis of many treatments for many conditions—like autism—that antivaxxers used to attribute to vaccines) have more in common with religious ritual purification rituals than they do with science or medicine. The concept is so pervasive in antivax circles that sometimes antivaxxers would rather risk death than “contamination.” For example, Del Bigtree came dangerously close to death from bleeding hemorrhoids because he refused a transfusion with “vaccinated blood.”

Fictional purebloods
Lord Voldemort: A fictional example of what proclaiming yourselves “purebloods” leads to.

This concept of “purity” versus “contamination” (implied to be with evil) also has a lot to do with the idea that “natural immunity” to a disease and has so infected the discourse over COVID-19 vaccines that one of my go-to video clips when discussing this topic is of Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper from one of my favorite movies of all time, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb explaining how fluoridation is a Communist plot to “sap and impurify” the “precious bodily fluids” of real Americans, mainly because anti-fluoridation, antivaccine, and anti-GMO pseudoscience all tap into the alternative medicine fear of “contamination” as a cause of ill health and “purity of essence” (again, from Dr. Strangelove) as key to good health. In this case, Dr. Ruby is portraying the vaccines as tampering with God-given purity and setting humans up as “better than God.” The claim that Novavax will somehow “contaminate” your DNA with moth DNA and thereby wreak havoc in your body is very much of a piece with old antivax claims that the HPV vaccine will “contaminate” your DNA with HPV DNA and thereby wreak havoc in your body through “molecular mimicry“? Truly, the antivax hilarity that was “homologous recombinaltion tinikernever died.

General Jack D. Ripper vs. "purity of essence"
“I will not allow Novavax (or any other vaccine) to sap and impurify all my precious bodily fluids!”

Consistent with old antivax narratives, Dr. Ruby also complains about the use of “lipid nanoparticles” in the vaccine, just like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do! Specifically, she refers to the use of “tree bark toxins” as an adjuvant. This is a theme that has arisen about Novavax in antivaxland. Here’s an example from Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Children’s Health Defense claiming that the “nanoparticle adjuvant” (which Novavax calls “Matrix-M”) is horrifically harmful:

Nevertheless, in pre-COVID-19 studies of experimental vaccines containing Novavax’s Matrix-M, researchers waxed enthusiastic about the nanoparticle-based adjuvant’s “significant” and “potent” action — including its strong “immunostimulatory properties” even without any accompanying antigen.

And, where nanoparticles are concerned, the Novavax COVID-19 shot actually delivers a double whammy, combining Matrix-M with genetically engineered spike protein nanoparticles.

As Novavax explains it (for some reason putting the word “adjuvant” in quotes), “The spike protein is the ‘signal,’ but … we want your immune system to hear that signal loud and clear [and] that signal boost comes from our Matrix-M ‘adjuvant.’”

Matrix-M has been around a long time; for instance, here’s a study from a decade ago showing its immunostimulatory properties. Adjuvants, of course, have long been used to increase the immune reaction triggered by an antigen in a vaccine, thus allowing the use of much less protein; the most commonly used adjuvant is, as most of you know, aluminum. (And we all now that antivaxxers trust aluminum adjuvants, right? Just kidding! They hate aluminum adjuvants as much as they hate mRNA in vaccines!)

Where, however, did the bit about “tree bark” come from? It turns out that Matrix-M is a natural product, specifically a saponin derived from the soapbark tree (Quillaja saponaria), so named because its bark contains saponins, which can be made into soap.

As noted in this study:

Saponins, particularly those obtained from Quillaja saponaria Molina, are known potent adjuvants and Quillaja saponins (QS) have for long been used in animal vaccines. Saponin-based adjuvants can be formulated in different ways; in free form [2], with aluminium hydroxide [3], in ISCOMs (immunostimulating complex) [4] or in ISCOM-Matrix/Matrix structures [5]. QS constitute a heterogeneous mixture of related but different chemical structures with various immunostimulatory activities, safety profiles and particle forming properties. By purification of the QS raw material, distinctive fractions with different characteristics can be defined.

The ISCOM, a potent adjuvant formulation first described in 1984 by Morein and co-workers [4], consist of stable complexes composed of saponin, cholesterol, phospholipid and incorporated antigen(s). The hallmarks of the ISCOM technology are the dose-sparing potential [6], induction of high and long-lasting antibody titers and potent T cell responses [7]. However, later it was shown that antigen incorporation is not critical for these immune properties. Antigen and empty ISCOMs i.e. ISCOM-Matrix/Matrix could simply be mixed with sustained vaccine efficacy [5]. In this study we use a novel adjuvant formulation based on two different Matrix particles made from two separate purified fractions of saponins, yielding Matrix-A™ and Matrix-C™ [8]. These Matrix particles, approximately 40 nm large, are subsequently mixed at defined ratios to get the Matrix-M™ adjuvant.

And there you have it! The dreaded nanoparticles! Recall how antivaxxers fear mongered about the lipid nanoparticles used in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to encapsulate the mRNAs used and assist their entry into cells. Again, fear mongering about lipid nanoparticles is nothing more than the “toxins” gambit reborn and retooled for COVID-19 vaccines, sometimes with some truly off-the-wall versions. Given that Matrix-M is a form of lipid nanoparticle as well, the antivax attacks on the Novavax COVID-19 are very predictable. You’d think that antivaxxers, being all about “natural immunity” and “natural medicine,” would be more accepting of an adjuvant that is a natural product, the story of whose repurposing and sustainable production is actually quite fascinating.


Not unlike the lipid nanoparticle “carrier systems” in the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 injections, the “immunostimulant” Matrix-M adjuvant includes two types of fat molecules — cholesterol and phospholipids — bundled with detergent-like saponins.

In human biology, phospholipids are essential for properly functioning cell membranes. But in the vaccine laboratory, synthetic versions are viewed as “essential components of advanced vaccines.”

Unheeded by the pharmaceutical industry is the fact that up to 5% of healthy individuals are estimated to harbor antiphospholipid antibodies, produced in a “mistaken” autoimmune response.

Researchers have linked the autoantibodies to the risk of antiphospholipid syndrome (APS), an autoimmune disorder characterized by recurring blood clots as well as fetal loss, fetal growth retardation and other obstetric complications.

Although researchers claim to be baffled as to why some people develop APS, studies have noted the emergence of APS and other autoimmune conditions following receipt of numerous vaccines, including those against tetanusinfluenzahuman papillomavirus (HPV) — and now COVID-19.

Dr. Ruby spends several minutes basically saying the same sorts of things, while bragging that “no one else” is warning about Matrix-M, even though RFK Jr. is spreading the same misinformation about it. In any case, the claim that vaccines cause autoimmune disorders, by whatever proposed mechanism (whether sort of plausible or completely fantastical), is an old antivax trope. I might have to discuss the APS “hypothesis” (if you can call it that) in more detail in the future, as the same claims pop up over the lipid nanoparticles used in mRNA-based vaccines. Until then, I’ll just refer you to Yehuda Shoenfeld and ASIA as examples of how the false claim that vaccines have caused a massive increase in incidence of autoimmune disease started and persists.

Don’t get me wrong. I hope Novavax succeeds. More COVID-19 vaccines using different approaches represent a good thing. It’s just that people claiming that Novavax will be some sort of “game changer” that entices a lot of people who refused the mRNA vaccines to finally get vaccinated is a delusion. The reason is simple. The fear and conspiracy mongering are all about vaccines themselves, not any single technology used to make any given vaccine. If the mRNA in Pfizer and Moderna vaccines scares a lot of people, that does not mean that a more “old school” recombinant protein-based vaccine like Novavax will make much of a difference. It won’t. Just look at how fast antivaxxers have pivoted to fear mongering about the “moth cells” and the new tree bark-based adjuvant. It’s the vaccines, period.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

81 replies on “Novavax and “moth cells”: The latest antivax fear mongering”

“Dr. Ruby worked on the human research studies to launch some of the most famous compounds in the world in Depression, Alzheimer’s disease, Addiction, and Cardio-pulmonary diseases.”

Odd. I looked her up on PubMed and she’s listed as co-author on a total of four studies, all of which are about effects on healthcare costs of utilizing certain drugs/treatments.

Fears about Novavax may not be entirely unfounded, though. One of my neighbors was in the Novavax clinical trials, and while he seems to be in good health, he spends way too much time at night hovering around people’s porch lamps.

It seems credential inflation is an inherent part of the pseudoscience ideology.

While I’m glad to have better 5G, I’m disappointed I won’t be able to fly.

“credential inflation”

Don’t listen to the experts, they’re all liars and shills!

Listen to me, I’m an expert!

Um, if you get infected by SARS-CoV-2, you will be less of a Pureblood than if you get the vaccine.

I think she lies too.
Most alties who have had more than a basic education know that frequently their audiences know little and thus. are easy to fool. Of course, they take advantage of them instead of enlightening them. Some alt med informers are as poorly off as their audiences: Del has no real education, Adams pieces together ideas he likes and Null’s is largely cosplay** but RFK jr should know better: not only is he a lawyer who must have had to study an intro bio course at some point BUT he knows that he is responsible for what he preaches. His book about Dr Fauci makes me wonder though.

Isn’t Matrix-M just a perfect name for CT mongering?
I’m surprised that tree bark is an issue: isn’t it all natural, a fruit of the earth? Of course, if we were allowed to create rumours ( we’re not) , we might say that it comes from Sequoia sempervirens and likely imparts immortality to all who have it injected.

** which is apparent if you listen to their broadcasts with many grammatical errors, mispronuciations, misuse of terminology and repeated faux pas

Sequoia sempervirens (“always living”) do not live forever, though. They keep growing taller until a windstorm knocks them over. They don’t seem to die of old age, though, not even in the nicest groves where a few specimens are older than Christianity. (A truly magical experience to visit.). Richard Preston’s book about redwoods is a nice introduction to the topic, a happier story than his reports on viruses, except for the fact most of the biggest redwoods were cut down by greed.

Have you read “The Real Fauci”? So far seems like a well-researched read…lots of references listed for each chapter. RFK, jr is an attorney after all.

It’s interesting that alties like RFK jr load their books with references, footnotes and deep research about their enemies which are rather shady as you have shown many times. One of the woo-meisters I survey always hawks his own articles and books rife with “peer review” (sic) so-called science based references that usually are unrelated, cherry picked or say something other than what he alleges.

I didn’t read the book about Fauci as I know that you and other commenters here did ( also I didn’t want to pay to support RFK jr’s folly and anti-vax activities) . Today though, one of the entranced ( Katie Wright twitter) includes Rand Paul’s call for an investigation of Dr Fauci when his own party wins.


“Seems like” you need to attempt to actually refute it if possible 😂😂😂

That is only a year ago. My first link is from 2006. And there are over a 170 other posts that in include Bobby Junior. Who has been wrong for almost two decades.

He may be a lawyer, but he is clueless when it comes medical and scientific facts, history. The fool was claiming that vaccines were bad due to thimerosal after its removal from pediatric vaccines. He did this for well over a decade.

It is pretty much certain that after over 18 months into vaccination programmes, the majority of those eligible have made up their minds whether to have them or not. I watched a BBC2 documentary involving 7 unvaccinated people, attempting to delve into why they have made this decision. All of them based their decisions by what they have seen on social media , 2 of them were staunch opponents against vaccination and actively campaign against them by ‘giving the public the other side of the story’. This mainly concerns the huge numbers of deaths and injuries caused by the vaccines, also the long term serious adverse reactions to come over the next few years. Pretty much confirming the weaponisation of VAERS or the UK yellow card reporting system. During the programme, various experts came in to explain why they are safe, present the true numbers of risk versus benefits and the aftermath of the pandemic resulting in over 200,000 British deaths and an estimated 2 million suffering long covid. At the end of the program, they were asked if they changed their minds…no they hadn’t. The 2 staunch opponents were having none of it, they’ve done their research and they do not trust, well, anybody in favour of vaccination.

This Novovax vaccine is going to change nothing much.


This mainly concerns the huge numbers of deaths and injuries caused by the vaccines…

Supporting evidence required for your claims of deaths and injuries caused by COVID vaccines.

…also the long term serious adverse reactions to come over the next few years.

This is typical antivaxx propaganda. When claims of adverse vaccine reactions aren’t fulfilled, antivaxxers like you demand that longer and longer periods of time are looked at, in the hopes that something, anything, that can be pinned on the vaccines will happen.

@Julian Frost

I think Vicintheshed was quoting the arguments made by antivaxxers, not supporting an antivax viewpoint.

“When claims of adverse vaccine reactions aren’t fulfilled, antivaxxers like you demand that longer and longer periods of time are looked at, in the hopes that something, anything, that can be pinned on the vaccines will happen.”

This is what happened in the UK MR/MMR class action. Legal Aid was provided at the outset for research/ a study to SEE if they could find what was needed to support causation between measles virus in bivalent and trivalent vaccines and ASD/IBD. When after a while, claimant lawyers had to advise that despite the investment they could not bring a case, Legal Aid was stopped.

At that time I was advised by our solicitors that………….

“Some further significant scientific research needs to be completed which strongly points to a link between MMR/MR and ASD”

The argument in the Appeal was that with more cash, more time, they could do more research which might support the viability of the claims in the end.

They were refused further money and the LSC who provided the initial Legal Aid stated in a 2003 Press release that……….

“This was the first case in which research had been funded by legal aid. In retrospect, it was not effective or appropriate for the LSC to fund research.”

Eh? I am not anti vax, fully vaxxed and boosted. I fully understand VAERS and yellow card correlation does NOT mean causation. My statement was in relation that those who have not had the vaccine up to now have most likely made their decision a year ago and , in all probability, won’t change their mind now.

All it is are ALex Jones Rantings except people will die from the rants. Because they didn’t get the Monkeypox Vaccine or the COVID-19 vaccine

The moth stuff is loony tunes. I agree with that. Don’t agree that mRNA stays in the muscle. I’ve seen at least one credible study indicating otherwise and departure from the muscle would seem to be the way myocarditis can happen.

The big problem here is the evidence indicating there is effectiveness for the current prevailing variant is weak sauce. Very weak sauce. We’re this feb 2021 I would be strongly considering Novavax. Also vaccines have risks always. With no real showing of risk reduction for the current variant, why bother? Only if there is some kind of coercive measure.

Aaron, The post is about novavax so yeah. To people who are black and white thinkers sure antivax. No point in the vax targeting the old variant at this point.


Clicked on the link, and it shows:
Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for an Unapproved Product
Review Memorandum

Are you volunteering yet again as an unpaid test-subject for yet another medical experiment?

You understand that this means, according to the US FDA: “there are no adequate, approved, and available alternatives.” [paragraph 2, line 10 at:

@Quasimodo: Suggest that you read clinical trial data in my link. EUA requires trial, so Novavax is not experimental in sense you suggest (it is alegal term).

So the non-mRNA, non-AAV protein vaccine you’ve been waiting for is approved–your sole purpose for trolling medical websites for the past year–and you are still antivax. Quelle surprise.

What part of this is unclear to you, MadisonMD: EUA != Approved

Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for an Unapproved Product
Review Memorandum

You understand that this means, according to the US FDA: “there are no adequate, approved, and available alternatives.” [paragraph 2, line 10 at:

A gift for you, disinformer, don;t you know that experts and educators have many suggestions to help you understand what you read? Look here:

Do you understand that EUA require cliniucal trials. Read the trial report.

The “moth stuff” is a well characterized system for churning out lots and lots of complex proteins of all kinds for a wide variety of applications. It’s been in use for decades.

It’s the bog-standard, boring, reliable, old system.

The products of this system (the proteins) are also purified to heck and gone with a complex series of centrifugations, filtration and column separation steps.

If that’s “looney tunes” I’d hate to see what you would classify as “animaniacs”.

No I was agreeing with the post that thinking that it will turn you in to a moth is loony tunes. Way to twist what I said into your own silly strawman.

Novavax could have some legal relevance, at the least, by providing an alternative that did not make use of cell lines, so the people who claimed they are not vaccinating because of the very remote and limited use of cell Ines in developing mRNA vaccines may now find their religious exemptions lost – there’s another option.

I expect most of these people were not vaccinating because of safety concerns, not anything about the cell lines, and will now try and pivot to another argument. But it might affect the debate in the courts about religious exemptions. Maybe.

As far as I know, religious exemptions for covid vaccination were granted because of the use of fetal cells in their creation. Since Novavax does not use them, wouldn’t that make the exemptions no longer valid?

For those whose religious exemption relied on this, this should be an issue. Not all used that argument, and I suspect those that did will still try a variety of things to avoid it – and companies may have less appetite to enforce now. But in theory, yes, if a vaccine without the issue is available the person should lose their religious exemption.

Of course these same people who complain of “tree bark toxins!?!!!” drink beverages from aluminum cans without thinking twice of it. I wonder if they also know that several good drugs that save lives daily have come from research into natural substances. Stuff like quinine, which was first derived from the bark of the cinchona tree.

Not just advocates for regulatory capture. Many of these people use and promote a range of approved pharmaceutical products, some of them very problematic, because they’re allegedly safe and effective. Much worse than morons drinking dirt sold by a modern day small-time William Avery Rockefeller. Here is one example.

Root beer contains saponins as a foaming agent. It is a toxic product ?


Root beer saponin-based foaming agent? Interesting:

5 Dangers of Eating Saponins

Saponins are Antinutrients and Disrupt Fat Metabolism
Saponins Increase Intestinal Permeability
Saponins Cleave Cholesterol
Saponins Disrupt Endocrine Function
Saponins are Toxic to Cells

[Use an online search on the above 5 points, plenty of legitamite studies particularly prior to 2019]

“Our Matrix-M adjuvant comes from saponins, naturally occurring compounds in the bark of the Quillaja saponaria (Soapbark) tree”

The use of saponins as foaming agents is specifically prohibited in some countries, particularly in Central and Southern America.
In Federal Germany quillaja bark is specifically prohibited.

[A.J. George, Legal status and toxicity of saponins, Food and Cosmetics Toxicology, Volume 3, 1965, Pages 85-91, ISSN 0015-626]

Is the safety-profile of drinking a root beer flavored beverage foaming agent equal to an engineered injectable product?

Draw your own conclusions.

Root beer apparently was somewhat carcinogenic due to its safrole content. I don’t think this is a saponin though, and it has been removed by regulation since 1960 anyway.


RE: The advertisement you posted is an advertisement from an Indian advertisement website.

Are you intellectually challenged, shallow, lazy, dishonest or all of the above and more? In any case, in the spirit of wishing the best to those far less fortunate in so many, many ways than I and my associates, you must get back to finding a new challenge, failed software engineer – perhaps writing a pronouncopia in your native tongue will be profitable for you and lead to more human social interaction with others, even in real life, if you are really lucky and have been vaccinated against Monkey Pox…

You failed (again), you’re dismissed, better luck next time – and remember, fortune favors a prepared mind and body.

For the actual interested readers, in addition to my prior citations and source(s) thereof regarding Quillaja:

“even compliance with the individual standards for reagents is not necessarily sufficient for them to be used as medicinal products or pharmaceutical excipients.

In addition, the Quillaja saponin extracts analyzed with this designation are adulterated with Madhuca saponins. This means that in all those cases where Quillaja saponins have been used with the aim of exploiting their specific properties, the results, effects, and qualities are possibly falsely attributed to the presence of solely Quillaja saponins.

The most surprising finding is that the pharmacopoeia referred to in these Quillaja saponin extracts erroneously characterizes Madhuca saponins in the given test. It stands to reason that those adulterants containing Madhuca saponins have been in use for decades.”
[“Discrepancies in the German Pharmacopoeia procedure for quality control of Quillaja saponin extracts”, First published: 17 September 2021,

Study carefully, understand, think for yourselves, come to your own conclusions.

You did not comment these points:
a) EU regulates food addtives,not Germany. So Germany could notban them.
b) Soap bark tree is an Andean folk medicine. So it is probably not banned in South Africa either.
You yourself did not understand that Indians import saponin from Germany, as the website clearly states. There is a link to a manufacturer:

Aspirin from willow trees.

Less well known, taxol from Pacific Yew trees.

‘Doctor, I keep thinking I’m a moth’.

‘I’m not a doctor. Why are you here’?

‘I saw the light on’.

I cannot help but wonder if ‘Dr’ Pam had her allergy diagnosis made by an Applied Kinesiologist.

The Novovax vaccine was approved in Australia in January 2022. At present, 2% of the doses purchased have been used. This is because most people who were going to be vaccinated have been vaccinated with the other vaccines. Those who refuse have simply moved the goalposts. No vaccine will ever be acceptable to them.

I laughed viewing Jane Ruby’s video. For someone who claims to be a medical expert, she displays remarkable ignorance of fundamental biology.

So, if I get this vaccine, I will grow wings and be able to fly? Considering the fact that I can’t move without a walker or a wheelchair, I fail to see the down side.


Is that anecdotal, empirical or first-hand experience? Can you cite some peer-reviewed valid research papers supporting your statement? 😏

Is this going to make the ultimate family quiz, ‘moth or butterfly’ edition more difficult?

So after yelling about the “unnatural” ingredients in other Covid vaccines, a vaccine with moth cells and tree bark (All Natural All The Time!) comes out. But are they happy? Of course not. Some people can never be satisfied. /s

I was hoping the moth cells used were from a hawk moth, because then some deluded anti-vaxxer would claim people would turn into the evil villain Hawk Moth from the animated show Miraculous. Alas the cells used are from a gypsy moth, meaning some anti-vaxxer will claim you can turn into Marvel Villain Gypsy Moth (aka Skein) instead.

Worse and worse.

The integration of gypsy moth DNA into the genome of Novavax recipients means they’ll be over munching on your shrubs and trees before long, and you’ll have to spray them.

The number from the article you link to looks at ALL DNA, not the functional parts. Larry Moran holds that 90% of our DNA is junk and therefore can be ignored. His blog is called Sandwalk. That said, comparisons for such different organisms are always going to be complicated, and wording is going to matter.

The author talks to (and about) many of the right people, but the burden of proof is on those who claim there is function scattered around in the 90%. As Ohno and others suggest, there are good reasons to think that the vast majority is junk. The “2% is protein coding and the rest seems like bloat” is a common falsehood – we’ve known about regulatory DNA, telomeres, centromeres, various RNA-coding sequences, etc. for many, many decades. ENCODE’s claim that “80% is functional” was grandstanding at its worse. Check out Moran’s blog.

Talk to me about claims and suggestions. I’m missing something in your comments perhaps. My point is that DNA is the mechanism of life (on earth). Looks real common for all life. Not yet determined how extensive it operates but suppose we will get there.

How you got to junk DNA is mysterious to me, and more so, why it matters.

We’ve know many things over the decades and then reassessed just to be sure.

Why should I care what Larry Moran says? I’m missing that.

How you got to junk DNA is mysterious to me, and more so, why it matters.”

This seems like a possibility:

Regardless of whether it codes or doesn’t code — all are made by/from DNA. Some things may even have the same sequences to produce needed proteins.

People who panic over the idea of using a standardized medical product made with “unnatural ingredients” are, paradoxically, often enthusiastic about such ingredients when marketed as alternative medicine.

For instance, Judy Mikovits, ex-researcher best known for her role in the conspiracy film “Plandemic”, is promoting a line of supplements that include a “Recovery Formula”. For the low low price of $385.30, you get 5 bottles of stuff including “Paximune”, which consists of “bovine proteins”. Users apparently aren’t concerned that they will sprout cow heads and horns from their bodies (as portrayed in the cartoon about smallpox vaccination). Nope, those bovine proteins are supposed to consist of alpha-interferon! Whatever the stuff actually is, the manufacturer apparently has solved the problem of typical side effects of real alpha-interferon which commonly include flu-like syndrome and fatigue. Dr Judy’s formula is touted as having no side effects at normal doses, except that:

“slight increase in appetite & sex drive may occur.”

Gosh, that doesn’t sound so bad.

Paximune is also supposed to promote “Psychological Immunity”. That should work great for preventing Covid-19; if you don’t think the virus can make you sick, it will be powerless to harm you.

I suppose it makes one immune for critisism and for information that goes against what you believe about vaccines.

It is reported that over 100 people have become ill from eating products containing tara flour, a completely natural ingredient promoted as a protein source. Perhaps they should have been more concerned about being turned into a small leguminous shrub.

Yup. I had a guy in clinic extolling the virtues of IV vitamin therapy a year or so ago. I asked if he knew where those IVs where manufactured and he turned a shade of green and changed the subject…

More gaseous rumblings from the Land of Antivax:

James Lyons-Weiler is wildly excited about a “miracle” that he thinks will revive the retracted 2020 “vaxxed/unvaxxed” study he co-authored with pediatrician Paul Thomas (you may recall that L-W blamed the retraction on a “ghoul” and claims that the Oregon medical board suspended Thomas’ license as retaliation for the study. Thomas’ license was reinstated on a restricted basis, but there is a newer, as yet unresolved board probe on a complaint that includes charges of dishonorable or unprofessional conduct, making false and misleading statements about treatment efficacy, and alleged repeated and gross negligence on the part of Thomas).

Anyway, L-W is thrilled that an eminent figure will join him in re-analyzing the vaxxed/unvaxxed data, for whatever purpose that might accomplish (resubmission of the article, to the BMJ or NEJM perhaps?). From L-W’s Substack:

“So I’m back at the data starting next week. (If you don’t know Dr. (Russell) Blaylock’s lifetime of work, you will be amazed). It would be a dream come true and an honor for me to co-author ANYTHING with Dr. Blaylock.”

“Can you help PERSONALLY help support and reinvigorate this important new effort? Please pitch in a little even if you already donate monthly, as donations by the public have dwindled due to COVID19 & gas prices.”

It’s heartbreaking that these Objective Scientists have to beg for money.

You can contribute $10 to $10,000 to the L-W/Blaylock effort, or more if you prefer.

It’s wonderful that Dr. Blaylock is taking time out from his war on MSG, aspartame, Covid masks, aluminum cookware and other perils for this new project.

Clarification: the pending Oregon medical board complaint re Thomas refers to “making false or misleading statements” about treatment efficacy.

Some of the pay to play journals let you get away with having your vanities published for a mere US$30.

James Lyons-Weiler should share notes with MJD about how to get the best deal. Then he would not have to beg so hard.

« the adjuvant, Matrix-M (a nonspecific, potent immune stimulant) has never been used before »

What a codswallop !

(Shinde V, Cho I, Plested JS, Agrawal S, Fiske J, Cai R et al. Comparison of the safety and immunogenicity of a novel Matrix-M-adjuvanted nanoparticle influenza vaccine with a quadrivalent seasonal influenza vaccine in older adults: a phase 3 randomised controlled trial. The Lancet Infectious Diseases 2022;22(1):73–84. 10.1016/S1473-3099(21)00192-4)

(Datoo MS, Natama MH, Somé A, Traoré O, Rouamba T, Bellamy D et al. Efficacy of a low-dose candidate malaria vaccine, R21 in adjuvant Matrix-M, with seasonal administration to children in Burkina Faso: a randomised controlled trial. The Lancet 2021;397(10287):1809–18. 10.1016/S0140-6736(21)00943-0)


From the paper you referenced regarding Novavax Matrix-M-adjuvanted quadrivalent nanoparticle influenza vaccine (qNIV):

659 (49·4%) of 1333 of participants in the qNIV group … had at least one treatment-emergent adverse event.” [<—Whoops…]

future studies to show clinical efficacy are planned. [<—IOW, never been used before]

Funding: Novavax.

Copyright © 2022 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Conflict of interest statement

Declaration of interests All coauthors are current or former employees of Novavax, the sponsor of the trial.

If Novava funding totally corrupted the research,why there where somany eport of advvers effects ?

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