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Errors in Fr. Dave Nix’s COVID Vaccine Video

Errors in Fr. Dave Nix’s COVID Vaccine Video December 23, 2020

There are unfortunately a lot of errors in Catholic circles on COVID vaccines. I have watched the start of several long podcasts and given up when the experts had blatant factual inaccuracies or bad theology more than once. I don’t want to watch 1-3 hours of presenting random misinformation and parse the errors one by one. Fr. Dave Nix had a shorter video that many were sharing. It is fortunately short enough that I can go point by point in refuting him.

Fr. David Nix is a priest of the Archdiocese of Denver who is now canonically a diocesan hermit.

I will give an approximate timestamp for each error. Going almost line by line in his video went a little longer than I suspected so you may want to just skim. I try to start each paragraph or two with a direct quote of Fr. Dave Nix and then you can choose to read why that’s an issue or skip to the next.

Update: I posted a follow-up.

Introduction

Japanese scientist with vaccine vial
Japanese scientist with vaccine vial (CC BY 2.0 Japanexperterna.se)

1:05: “This is going to be science, news, and bioethics.” As we shall see, it is the opposite regarding all three.

1:48: Fr. Nix reads this paragraph form the USCCB statement (which is true):

In view of the gravity of the current pandemic and the lack of availability of alternative vaccines, the reasons to accept the new COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are sufficiently serious to justify their use, despite their remote connection to morally compromised cell lines. In addition, receiving the COVID-19 vaccine ought to be understood as an act of charity toward the other members of our community. In this way, being vaccinated safely against COVID-19 should be considered an act of love of our neighbor and part of our moral responsibility for the common good.

Very Remote Cooperation in Evil

He then takes up the remote connection of cell lines.

2:55: “The USCCB is correct about the cell lines in some sense being remote.” They are more than “in some sense remote.” I have already demonstrated this multiple times. (The Vatican, USCCB, and at least 56 active US bishops have concurred, including Nix’s own Archbishop.)

3:17: “The Pfizer vaccine appears to have only been tested on cell lines derived from two babies aborted in the Netherlands in the early 1970s.” Every source I could find said it was tested on HEK293 cells which is a cell line derived from one baby who was either aborted or died on miscarriage. (Here’s a summary of the cell lines used but I checked other sources that concur. Here’s the person who started the HEK293 line saying he doesn’t know if abortion or miscarriage.) This is a minor point but speaks to the inaccuracy in this video. As a rule of thumb, I trust podcasts or YouTube videos with links in the show notes or description such that one can check the sources.

3:28: “You could probably argue that as sad as that is taking the vaccine is not proximate but only remote participation and evil.” No, I can definitively, without doubt, say that this is remote participation or cooperation.

Let me give an example of how proximate most moral theologians would require an act to be proximate cooperation in evil (which is always immoral). A bartender handing a man a 3rd or 4th drink may be remote or proximate cooperation in that person’s later drunkenness. (I’m assuming the person is not clearly showing the signs of intoxication or a known local drunkard, as then it would likely be proximate.) It’s proximate if he hands a man a beer when visibly intoxicated or visibly close enough that this beer will make him intoxicated. The bartender handing a beer to someone who walked straight into their bar for the first time is remote to that drunkenness even if that man were to somehow get other alcohol and become intoxicated 45 minutes later.

There is no way that the multiple steps removed cooperation in evil here is proximate. It is so obviously remote that to question it is ridiculous.

4:39: “Do you want to take something connected to the slaughter of innocent children?” This is a good question when we want new clothes made in China or new devices where innocent kids were worked to death to mine the rare earth metals. The device we are reading this on, the way we found this link, and the food we ate in the past week are likely more proximately connected to grave intrinsic moral evils including the killing of innocent children than the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. We should fight against all these injustices. But, avoiding all multi-step removed remote cooperation in evil is impossible, even for a contemplative community or Fr. Nix himself. This may even be appropriation without cooperation according to the Pontifical Academy for Life.

4:49: “Moral theologians attempting to give you the lowest bar possible.” Nope. I fully think we should fight all kinds of evils and mentioned at least 12 in a prior article that are more proximate to everyday activities and thus should be a higher priority than the extremely remote cooperation, or possibly appropriation without cooperation involved in this vaccine.

5:00: He mocks all moral theologians like myself calling our good moral theology “a scribe-based loophole.” No. It’s an acknowledgment we live in a fallen world where almost everything is remotely connected to evil if you stretch it this far.

5:03: “I have a friend who works in the White House and he says to people if this came from Jews tested at Auschwitz would you still want it.” Literally, Trent Horn said, “Yes” when I was on his podcast. He mentioned that they did hypothermia research which was highly immoral. (They basically froze people to death.) Information from past immoral experiments can be appropriation without even cooperation if it does not encourage their repetition. (I doubt anyone using this Nazi information is tempted to freeze someone to death and watch their vital signs after reading the Nazi info.)

Fr. Nix’s Bad Understanding of Medicine

Fr. Nix then moves to a bunch of medical claims. Many of these are factually inaccurate as we will see.

The Survival Rate

5:26: “Coronavirus has a 99.9% survival rate.” As there are currently a little over 320,000 deaths from COVID in the USA, that many deaths would imply there were 320,000,000 cases in a population of 328,000,000. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure less than 97% of the people I know got COVID.

6:00: In this segment, he shows a tweet from Elijah Schaffer on screen. The tweet says, “Your immune system has a higher success rate at combatting COVID than the actual vaccine: 99% vs. 95%.” Fr. Nix is not even using his own sources when he claimed seconds ago there is a 99.9% survival rate. More importantly, these are two percentages of two different groups. The vaccine percent is “of those exposed in a way an unvaccinated person would get COVID, what percent don’t get COVID.” The other is “Of those who get COVID, what percent die.” If you apply these properly it means your chance of dying if exposed goes from 1% without the vaccine to 0.05% with the vaccine. That’s a significant improvement. Plus, the lack of being sick in bed a week, being hospitalized or having long term effects. Elijah’s tweet was so bad, Ben Shapiro refuted it too.

(Note: there is a debate about the exact death rate and I’ve seen reliable sources between about 0.5% and 2%. Here’s an article stating 0.6% and another using only confirmed cases that if you divide the numbers you get 1.8%. I think ~1% is a reasonable rough averaging of the various sources, and since Fr Nix decided to show Elijah’s tweet with that number, I’ll keep it. I don’t want to get into this debate: all of my arguments here are almost the same for a mortality rate in this range.)

9:26: After noting that there is a bit of an argument over comorbidities affecting the COVID death rate, Fr. Nix doubles down on a prior error. He states: “Any way you slice it or dice it, the survival rate for coronavirus is over 99.9%. Now, how many at that second decimal point is what’s up for debate 99.95% or 99.99%.” I’d like one source for anything in this range, preferably peer-reviewed. All the serious reports I’ve seen land in about the 98%-99.5% range. (I link two above; I’ve seen maybe a dozen others.) 99.99% survival would mean the USA had over 3 billion cases, or on average we each got COVID 9-10 times. Even if you argue the COVID numbers are slightly inflated, this is so far from reality to be laughable. He then repeats these same inaccurate numbers over and over later as evidence for his claims.

Natural Herd Immunity vs. Vaccines

6:55: “Our immune systems are the very best way to reach herd immunity if we had just had most of the population catch this like any flu.” Really? If we assume there is a ~1% death rate, reaching herd immunity without a vaccine would mean about 3 million Americans dead. A vaccine could easily save well over half of those lives. (Likely up towards 80% of those lives. That’s with 10% already dead.) It goes back to his errors in numbers above.

7:08: Fr. Nix literally reads a headline on screen saying the vaccine is “more than 90 percent effective” and concludes in “only” has “a 90% efficacy.” If I pull up that exact article and read down two lines, I find, “The results… indicated an effectiveness rate of 94.5 percent.” This seems like either not even remotely checking his source or intentional misrepresentation.

7:35: “Pfizer COVID jab warning: No breastfeeding avoid pregnancy for two months.” This is true, although Fr. Nix seems to not understand the reasoning. This is not because there is a known issue with pregnancy but they didn’t test this group sufficiently in trials so far to say definitively it was safe for them. I think this is a prudent caution. Currently, the CDC recommends for and against certain existing vaccines during pregnancy: some not recommended have a higher risk of a negative side effect if received then. I’m perfectly fine with pregnant women being temporarily in the unvaccinated group protected by herd immunity.

8:18: “Six people have died in the Pfizer vaccine trials.” And… When you have 30-45,000 largely middle and older-aged adults over almost 4 months, the odds of at least a handful dying of unrelated heart attacks, strokes, etc. is pretty high. In fact, as Reuters reported, “Six participants did die during the 44,000 person Pfizer vaccine trial, two of whom were given the vaccine while the other four people received a placebo.” So, the death rate was lower for the vaccinated people, although this difference can be a random chance when dealing with such low numbers.

The Healthy During a Pandemic

10:06: Fr. Nix claims all 2020 books will teach something different than they did before. He states, “In no epidemiology book or virology book will you find a suggestion to quarantine the healthy to test the healthy to vaccinate the healthy.”

During the 1918 flu, many cities essentially went into lockdown, or “quarantining the healthy.” This 2007 study analyzed various means used by cities including mandatory masks, restrictions on activities, etc. It concludes: “Cities in which multiple interventions were implemented at an early phase of the epidemic had peak death rates ≈50% lower than those that did not and had less-steep epidemic curves. Cities in which multiple interventions were implemented at an early phase of the epidemic also showed a trend toward lower cumulative excess mortality, but the difference was smaller (≈20%) and less statistically significant than that for peak death rates.”

Testing or screening of large populations has happened for other diseases before. In 2003, there was a SARS outbreak. A report in 2005 noted, “On March 27, 2003, WHO recommended that affected areas begin screening departing airline passengers for symptoms suggestive of SARS.” The same report also spoke about testing but noted no specific, rapid and cheap test for SARS existed. It would seem that before COVID, the WHO recommended testing those who they found during contact tracing. Which is the same as is asked now for cases where you are near someone for an extended period who not long after tests positive for COVID.

Most telling of Fr. Nix’s error is the last here: “In no epidemiology book or virology book will you find a suggestion… to vaccinate the healthy.” Almost every single textbook on the topic recommends vaccinating until you get herd immunity which would obviously include the healthy. Literally, I can’t think of any biology textbook that mentions vaccines for airborne respiratory infections not recommending healthy people be vaccinated. I asked a biologist about this and they laughed at the thought no textbook recommended vaccinating healthy people.

More Claims About the Vaccine

10:16: He claims current COVID vaccines are “something rolled out on a whim.” Vaxelis (MCM Vaccine Co) vaccine is a vaccine approved in 2018. For its phase III trials, they note, “1465 [study participants] received study vaccinations.” Varivax in the standard chickenpox vaccine. Merck notes on their site: “Overall, 9454 healthy children (12 months to 12 years of age) and 1648 adolescents and adults (13 years of age and older) have been vaccinated with Oka/Merck live attenuated varicella vaccine [Varivax] in clinical trials.” Now for COVID, the Pfizer vaccine had 44,000, 22,000 of whom were vaccinated, in their phase III trial alone.

Now how long have these trials been? Almost every known adverse reaction from vaccines becomes apparent in the first few hours. Phase III trials were generally 3-4 months so we would become aware of any even moderately common (like 1 in a 1000) serious adverse reactions. Now, one thing we don’t know yet is whether these vaccines only protect us from COVID for a year or provide lifetime immunity. There is not really a way to test that in short order. I personally am willing to get a vaccine knowing that later I might need to get a boaster like I get the flu vaccine every year and had an MMR booster as an adult.

10:32: “The vaccine is kept at negative 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Well, what’s the problem with that? Well, I can’t prove anything.” Good. At least Fr. Nix is honest here. I just Googled it and the subtitle from one of the first articles gives a decent summary of why: “Freezing RNA-based vaccines keeps their fragile components from breaking down.”

10:43: Unfortunately, after saying he can’t prove anything, Fr. Nix makes an odd claim. “Generally, anything kept at negative 80 degrees Fahrenheit is not alive but rather will come alive after injection.” First, it’s defrosted before injection as it is mainly water and needs to be able to flow. Second, the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines specifically have no live components or no components that can be alive on their own. say we froze saline solution to -80 F then thawed it and injected it to someone suffering dehydration. Would you expect the water, salt and pH buffers to come alive in your bloodstream? No. Why? Because there is nothing in that concoction that can live on its own. The same with these two vaccines.

Other Inaccurate Claims by Fr. Nix

Vaccines Are Safe

11:25: He rightly quotes the USCCB:

In many cases the most important effect of vaccination may not be the protection it offers to the person who receives the vaccination, who may be of relatively robust health and unlikely to be seriously affected by the disease. Rather, the more important effect may be the protection it offers to those who are much more likely to be seriously stricken by the disease if they were to contract it through exposure to those infected.

11:44: Fr. Nix claims to rebut the USCCB saying, “It has not been proved this vaccine is any more safe than coronavirus even for the elderly especially for the elderly.” Actually, many of the clinical trial participants were elderly and they were 95% less likely to catch a disease that might kill them. The low-end estimate for COVID hospitalizations for those 65+ is 30% of those who catch it. The vaccine hospitalization rate is a fraction of a percent even for the elderly.

Then Fr. Nix makes a guilt by association claim with Fr. John Fields who died of a heart attack months after being part of the COVID vaccine trial. (Fr. Nix falsely claims he died during the trial when he died after.) First, it has not been revealed if he got the vaccine or a placebo. Second, the mechanism for that is unlikely and improbable even if a few days after, let alone months later. Third, heart attacks – the presumed cause of death – are the most common cause of death for his age range.

Legal Issues

12:47: Fr. Dave Nix starts on indemnity and legal immunity for vaccine manufacturers. He misunderstands the way vaccine injuries are handled legally. Currently, the US government administers a kind of insurance fund that vaccine manufacturers pay $0.75 a dose into. This is similar to how many companies manage the risk of being sued with insurance. The thing here is then the government knows exactly what the serious negative reactions to vaccines are and can pull any with too many negative effects immediately. Their site:

The Vaccine Injury Compensation Trust Fund provides funding for the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program to compensate vaccine-related injury or death petitions for covered vaccines administered on or after October 1, 1988.

Funded by a $.75 excise tax on vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for routine administration to children, the excise tax is imposed on each dose (i.e., disease that is prevented) of a vaccine.

13:24: Fr. Nix makes a completely outrageous claim, “everyone in your family ends up non-verbal in five years from this vaccine.” This seems unlikely. I don’t think there has ever been a single known case of any medicine (not just a vaccine) having no immediate negative effects, then making a single person non-verbal five years later. This is inaccurate fear-mongering.

13:39: Then, Fr. Nix makes another interesting claim. “If you [bishops and priests] tell your faithful that they have to take this vaccine to be a good Catholic, and they take it and end up non-verbal or zonked out of their mind in five years, or infertile, or dead they can sue you.” This is again a laughable claim. It is so ludicrous that I cannot find direct info on it.

First, all the bishops, myself, and others have said is that it is moral and can be an act of charity. I would not recommend it if against the advice of doctors or the CDC because pregnant, immunocompromised or have had allergic reactions to the chemicals in the vaccine. I assume the bishops would too. Although they don’t explicitly advise Catholics on this, they do note, “We should keep in mind that some people cannot themselves be vaccinated,” which definitely implies this.

Second, when a student tried to sue a Catholic School and the local health department for mandating the chickenpox vaccine after a local outbreak, he lost at first and again on appeal.

Third, there is a good amount of info on employers mandating staff vaccines. If the employer merely encourages voluntary vaccination, there seems to be no issue. This law firm helping employers explains that an adverse reaction to a vaccine could be a workers’ compensation claim. However, given that a COVID infection could also be such a claim and a COVID claim is much more likely, they note: “to the extent that a vaccination policy and program is considered part of the employer’s wellness program, the workers’ compensation insurer may provide a discounted premium or other incentives to the employer.”

So, if a priest or bishop merely says it is not moral and suggests one follows the health guidelines of the experts in that field – such as the FDA, CDC, state health department, and local health department – there is basically no risk of him being sued. If staff are required to get vaccinated, this would be covered under workers’ compensation insurance, but since catching COVID on the job would also be covered by that, recommending or mandating vaccines either keeps workers’ compensation insurance the same or lowers it.

Fr. Nix’s Conclusion

14:00: Fr. Nix argues that bishops should speak more on the evils of contraception. I concur. I’ve even written articles on the need to better explain this to Catholics. However, speaking more clearly on contraception does not mean ceasing to also speak clearly on vaccines.

16:16: “Their [the bishops’] job and my job is the salvation of souls not forcing you to take a vaccine.” First, there is the principle of a healthy body, a healthy mind, so recommending people stay healthy helps their soul. Second, I know of no bishop who has forced a vaccine on the faithful of their diocese. I’ve read many bishops saying that it is moral to take a vaccine and a good number recommending it in general. However, this is similar to a bishop saying it is good to eat healthily, take doctor-prescribed pills for blood pressure, etc. This is appropriate for a bishop and should not even be controversial.

16:42: Fr. Nix concludes, “I think this video gives you decent evidence you might be forfeiting your body if you take it.” Really? The evidence given in this video to that end was flimsy or outright false.

17:00: He directs you to his speculation on his blog which goes even further from factual information and good moral theology than this video.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Fr. Nix repeatedly makes very elementary errors of fact, errors in moral theology principles, errors in legal understanding, etc. This is a completely unreliable video for Catholics to get information on the COVID vaccine from. The USCCB statement, the Vatican (CDF) statement, or one of my prior articles would be more helpful as they rely on facts and good moral theology, not unconfirmable info, factual errors, and fear-mongering.

Update: I posted a follow-up.

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