On October 4 2021, Project Veritas — an organization that releases heavily misleadingly edited far-right propaganda videos and pretends they are journalistic “stings” — claimed to “expose Pfizer” through secret videos of “Pfizer scientist Nick Karl”:
Scientists at Pfizer are saying the same things that get regular people deplatformed and labelled conspiracy theorists.
Project Veritas does it again.
— Benny (@bennyjohnson) October 5, 2021
In a piece with the headline, “Pfizer Scientist: ‘Your Antibodies are Probably Better than the Vaccination,'” the organization asserted:
[NEW YORK – Oct. 4, 2021] Project Veritas released the fourth video in its COVID vaccine investigative series today which exposed three Pfizer officials saying that antibodies lead to equal, if not better, protection against the virus compared to the vaccine.
Nick Karl, a scientist who is directly involved in the production of Pfizer’s COVID vaccine, said that natural immunity is more effective than the very vaccine he works on, and Pfizer produces.
“When somebody is naturally immune — like they got COVID — they probably have more antibodies against the virus…When you actually get the virus, you’re going to start producing antibodies against multiple pieces of the virus … So, your antibodies are probably better at that point than the [COVID] vaccination,” Karl said. Notwithstanding, Karl still believes that vaccine mandates are positive for society.
The written accompaniment to Project Veritas’ video contained a flawed premise right from the beginning. In its statement that “antibodies lead to equal, if not better, protection” against COVID-19 than any vaccine, it conveniently skimmed past the part where individuals would need to survive the virus to obtain said immunity.
What is Project Veritas?
On Wikipedia, Project Veritas is initially described as a biased organization engaging in bad faith practices to advance falsehoods for political purposes:
Project Veritas is an American far-right activist group founded by James O’Keefe in 2010. The group produces deceptively edited videos of its undercover operations, which use secret recordings in an effort to discredit mainstream media organizations and progressive groups. Project Veritas also uses entrapment to generate bad publicity for its targets, and has propagated disinformation and conspiracy theories in its videos and operations.
Overall, eleven citations appeared in the three short sentences above, documenting the group’s well-known deceptive tactics and practices.
In 2017, The Atlantic detailed a botched attempt on the part of Project Veritas to induce the Washington Post to report a false story:
A woman named Jaime T. Phillips approached the newspaper claiming that Republican Roy Moore impregnated her when she was 15, then drove her across state lines from Alabama to Mississippi in order to terminate the pregnancy. She told a Washington Post reporter, Beth Reinhard, that recounting the bygone ordeal made her so upset that she was unable to finish her salad.
The newspaper began to investigate the story.
And they quickly discovered suspicious information that caused them to doubt their source’s veracity, including a GoFundMe page posted some months ago that said, “I’m moving to New York! I’ve accepted a job to work in the conservative media movement to combat the lies and deceipt of the liberal MSM.”
The Atlantic reported that during the attempt to validate the woman’s claims, its journalists observed the woman entering the offices of Project Veritas. The “sting” then quickly fell apart:
Project Veritas was operating on the premise that The Washington Post wouldn’t exercise due diligence in vetting a young woman accusing a Republican Senate candidate of sexual misconduct—that the paper would report the bogus story in the newspaper, enabling Project Veritas to expose them for spreading a false allegation … If Project Veritas was operating in good faith—if it was really trying “to achieve a more moral and ethical society,” as it claims on its website—it would have acknowledged that its initial beliefs about The Washington Post were incorrect, and that the newspaper diligently pursued the truth when put to an undercover test.
That article quoted an email sent by O’Keefe to supporters, in which he claimed his “investigative journalist” embedded within the publication “had their cover blown.” O’Keefe added that the “good news is … we already got our story.”
A similar situation arose in November 2020, as the organization published a “sting” early to coordinate diverting attention away from legitimate but politically inconvenient news. (The New York Times‘ above-linked coverage was, predictably, the target of a defamation suit on the part of O’Keefe.)
These stories demonstrate that Project Veritas has weaponized the brevity of the modern news cycle and social media to advance falsehoods, fully aware that their reach is likely to outstrip even well-documented examinations of their viral, heavily promoted claims.
Acquiring Natural Immunity and the ‘Survival Rate’ of COVID-19 (as a Viable Alternative to Vaccination)
A widespread misconception often reiterated by bad actors both on and off social media is the claim that COVID-19 has “a 99 percent survival rate”; the notion has been repeatedly debunked, and a July 2021 Associated Press fact-check noted in part:
Dr. Thomas Giordano, professor of medicine and section chief of infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine, said the tweet ignores the fact that many people who survive COVID-19 have long-term symptoms, and that people who survive it can spread the disease to high risk patients who will not be as lucky.
“One in 500 people in the U.S. has died from COVID. To try to trivialize it and say it’s nothing, it doesn’t matter, I think it’s just a gross mischaracterization of what we are all living through,” Giordano told The Associated Press in a call.
That particular concept is evident through Johns Hopkins’ Coronavirus Resource Center’s “Mortality” section. When separated by country (not condition) the case fatality rate ranged from 18.9 percent to 0.1 percent — and regionality is just one variable among many.
In order for the Project Veritas claims to be reliable, acquiring natural immunity would have to be a low-risk proposition. On October 2 2021, Reuters reported:
The United States surpassed 700,000 coronavirus-related deaths on [October 1 2021], according to a Reuters tally, as officials roll out booster doses of vaccines to protect the elderly and people working in high-risk professions.
The country has reported an average of more than 2,000 deaths per day over the past week, which represents about 60% of the peak in fatalities in January , a Reuters analysis of public health data showed.
The United States still leads the world in COVID-19 cases and deaths, accounting for 19% and 14% of all reported infections and fatalities, according to Reuters tally. Globally, the pandemic is set to surpass 5 million deaths.
The highly transmissible Delta variant has driven a surge in COVID-19 cases that peaked around mid-September  before falling to the current level of about 117,625 cases per day, based on a seven-day rolling average.
Natural Immunity Or Vaccination?
Project Veritas described a false binary in which protection from COVID-19 was an either/or proposition.
In August 2021, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a press release (“New CDC Study: Vaccination Offers Higher Protection than Previous COVID-19 Infection”) regarding a study aimed at contrasting “natural immunity” with the protection offered by vaccines:
In [August 6 2021]’s MMWR, a study of COVID-19 infections in Kentucky among people who were previously infected with SAR-CoV-2 shows that unvaccinated individuals are more than twice as likely to be reinfected with COVID-19 than those who were fully vaccinated after initially contracting the virus. These data further indicate that COVID-19 vaccines offer better protection than natural immunity alone and that vaccines, even after prior infection, help prevent reinfections.
“If you have had COVID-19 before, please still get vaccinated,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. “This study shows you are twice as likely to get infected again if you are unvaccinated. Getting the vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and others around you, especially as the more contagious Delta variant spreads around the country.”
The study of hundreds of Kentucky residents with previous infections through June 2021 found that those who were unvaccinated had 2.34 times the odds of reinfection compared with those who were fully vaccinated. The findings suggest that among people who have had COVID-19 previously, getting fully vaccinated provides additional protection against reinfection.
Additionally, a second publication from MMWR shows vaccines prevented COVID-19 related hospitalizations among the highest risk age groups. As cases, hospitalizations, and deaths rise, the data in today’s MMWR reinforce that COVID-19 vaccines are the best way to prevent COVID-19.
COVID-19 vaccines remain safe and effective. They prevent severe illness, hospitalization, and death. Additionally, even among the uncommon cases of COVID-19 among the fully or partially vaccinated vaccines make people more likely to have a milder and shorter illness compared to those who are unvaccinated. CDC continues to recommend everyone 12 and older get vaccinated against COVID-19.
An October 4 2021 Yahoo News article about “natural immunity” cited that research, and quoted an infectious disease specialist. That reporting also noted that variations in immunity acquired from previous infections were a massive factor in the consensus about its reliability:
..the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and most medical professionals in the U.S. widely recommend the COVID-19 vaccine for everyone who is eligible regardless of whether they have already been infected with the coronavirus.
According to the CDC and health experts supporting this guidance, one reason for this recommendation is that research has not yet shown how long protection from the virus lasts after recovering from COVID-19. In addition, the agency says one of its recent studies, which went through a “rigorous multi-level clearance process,” showed that vaccination offers higher protection than a previous coronavirus infection.
Dr. Peter Hotez, co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital, told Yahoo News that another reason why those who have had COVID-19 should get vaccinated is because not everyone builds robust immunity after infection.
“If you look at some of those early studies, people who are infected and recover have highly variable heterogeneous responses to the virus,” Hotez said. “Some have pretty strong, vigorous responses. Others have almost no virus, neutralizing antibodies or responses at all, and are highly susceptible to reinfection,” Hotez added.
Since it is difficult to determine where someone may wind up on that scale, Hotez says the best thing to do is to recommend vaccination for those who’ve had the disease already.
Many articles published from late August 2021 on referenced a study from Israel which was, as of October 5 2021, still pending a peer review. In an August 26 2021 Science.org article, “Having SARS-CoV-2 once confers much greater immunity than a vaccine — but vaccination remains vital,” provided highly relevant context about the cost of “natural immunity” and the risk-to-benefit ratio:
Still, [Charlotte Thålin, a physician and immunology researcher at Danderyd Hospital and the Karolinska Institute] and other researchers stress that deliberate infection among unvaccinated people would put them at significant risk of severe disease and death, or the lingering, significant symptoms of what has been dubbed Long Covid. The study shows the benefits of natural immunity, but “doesn’t take into account what this virus does to the body to get to that point,” says Marion Pepper, an immunologist at the University of Washington, Seattle. COVID-19 has already killed more than 4 million people worldwide and there are concerns that Delta and other SARS-CoV-2 variants are deadlier than the original virus.
Rockefeller University immunologist Michel Nussenzweig was quoted by Science.org as saying of the findings:
What we don’t want people to say is: “All right, I should go out and get infected, I should have an infection party, because somebody could die.”
A subsequent portion demonstrated nuanced, fact-based reporting about natural immunity, vaccines, and public health guidelines:
Nussenzweig says the results in previously infected, vaccinated people confirm laboratory findings from a series of papers in Nature and Immunity by his group, his Rockefeller University colleague Paul Bieniasz and others—and from a preprint posted [in August 2021] by Bieniasz and his team. They show, Nussenzweig says, that the immune systems of people who develop natural immunity to SARS-CoV-2 and then get vaccinated produce exceptionally broad and potent antibodies against the coronavirus. The preprint, for example, reported that people who were previously infected and then vaccinated with an mRNA vaccine had antibodies in their blood that neutralized the infectivity of another virus, harmless to humans, that was engineered to express a version of the coronavirus spike protein that contains 20 concerning mutations. Sera from vaccinated and naturally infected people could not do so.
Broadly, the article explained how natural immunity acquired from previous infection could bolster protection from vaccines; overall, immunologists and epidemiologists seemed to concur on an order of operations — vaccination was preferable to infection, due to the risks of COVID-19, such as death or “long Covid.”
Project Veritas’ Nick Karl and Pfizer “exposed” video was one in a long series of deceptively edited, bad-faith efforts from the organization and its social media cheerleaders. Any efforts from Project Veritas were highly likely to be misleading. Moreover, global scientific consensus had already recognized that COVID-19 infections confer some degree of immunity — and they still overwhelmingly favored vaccination.