A recently retired doctor who still carries a practising certificate is under investigation by health officials after being accused of spreading COVID-19 and vaccine falsehoods.
Newshub watched Dr Peter Canaday's two-hour online presentation with medical misinformation group Voices for Freedom, taking notes of various claims he made which go against the mainstream view, and presented them to two of the country's top experts.
Dr Alison Campbell is an honorary fellow and biologist at the University of Waikato, and Dr Helen Petousis-Harris is an associate professor in the Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care at the University of Waikato, director of the Vaccine Datalink and Research Group and co-leader of the Global Vaccine Data Network.
Newshub also looked into what other experts had to say, looking at recent credible research and finding commentary from experts in each field.
Read the report on the investigation here. Below, the experts pick apart many of Dr Canaday's claims in detail.
Claim: The PCR tests used to diagnose SARS-CoV-2 infections were never designed to do that, and the documentation inside each test says that; and the CDC has stopped using them because they can't tell the difference between SARS-CoV-2 and influenza
Both claims are untrue.
"PCR tests were absolutely designed to be used in this way and it's how researchers have been using them for decades," said Dr Campbell. "The patent document for PCR makes it clear that the inventors recognised the value of the technique in determining the presence of pathogens."
The first page of the insert that comes with every PCR test says it is "intended for the qualitative detection of nucleic acid from the SARS-CoV-2".
One of the inventors, Kary Mullis, later went on to express a range of views contrary to mainstream science - including that HIV didn't cause AIDS and the ozone hole didn't exist.
As for the CDC, Dr Campbell says Dr Canaday's claim isn't true. Currently if a patient has symptoms but tests negative for COVID-19, a second test can be done to see if they're caused by the flu. The CDC is now encouraging healthcare staff to use a test that can identify both to save time and resources.
"It is not remotely accurate that the CDC test doesn't differentiate between flu and SARS-CoV-2" Kelly Wroblewski, director of infectious disease programs at the Association of Public Health Laboratories, said in July. "It doesn't detect influenza. It only detects SARS-CoV-2."
Claim: That testing for the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is done differently for vaccinated people, so it's less likely to be found
When a PCR test is looked at in the lab, scientists amplify the signal the tiny virus lets off in order to find it. Each round of amplification is called a cycle threshold. The Ministry of Health says a typical test involves 40 cycles.
Dr Canaday claims tests on people who have been vaccinated undergo fewer cycles, meaning they're more likely to show up negative. Dr Campbell said this sounds "like total speculation".
The claim appears to have been publicised overseas by far-right websites known for publishing fake news, including ZeroHedge and Gateway Pundit. One health fact-checking site said the misconception appears to have come about by mixing up genomic sequencing and detecting infections.
Claim: The immune response to natural infection from measles is stronger than from vaccines
Early in the presentation, Dr Canaday claims natural infection can provide a stronger immune response than vaccines, at least in measles.
Dr Campbell said the evidence when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines points the other way, directing Newshub to research in the UK which found "for most people vaccination against COVID-19 will induce more effective and longer lasting immunity than that induced by natural infection with the virus", and it was recommended to get vaccinated even after infections "because it will boost whatever immunity you have from natural infection".
There is also US research suggesting mRNA vaccines are better at defending against variants like Delta than infection with prior strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
"Vaccine-induced antibodies are more targeted to the binding sites on the spike protein (sites the virus uses to latch onto target cells) than those induced by natural infection," said Dr Campbell.
Dr Petousis-Harris said there were several diseases for which vaccines provide better protection than infection, without having to experience the disease itself. There is also research showing measles can wipe out the immune system's memory of other infections, further discouraging relying on natural infection.
Claim: There is "increasingly credible evidence" the SARS-CoV-2 virus came from a lab in Wuhan where "gain of function" research was taking place, funded by the US
Gain of function research involves making a pathogen stronger - for example, more infectious - in order to study it and develop better vaccines and treatments for it.
This claim appears to be based on a claim by Republicans in the US that their top infectious diseases expert, Anthony Fauci, approved funding for a non-profit with links to the Wuhan Institute of Virology to carry out gain of function research, which is banned on US soil. Dr Fauci has flatly denied this - calling it "molecularly impossible" for the viruses in the research to have resulted in SARS-CoV-2, as has the non-profit EcoHealth Alliance and the US government's National Institutes of Health.
"In some ways this is completely irrelevant to discussions about vaccination, because however the virus originated, we are facing an urgent need to deal with it," said Dr Campbell. "However, the scientific consensus still seems to be that the virus originated in an animal host… pretty much all new viral pathogens have emerged abruptly as zoonoses, jumping to humans from a reservoir in another species."
Claim: The CDC had patents on genetically modified coronaviruses, including some that attack lungs
In the seminar, Dr Canaday brings up a conspiracy theory regarding patents held by the US Centers for Disease Control, which suggests the virus was manufactured. He cites an interview by a German lawyer Reiner Fuellmich with David Martin, a doctor whose work heavily features in film Plandemic II: Indoctornation, which has been booted off mainstream video hosts for peddling misinformation.
The CDC says it actually holds patents for modified virus genomes in order to "prevent folks from controlling the technology" and to "give the industry and other researchers reasonable access to the samples" so they can develop treatments and cures.
Dr Campbell said patents for viruses aren't secret, and Dr Canaday is "simply scaremongering" by even mentioning it.
Claim: The mRNA vaccines were "designed on a computer" and is synthetic; it fits the "definition of a medical device", not a vaccine
Dr Campbell said of course the vaccine is synthetic - "How else does he think we'd obtain it?" - and it's definitely a vaccine because it "results in production of an antigen that induces an immune response without actually infecting the recipient with the pathogen in question".
"Isn't it cool that we can virtually 'dial a vaccine'?" added Dr Petousis-Harris. "Indeed, this is most definitely a vaccine - a biological product that induces immunity against a disease. It is totally a vaccine."
Writing for academic news site The Conversation this week, two University of Western Australia scientists in molecular biology said yes, the vaccine is synthetic - "where a substance or compound is made by chemical synthesis, especially to imitate a natural product".
"What is important to recognise is that, from a chemical perspective, a compound is the same, whether it was made by a living organism inside a cell, or whether it was made in a lab... We don't even think about it, but many of us eat and drink a huge number of synthetic molecules each day," said Archa Fox and Charles Bond.
The 'synthetic' production of vaccines has advantages over the old technique of growing them in cells and in eggs, they said - it's much quicker, for a start.
Claim: The vaccine might contain a metal called 'graphene oxide', causing people to have "magnetic effects", but this isn't listed in the ingredients because as an "experimental" product, the manufacturers are not required to say
"It's not an 'experimental product' and package inserts do have to list all vaccine ingredients, said Dr Campbell.
There have been online rumours the Pfizer jab contains graphene oxide. The claims stem from a single professor in Spain who said he found it in a single vial of the vaccine, but admitted he didn't know where the vial came from nor that it was "conclusive evidence". His own university rubbished the claims, as did Pfizer.
"This is pure fantasy," said Dr Petousis-Harris.
The list of the jab's ingredients can be found on the US FDA website.
Recently there have been reports of a contaminant in some vials of the mRNA vaccine produced by Moderna. It turned out to be stainless steel, and it got there through a manufacturing error. It's not clear if the tiny amount found would have any effect on health. The batches were recalled.
Claim: The Pfizer jab produces an antibody response, but not a cellular one
Dr Canaday's claim is that while the vaccine appears to trigger an antibody response to the virus' spike protein, the cells don't remember it.
This isn't true. Dr Campbell provided Newshub with links to previous studies which show cellular responses to the Pfizer vaccine, and just last week scientists in the US found while the level of antibodies can wane significantly in the months after the second dose, cellular responses might actually get stronger.
"This is false information," Dr Petousis-Harris added. "The vaccine induces a strong cellular immune response alongside the antibody generating humoral response. This is one of the reasons that it is so effective."
Claim: False positives from PCR testing behind recent waves of infection
Dr Canaday says when relatively few people are infected, most positive cases found via PCR testing are likely to be false positives - and this could be behind reported waves of infection that haven't had the same level of mortality as previous waves.
Dr Campbell said New Zealand is proof that can't be true.
"If false positives really were an issue of that magnitude, we would be seeing reported case numbers here as much much higher than they are given the volume of testing that's being carried out."
About 40,000 tests a day were carried out in the week after the Delta outbreak here began, finding at most dozens of community cases each day. Thousands of tests were done every day in the months before then, with none found at all.
Dr Canaday's proof included a graph by discredited Irish conspiracy theorist Ivor Cummins, who last year claimed the pandemic was over because most people were already immune, the Guardian reported in February.
Claim: Up to 65 percent of people have some degree of natural immunity to COVID-19 thanks to prior coronavirus infections, so herd immunity will require fewer people to be vaccinated
There are other coronaviruses around - some of which cause common colds. Studies have shown exposure to these can give the immune system some knowledge of how to fight SARS-CoV-2, but just how much isn't really clear.
Dr Canaday suggests it could be as high 65 percent in some groups, and it means reaching herd immunity - when enough people are immune to a disease it can't easily spread - will be easier than the 90-plus percent vaccination rate others have claimed will be required to stop the Delta variant in New Zealand, which has had relatively few cases.
"If up to 65 percent of people had prior natural immunity then the virus would not be causing a pandemic," said Dr Petousis-Harris.
Claim: The World Health Organization changed its definition of herd immunity in December 2020 to exclude natural infection, emphasising vaccines
"This goes against everything that we have known in immunology and about epidemiologic management of respiratory disease and infectious communicable diseases for a very long time," claimed Dr Canaday.
Except it's not true. The WHO on December 31 said herd immunity said it could come "either through vaccination or immunity developed through previous infection". It backs the vaccination route of course, because it avoids most unnecessary suffering and death.
Dr Petousis-Harris said measles epidemics used to happen regularly until vaccines were introduced.
"Prior to vaccines everyone experienced the disease and became immune for the rest of their lives. Yet, despite this virtually perfect immunity, every few years there would be devastating epidemics."
Claim: Blood testing shows many more people have been infected with COVID-19 than official statistics, meaning it's not much more lethal than the flu
The case fatality rate (CFR) for COVID-19 to date is 2.1 percent - that is 2.1 percent of all known cases have resulted in death. Though both the number of dead and number infected are believed to be undercounts, it's likely far more infections than deaths have been missed thanks to a lack of testing, particularly in poorer countries and in the pandemic's early months.
This means the infection fatality rate (IFR) is likely to be lower than 2.1 percent, but just how much lower isn't known. The best estimates to date range between 0.5 percent (about five times more lethal than influenza) and 1.5 percent, though it's much higher for the elderly and lower for children.
The IFR can also be heavily dependent on the demographic makeup of a population, and how sturdy its health system is - if hospitals get overloaded, more people will die that would have otherwise lived if they had access to timely treatment. Australian doctors have warned this might happen if the country opens up too soon.
Seroprevalence testing looks for the presence of antibodies to the disease. Dr Canaday says research hosted on the World Health Organization's own site suggests it could be as low as 0.2 percent, making it only twice as lethal as the flu. That study was carried out by John Ioannidis, whose other papers on the lethality of COVID-19 have been heavily criticised by other epidemiologists. He once predicted just 10,000 Americans would die of COVID-19 before it was over - so far, more than 600,000 have died. About 10,00 have lost their lives in the past week alone.
Imperial College London estimates the IFR to be between 0.14 percent and 1.79 percent, depending on the makeup of a local population. Its research says figuring out the true figure is "challenging due to the dynamic and imperfect nature of the available data", but it's "substantially higher than IFR estimates for seasonal influenza".
Dr Campbell said there have been a "lot of papers" in this area with varying results, and focusing on just the IFR ignores the long-term suffering many survivors will experience, including neurological and cardiovascular damage, not to mention long COVID.
Claim: That many deaths would have happened anyway due to a mild influenza season the year before
Dr Canaday says just 6 percent of Italy's recorded deaths early in the pandemic were due to COVID-19, blaming the rest on underlying conditions - claiming many would have died the year before if it weren't for a mild influenza season, calling them "dry timber".
Dr Campbell said Italy's statistics did indeed separate deaths from COVID-19 and other causes, and its overall mortality in 2020 was the worst since World War II. Saying many of the those who succumbed to COVID-19 would have died anyway is "pure hypothesis" with no evidence, she added.
"In a 'bad' flu year, around 650,000 die globally. Deaths attributed to COVID-19 are around 4.4 million in 18 months; there really is no comparison."
Dr Canaday blamed the wave of deaths in late 2020, early 2021 as "dry timber" for similar reasons, which Dr Petousis-Harris said was "horribly callous".
He also suggested a change in the testing method was behind the drop in reported COVID-19 cases, and therefore deaths blamed on it, after US President Donald Trump left office. Dr Petousis-Harris said there was no evidence for this.
Claim: Europe's death toll in late 2020 was due lockdowns causing "delayed clinic visits, delayed operations, cancer patients who did not get treatment, increased suicides and various other factors"
Newshub was unable to find any studies backing these claims up. Dr Canaday in his seminar also noted he didn't have any data. Statistics here and overseas have consistently shown suicides did not increase during last year's lockdowns, except in Japan.
Claim: The mRNA in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines could "get incorporated into human DNA and passed onto the next generation".
"That could only happen if the mRNA - which is very short-lived - somehow a) made it to the gonads and b) was taken up specifically by the cells that produce sperm and eggs," said Dr Campbell. "The evidence to date is that it doesn't get there."
Dr Petousis-Harris called Dr Canaday's claim "primary school biology".
"Our DNA is contained in a part of the cell called the nucleus and the mRNA cannot access this location. Passing it on to the next generation would require even greater feats of magic, as Alison describes."
Nikki Turner, a professor of primary care at the University of Auckland and director of the Immunisation Advisory Centre, backed this up on Thursday in a call with journalists.
"It's not DNA, this vaccine - it doesn't get into my genetics... RNA does not get into the nucleus, it cannot alter my genetics."
Claim: The Pfizer vaccine trial isn't over until 2023
Dr Campbell said this was a common anti-vaccination talking point, and showed Dr Canaday hasn't actually read the trial documentation.
"The Phase III trials concluded in early November 2020; they're the ones looking for efficacy and safety of the vaccine. What is continuing until 2023… is the Phase IV section: monitoring participants to determine the duration of their immune response."
Dr Turner said if there were going to be serious cardiovascular, respiratory, neurological or other effects, they'd be showing up by now.
"You would see the signs of something changing. We know from vaccines something doesn't appear de novo in 20 years' time - you see signs in your immune system at the time, and it's really, really positive... I think of the medications, cosmetics, all of the other stuff I consume - none of these have anything like the safety scrutiny."
Claim: Pfizer's own data proves the vaccine only reduces the chance of infection by 0.73 percent, not 90-plus percent it claimed; no one in the trial was actually proved to have the virus
Dr Canaday came up with the rather low efficacy figure of 0.73 percent by looking at how many people in each group of the trial got infected - 0.77 percent of the placebo group, and 0.04 percent in those who got the jab. The first figure minus the second equals 0.73.
Dr Petousis-Harris said this is not how efficacy is calculated.
"We estimate vaccine efficacy by comparing the rate of disease in the vaccinated participants compared with the rate of disease in the unvaccinated."
Doing that, it's clear people in the trial were about 19 times less likely to contract COVID-19 if they were vaccinated than if they weren't.
Dr Canaday said the trial counted a person as having the virus if they had at least one symptom and a positive PCR test, casting doubt on whether anyone was actually infected "given what we know about the issues with PCR testing".
PCR testing is between 95 and 100 percent accurate, according to the Ministry of Health.
Claim: No long-term studies are being carried out into the development of autoimmune diseases/infertility after the vaccine
"Post-licensure surveillance of vaccines continues for literally years and years," said Dr Campbell. "These things would be detected if they exist."
In fact, Dr Petousis-Harris in May was announced as the research leader for biggest vaccine monitoring study ever undertaken in the world, tracking all of the different COVID-19 vaccines as they're rolled out over the next three years.
"Vaccine related adverse reactions will occur in relative close proximity to the administration of the vaccine, not years down the track," she said. "Vaccine safety monitoring occurs for the life of the product. At the moment there are researchers all over the world actively monitoring the safety of these vaccines and looking for safety signals."
Claim: Spike proteins from Pfizer jab end up in the blood, causing microclots, damaging vessels, end up in liver, spleen, adrenals, ovaries, brain, heart, lungs, kidneys and testes; damaging placenta, causing miscarriages
Dr Campbell said so far, vaccine-induced spike proteins had only been found in "vanishingly tiny" quantities measuring in the picograms, and only for very brief periods.
"One of the immune responses is to destroy what the system sees as 'infected' cells, at which point some bits of spike protein might make it into the bloodstream - where they are swept up and destroyed by other immune-system cells.
"In addition, the vaccine-induced version of the spike protein is locked into its pre-binding conformation - its shape is such that it can't bind to blood cells and cause them to clot, for example."
A study published last week found the risk of blood clots was "substantially higher" after a COVID-19 infection than a Pfizer jab - more than 10 times so.
Dr Campbell said there was still no evidence the vaccine ends up in human ovaries after a typical dose of the vaccine - a study on rats where they received a dose 1333 times higher than what's put into humans saw just 0.1 percent of the dose make it to the ovaries, and it was just the fat content in the vaccine, not the spike or mRNA.
"There's no evidence that vaccination against COVID-19 damages either the placenta or the developing foetus - there certainly is evidence that COVID-19 can cause significant complications in pregnancy, up to and including death of the mother."
Claim: The rate of anaphylaxis following a Pfizer jab is 1/1000, possibly caused by the lipid nanoparticle the mRNA is housed in
"Either way he's clearly wrong," said Dr Campbell.
Claim: Previous coronavirus vaccines failed after resulting in antibody-dependent enhancement on animals
Antibody-dependent enhancement (ADE) is when instead of killing a pathogen, antibodies inadvertently help it invade our cells, worsening the illness. Dr Canaday says previous development of a vaccine for SARS-CoV-1, which gave the world a scare in the early 2000s, caused ADE when it was tested on ferrets. He claims animal trials either weren't done this time around in the rush to get a vaccine to market, or the results were never released.
Dr Campbell said his claims about the ferrets are true, but "researchers worked out why and avoided the problem this time round".
"There is no hint of this occurring now we are well over a year since the first people received their vaccines in the trials," added Dr Petousis-Harris.
Claim: There have been more than 12,000 deaths due to vaccines in the US, up from an average of 108 a year
While the US Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) lists nearly 7000 deaths after a COVID-19 vaccine was administered (not 12,000), Dr Petousis-Harris said it was an "abuse of data" to suggest the deaths were a result of the vaccine.
"When people access the VAERS they have to tick an agreement that they understand that the cases registered in the database are not necessarily caused by a vaccine and that the data cannot be used for this purpose. Despite this, people continue to abuse this open access information… VAERS is used for signal detection, not causality assessment.
Dr Campbell said VAERS relied on self-reported data, and has been known to wrongly blame deaths from other causes on vaccines - including a two-year-old who actually died in that remarkably American way - from a gunshot wound.
Dr Canaday goes on to cite an anonymous lawsuit which claims the actual number of COVID-19 vaccine-related deaths is "at least 45,000".
Experts have noted with elderly populations being the priority in many nations' vaccine rollouts, the number who die soon after would be higher than usual - just because someone died after getting a jab, doesn't mean the jab was the cause.
Last week, a study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University said vaccines had already saved about 140,000 lives in the US already. Just one death to date globally has been causally linked to the Pfizer jab - and it happened in New Zealand.
Claim: Vaccinated people are 'shedding' something onto the unvaccinated, causing problems such as menstrual issues
There have been reports of businesses and schools not letting vaccinated people on the premises because they might 'shed' the vaccine, or some part of it, onto those who don't want it.
"There's no question in my mind that it's actually real, but how it happens and why it happens is problematic," Dr Canaday claims, saying there "too many stories" for it to be a myth. "It's not the vaccine I suspect that's actually being transmitted… it may be the spike protein itself, it may be the nanoparticle that's part of the vaccine. I don't know. I haven't seen studies that have actually looked at that."
Dr Campbell said if he has no evidence to back up his claim, then it can too be dismissed without evidence.
"His personal beliefs are completely irrelevant and there is no evidence to support them."
Peter Wark of the University of Newcastle agrees.
"COVID vaccines… don’t contain live virus. They contain fragments of spike protein or the instructions on how to make it," he wrote in a piece for The Conversation.
"Even if you could shed spike protein after vaccination, that wouldn’t be enough to cause an infection. For that you need the entire virus, which the vaccines don’t contain. And the mRNA in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines is very short-lived, and is quickly degraded in our cells. Again, the mRNA wouldn’t be enough to cause an infection. It would need to be packaged inside a live virus, which our vaccines don’t contain."
Claim: Doctors are being bullied into not prescribing ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine
"There's that lack of evidence again," said Dr Campbell. "And it's insulting to doctors," added Dr Petousis-Harris.
Ivermectin is commonly known as a treatment for worms in horses, but it's also used in humans as an anti-parasitic, and is even listed as one of the World Health Organization's essential medicines.
While there were some promising results in early experiments treating COVID-19 with ivermectin, none of it has held up to scrutiny - some of the research turned out to be fraudulent or based on suspiciously bad data, while other studies found while it might work, it would probably need to be used in amounts that would likely kill or seriously harm the patient.
"The only paper involving a relatively large sample size that appeared to show a benefit for ivermectin was never peer-reviewed or published, and has been retracted due to concerns about plagiarism and (more importantly in this context) the nature of the data manipulation," said Dr Campbell.
Dr Petousis-Harris pointed out manufacturers of ivermectin who stand to make a lot of money if ivermectin does work have so far recommended against it, citing a lack of evidence.
This week it was reported one of the biggest studies backing ivermectin might have been a fraud from top to bottom.
"There's mixed data on whether it might have a small amount of effectiveness or not as a medication. It's absolutely not clear," she told journalists in a webinar on Thursday. "[It's] a really unfortunate effect of people using social media and a little bit of mixed-up science that hasn't been put together."
Hydroxychloroquine was talked up by former US President Donald Trump. Dr Campbell said like ivermectin, "well-designed studies have shown no positive effect".
Claim: Up to 80 people have died in New Zealand after taking the Pfizer jab, according to figures collected by NZDSOS
NZDSOS - short for NZ Doctors Speaking Out with Science - claims to represent "a group of doctors, dentists and scientists who are concerned about the safety of the roll-out of the Pfizer vaccine". Aside from Dr Canaday, Newshub was unable to ascertain who they are.
Medsafe has to date listed 26 deaths following a dose of the vaccine, but only one has been causally linked - the others happening by chance at a rate actually lower than expected.
Dr Campbell and Dr Petousis-Harris both said NZDSOS should share the missing death cases with Medsafe, if true - but there's no evidence, otherwise.