Fact Check

Did a Clinical Trial Participant Develop 'Huge Bleeding Sores' From a COVID-19 Vaccine?

The claim, which has spread across the anti-vaccine internet zeitgeist without context, stems from a GoFundMe page whose organizer has since walked back her claims.

Published Dec. 3, 2020

Updated Dec. 3, 2020
ALCOBENDAS, SPAIN – NOVEMBER 12: A sign for Pfizer is seen outside the Pfizer building on November 12, 2020 in Alcobendas, Madrid, Spain.  Pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced positive early results on its Covid-19 vaccine trial and has proven to be 90% effective in preventing infection of the virus. (Photo by David Benito/Getty Images) (David Benito / Contributor / Getty Images)
Image courtesy of David Benito / Contributor / Getty Images
A participant in a clinical trial of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine developed a painful skin reaction on her foot as a result of taking that vaccine.

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On Nov. 12, 2020, a GoFundMe page titled "Medical and Child Care Expenses" was created by the cousin of a participant involved in a clinical trial of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Snopes is withholding the participant's last name for privacy reasons.

"Patricia was involved in a COVID-19 vaccine study recently and has had a severe adverse reaction," the post originally stated. "She has not been able to walk or go to work for almost three weeks now because of huge bleeding sores on her feet. These sores are called a Fixed Drug Eruption…"

Screenshots from this GoFundMe page have since been used as evidence of the danger of the COVID-19 vaccine on Facebook, Twitter, and fringe news websites, each of which blindly assert a causal connection between the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and the foot sores, based on these pictures:

On Nov. 30, 2020, however, the creator of the GoFundMe page told potential donors that Patricia had learned she was actually in the control group — i.e., people given an injection of saline solution instead of the actual vaccine for comparison purposes:

Patricia is still suffering from the painful skin condition on her feet; however, the cause has become unclear.  The manufacturer of the vaccine has unblinded her due to this safety concern and it has been discovered she was in the placebo arm of the trial.

In other words, the vaccine could not have caused this condition because she was never actually given the vaccine. In a video update, Patricia stated, "So just to clarify ... the vaccine manufacturer is standing their ground that I received the placebo, which is allegedly just sterile saline. ... I'm going to seek a second opinion because I don't know what the hell caused this." We reached out to the organizer of the GoFundMe to see if there had been any medical updates in her case, but have not received a response.

We reached out to Pfizer to confirm Patricia's account of events. In response, they told us:

This individual was enrolled in a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine trial, as she has disclosed. We can definitively state, however, that this individual’s medical condition (alleged “Fixed Drug Eruption”) is not related to her participation in the trial. We have contacted GoFundMe on two occasions regarding this matter, and as a result, the site has shut down the related fundraising page. More generally, as stated in our press release, no serious safety concerns have been observed in our trial.

While GoFundMe told us that they did temporarily remove the fundraiser, they restored the page after updated information was provided:

The fundraiser was initially suspended by our Trust & Safety team. As a general point, fundraisers whose claims cannot be verified violate GoFundMe’s Terms of Service and will be removed from the platform. After receiving more information from the organizer, the fundraiser is again actively receiving donations. I’ll point you to their latest updates.

We're a site that requires transparency and because the intent of the fundraiser has changed, we asked the organizer to post an update for donors. GoFundMe is honoring any refund requests which is part of our comprehensive refund policy to ensures donors’ intentions are honored.

However, because the alleged victim of the COVID-19 trial publicly disclosed that she had been informed that she was in the placebo group, and because Pfizer has told us they can "definitively state ... that this individual’s medical condition is not related to her participation in the trial," we rank the claim that the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine caused painful foot sores as "False."


Update [3 December 2020]: Added a statement from GoFundMe.

Alex Kasprak is an investigative journalist and science writer reporting on scientific misinformation, online fraud, and financial crime.

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