Fact Check

Was a Scientist Jailed After Discovering a Deadly Virus Delivered Through Vaccines?

Judy Mikovits did not discover a deadly virus delivered through vaccines; she was arrested for allegedly stealing equipment belonging to the Institute that fired her.

Published Dec. 8, 2018

Updated May 6, 2020
 (Jerry Rainey via Shutterstock)
Image courtesy of Jerry Rainey via Shutterstock
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Researcher Judy Mikovits was thrown in jail after she refused to discredit research that led to the discovery that deadly retroviruses have been transmitted through vaccines.

In 2009, biologist Judy Mikovits, who was then the research director of the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome-focused Whittemore Peterson Institute (WPI), published a paper on what she and many others thought to be a major scientific breakthrough in the prestigious journal Science. Her team alleged to have demonstrated an association between a newly discovered retrovirus called "xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus" (XMRV) and the poorly understood condition known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), suggesting a potential viral cause for CFS.

The paper received substantial international coverage. However, as with so many other potentially groundbreaking studies, nobody — including many of the same researchers involved with the original study — was able to replicate its results. Numerous attempts failed to replicate the study, and the research itself came under increasing scrutiny for sloppy methods and its reliance on misleading or manufactured figures.

On 1 July 2011, Science’s editors issued a “statement of concern” about the paper. On 14 October 2011, the authors issued a partial retraction of their paper that touched on issues with some of their figures. Finally, on 23 December 2011, the editors of Science retracted the paper in full:

Science is fully retracting the Report “Detection of an infectious retrovirus, XMRV, in blood cells of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome”. Multiple laboratories, including those of the original authors, have failed to reliably detect xenotropic murine leukemia virus– related virus (XMRV) or other murine leukemia virus (MLV)–related viruses in chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) patients. In addition, there is evidence of poor quality control in a number of specific experiments in the Report ... Given all of these issues, Science has lost confidence in the Report and the validity of its conclusions ... We are therefore editorially retracting the Report. We regret the time and resources that the scientific community has devoted to unsuccessful attempts to replicate these results.

Three months later, the Whittemore Peterson Institute fired Judy Mikovits amid concerns over the integrity of her work and her collaboration with an outside scientist, as reported in the multidisciplinary scientific journal Nature:

The scientist behind a study that linked chronic fatigue syndrome to a virus has lost her job and is now facing accusations that she has misrepresented data. Judy Mikovits ... was fired on 29 September after she clashed with the institute's president and co-founder, Annette Whittemore, over the work of another researcher.

The following day, in what seems to be a separate development, a blogger posted a figure from a 2009 paper that Mikovits co-authored in Science alongside one that Mikovits used in a recent presentation. The two figures, which are used to describe different results, look identical, except for the labeling.

A few months after that, Mikovits was arrested in southern California “on an ‘out of county warrant’ from Washoe County, Nevada, for allegedly taking lab notebooks, a computer, and other material from the Whittemore Peterson Institute in Reno, Nevada, after the WPI fired her.” The arrest came in conjunction with a lawsuit from WPI that sought a restraining order to block Mikovits’ destruction of data which they maintained belonged to the institute:

After Mikovits was terminated on 29 September, she wrongfully removed laboratory notebooks and kept other proprietary information on her laptop and in flash drives and in a personal e-mail account. WPI, a nonprofit organization that’s based on the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno, also won a temporary restraining order that forbids Mikovits from “destroying, deleting, or altering” any of the related files or data.

The charges were dropped, not because of the merits of the case, but due to a variety of complicating legal factors related to the family that runs the Whittemore Peterson Institute:

On 11 June, the district attorney's office for Washoe County filed a petition to dismiss the criminal charges against Mikovits without prejudice (which means they can file a related complaint in the future), a clerk to the Justice Court of Reno told ScienceInsider.

Mikovits, who was briefly jailed on the charges, is still defending herself in the civil case, which has taken several bizarre twists, including a judge who had ruled against Mikovits recusing himself. The judge removed himself from the case because he received campaign donations from WPI co-founder Harvey Whittemore, who himself has been criminally charged with making illegal campaign contributions to a federal official ...

Assistant District Attorney John Helzer, who filed the dismissal, says Whittemore's legal troubles factored into his decision. "There's a lot going on with the federal government and different levels that wasn't occurring when we first became involved with prosecuting this case," says Helzer. "And we have witness issues that have arisen."

The “Deep State” Version of the Story

Fast forwarding to 2018, we find that Mikovits has become lionized by the medical conspiracy community, appearing on unreliable websites such as Natural News and giving talks at fringe conferences such as The Truth About Cancer and Autism One, with her claims echoing through the various clickbait factories that regurgitate wholesale content from these dubious organizations. For example, the website “Real Farmacy” described Mikovits' saga as follows in a 28 November 2018 post:

If you have been following stories in recent years of scientists and researchers who make discoveries that are threatening to the Deep State and the bottom line of Big Pharma, you will have seen the pattern before. Those doctors are often ‘persuaded’ to recant their studies, offered bribes or other benefits to distance themselves from or even destroy their data, and even threatened with jail time or, if a legal case is too difficult to fabricate against them, they may simply be killed.

Such is the tale of molecular biologist Judy A. Mikovits, PhD, in the disturbing true story first detailed in this Natural News article that included the video below of how she was thrown in prison for research that led to the discovery that deadly retroviruses have been transmitted to twenty-five million Americans through human vaccines ... It was not long after the implications from the paper became clear and the Deep State saw the threat that was being posed to the vaccine industry that their powerful mechanisms of cover-up, obfuscation, and deception were activated.

Astute readers may note that the 2009 paper discussed above did not concern vaccines. Mikovits, following the publication of her since-retracted paper, made a series of unsupported claims that XMRV was the cause of myriad other medical maladies, including autism and cancer, and that XMRV in humans could have its origins in mouse cells used in the vaccine production process -- a notion that has been exhaustively discredited.

Much of the material Mikovits used to make her point was also retracted, including a 2006 paper that alleged to show XMRV was present in human prostate cancer cells but actually produced erroneous results due to laboratory contamination.

An exhaustive body of work, which includes some of the same researchers involved in the original 2009 paper, has discredited any link between XMRV and disease. "The bottom line is we found no evidence of infection with XMRV ... These results refute any correlation between these agents and disease," said co-author Ian Lipkin of Columbia University in a press release.

To suggest that Mikovits' arrest stemmed from a perceived threat to the vaccine industry or “The Deep State” and not her alleged refusal to return scientific data and equipment to the institute that fired her requires completely ignoring this large body of scientific work while solely relying on the narrative presented by Mikovits in her 2014 book, Plague: One Scientist’s Intrepid Search for the Truth about Human Retroviruses and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS), Autism, and Other Diseases.

In the introduction to that work, which entirely ignored her firing from Whittemore, Mikovits alleged that the federal government had threatened to arrest her if she set foot on National Institutes of Health property to participate in the study that attempted to validate her previous work:

While I was preparing to return to Dr. Frank Rusetti's lab in Frederick, Maryland and participate in the multi-center validation study directed by Dr. Ian Lipkin, an email would be sent to Frank by none other than Dr. Tony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. In the email, Fauci stated I could participate in the study, but if I stepped foot on National Institutes of Health property, I would be immediately arrested!

Dr. Frank Rusetti is a long-time collaborator of Mikovits'. We reached out to Dr. Tony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease at the National Institute of Health, about the existence of the email in which he allegedly threatened Mikovits with arrest, and he told us (via email):

I have no idea what she is talking about. I can categorically state that I have never sent such an e-mail to Dr. Ruscetti. I had my IT people here at NIH search all my e-mails and no such e-mail exists. Having said that, I would never make such a statement in an e-mail that anyone “would be immediately arrested” if they stepped foot on NIH property.

We also reached out to both Rusetti and Mikovits via their consulting website for more information about this alleged email but have not received a response.

The Reality

Since 2016, science has reached the consensus view that the XMRV detected in these various studies was a laboratory contaminant which affected the research cell lines used by the scientists conducting those studies, and that it was not a virus that had been transmitted to humans in any way. In a video produced by the conspiracy website Natural News in 2018, however, Mikovits made a series of additional claims that she had been fired and jailed for exposing that millions of Americans had supposedly been infected with viruses "that came from out of labs into humans via contaminated blood and vaccines":

The fact that [these allegedly human-derived viruses] were real was just too much for 25 million Americans are infected with the viruses that came from out of labs into humans via contaminated blood and vaccines. And that was what ... so I was fired, jailed without cause, without hearing, without any civil rights at all, just drug out of my house in shackles one day, November 18th 2011.

As noted above, Mikovits’ controversial paper did not demonstrate that XMRV “came out of the lab into humans via contaminated blood and vaccines”; rather, it speculated such after seemingly demonstrating a (now discredited) association between XMRV and CFS. To say Mikovits was jailed for exposing widespread virus transmission via vaccines or blood transfusions is false, not only because she was actually jailed for allegedly stealing property, but also because she never scientifically demonstrated the claim she suggests the government wanted to silence her over. In her interview with Natural News, Mikovits stated that the idea for the connection between viruses and vaccines came from another researcher in a paper published in 2011:

So in 2011 another AIDS researcher in a journal called Frontiers in Microbiology wrote a paper that really cost me a lot. I didn't know he was gonna write this paper but it basically said, "The most likely way that these murine leukemia virus related viruses, these types of viruses entered humans was through vaccines.”

That paper, which referenced two other now-retracted papers in its abstract, only presented the vaccine scenario speculatively as a potential route for humans to acquire XMRV:

The novel human retrovirus xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV) is arguably the most controversial virus of this moment. After its original discovery in prostate cancer tissue from North American patients [paper retracted], it was subsequently detected in individuals with chronic fatigue syndrome from the same continent [paper retracted]. However, most other research groups, mainly from Europe, reported negative results ...

The detection of integrated XMRV proviruses in prostate cancer tissue [paper retracted] proves it to be a genuine virus that replicates in human cells, leaving the question: how did XMRV enter the human population? We will discuss two possible routes: either via direct virus transmission from mouse to human ... or via the use of mouse-related products by humans, including vaccines. We hypothesize that mouse cells or human cell lines used for vaccine production could have been contaminated with a replicating variant of the XMRV precursors encoded by the mouse genome.

That study did conclude by opining that the “most likely mode of XMRV transmission points to mouse-derived biological products” and stating that the authors hoped the study would “spur further discussion and help to resolve the many remaining XMRV questions.” But in a paper published just five months later titled “XMRV: Not a Mousy Virus”, those same authors walked back claims of XMRV’s prevalence (and even its existence as a true human virus) based on results which called earlier laboratory methods into question:

XMRV was discovered in 2006 in tumor tissue from patients with prostate cancer [paper retracted] with a viral genome sequence highly similar to that of mouse xenotropic retroviruses. Sequence analysis suggested that XMRV is a novel recombinant derived from two fragmented endogenous murine viruses integrated in the mouse genome. XMRV was subsequently detected in other prostate cancer tissues and in blood from patients with CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome) [paper retracted].

However, most other studies failed to replicate these findings, especially outside the USA, suggesting either that the virus has a limited geographical spread, or that positive results were due to contamination of biological reagents or human samples with mouse DNA. Four recent papers indeed show that murine DNA sequences can be detected virtually everywhere, and that extreme care should be taken when amplifying XMRV sequences. These results certainly put into serious doubt some of the high prevalence results and proposed disease associations that could not be confirmed by others.

Further research determined that all XMRV samples detected in these studies stemmed from a contaminated cell line affecting all the labs performing these studies, that it did not cause disease, and that it did not enter the population via vaccines or blood transfusions:

Molecular biologists traced the development of XMRV to a recombination event in a laboratory mouse that likely occurred circa 1993. The virus was propagated via cell lines derived from a tumor present in this mouse and spread through contamination of laboratory samples. Well-controlled experiments showed that detection of XMRV was due to contaminated samples and was not a marker of or a causal factor in prostate cancer or CFS.

Therefore, Mikovits' speculative claims linking her research to vaccine science, drawing the ire of “Big Pharma” and the “Deep State”, and her subsequent arrest are not rooted in science or reality. But although she may have lost the support of the scientific community, she appears to have found a new home in the pseudoscientific conspiracy world.

“In the United States of America ... everything's censored,” Mikovits said on the website of a man who guest hosts Alex Jones’ Infowars conspiracy ranting, “so to look at things like Natural News, to come to meetings like The Truth About Cancer, I was just floored today because today was the first time I was treated like a human being who had knowledge for a very long time.”

In 2020, Mikovits was featured in a film called "Plandemic" that supposedly exposed "the hidden agenda behind the COVID-19" coronavirus disease pandemic.

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Lombardi, Vincent C. et al.   "Detection of an Infectious Retrovirus, XMRV, in Blood Cells of Patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. [RETRACTED]"     Science.   23 October 2009.

Alberts, Bruce.   "Editorial Expression of Concern."     Science.   1 July 2011.

Silverman, Robert H. et al.   "Partial Retraction"     Science.   14 October 2011.

Alberts, Bruce.   "Retraction.”     Science.   1 July 2011.

Ledford, Heidi.   "Integrity Issue Follows Fired Researcher.”     Nature.   5 October 2011.

Retraction Watch.   "Catching Up: Charges Against CFS-XMRV Researcher Mikovits Dropped, ‘Gyres’ Author Andrulis Publishes Another Paper."     16 June 2012.

Cohen, Jon.   "Criminal Charges Dropped Against Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Researcher Judy Mikovits.”     Science.   13 June 2012.

Enos, Richard.   "Researcher Jailed After Uncovering Deadly Virus Delivered Through Human Vaccines.”     Collective Evolution.   6 November 2018.

Johnson, A.D. and C.S. Cohn.   “Xenotropic Murine Leukemia Virus-Related Virus (XMRV) and the Safety of the Blood Supply.”     Clinical Microbiology Reviews.   October 2016.

Urisman, Anatoly et al.   “Identification of a Novel Gammaretrovirus in Prostate Tumors of Patients Homozygous for R462Q RNASEL Variant. [RETRACTED]”     PLOS Pathogens.   31 March 2006.

Adams, Mike.   “The Criminalization of Science Whistleblowers: A Mind-Blowing Interview with Judy Mikovits, PhD.”     Natural News.   8 June 2018.

van der Kuyl, Antoinette et al.   “Of Mice and Men: On the Origin of XMRV.”     Frontiers in Microbiology.   17 January 2011.

van der Kuyl, Antoinette and Ben Berkoutl.   “XMRV: Not a Mousy Virus.”     Journal of the Formosan Medical Association.   May 2011.


UPDATE 05/06/20: Added reference to 2020 "Plandemic" video.

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

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