Fact check: COVID-19 vaccine mandates don't violate Nuremberg Code

The claim: “Forced” vaccines are against the Nuremberg Code

The nation's top infectious disease expert says that, once the coronavirus vaccines receive full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Americans can expect a flood of mandates from businesses and schools requiring the shots.

“They can say, 'If you want to come to this college or this university, you've got to get vaccinated,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told USA TODAY's editorial board Aug. 6. “If you want to work in this plant, you have to get vaccinated. If you want to work in this enterprise, you've got to get vaccinated. If you want to work in this hospital, you've got to get vaccinated.'”

But on social media, some say vaccine mandates violate a World War II-era code that addresses medical crimes against humanity.

“Breaking News! Forced V…… are against the Nuremberg Code, punishable by death!” an Aug. 6 Facebook post reads.

Fact check: 6 of the most persistent misconceptions about COVID-19 vaccines

“Forcing individuals to be subjects in the trial of an experimental drug is diabolical. This is a blatant violation of all the Nuremberg Code and all medical ethics standards,” reads another post.

Similar claims have circulated on Instagram and Twitter, as well. But they're not accurate.

Requiring COVID-19 vaccination does not violate the Nuremberg Code because the vaccines aren't experimental. All the vaccines approved for emergency use in the United States have already gone through clinical trials.

USA TODAY reached out to social media users who shared the posts for comment.

Nuremberg Code addressed Nazi war crimes

The Nuremberg Code is a set of research ethics that resulted from the prosecution of Nazis after World War II.

Trials aimed at holding Nazis accountable for the Holocaust were held in Nuremberg, Germany, between 1945 and 1949. There were 13 proceedings, one of which was the Doctors’ Trial, which began in December 1946.

Fact check: Doctors' Trial was one of 13 Nuremberg Trials

Twenty-three doctors and administrators were charged with committing war crimes and crimes against humanity for killing concentration camp inmates and conducting forced medical experiments on them, according to Harvard Law School’s Nuremberg Trials Project. Seven defendants were sentenced to death, nine were sentenced to prison and seven were acquitted.

The Nuremberg Code was borne out of that trial. Its core tenets provide clearer guidance on the rights of human subjects in scientific research.

Code doesn't apply to COVID-19 vaccines

The Facebook page Montanans for Limited Government, which shared one of the posts, said the Nuremberg Code's emphasis on “voluntary consent” applies to vaccine mandates.

“When government and businesses declare an individual can no longer be employed, interact economically, engage socially, travel, or conduct routine activities of daily living UNLESS they partake in the administration of an experimental drug trial (the covid vaccines are still experimental as of August 8, 2021), that is called duress, overreaching, and coercion, which is a clear and blatant violation of the Nuremberg Code,” the page said in a Facebook message.

This is inaccurate.

The code does not apply to COVID-19 vaccines because they are not “experimental.” All of the COVID-19 vaccines have gone through clinical trials and emergency use authorization processes.

“The Nuremberg Code relates to research, where the emphasis of informed consent requirements is on preventing the research participants from being used as a means to an end,” Emma Cave, a professor of healthcare law at Durham University in England, told Full Fact, an independent fact-checking organization in the United Kingdom.

Americans who receive the COVID-19 vaccines are not participating in an experiment. Plus, the Nuremberg Code has not been adopted as law in the United States.

“The Nuremberg Code isn’t legally enforceable in itself, but its legacy has changed the way research is conducted and safeguarded to protect the human rights of research participants,” Cave told Full Fact.

George Annas, director of the Center for Health Law, Ethics & Human Rights at Boston University School of Public Health, agreed its wrong to invoke the Nuremburg Code in reference to COVID-19 vaccines.

“The purpose of the code was to say that what the Nazi doctors did would never happen again,” Annas told FactCheck.org.

Fact check: Workers fired for refusing a vaccine are unlikely to qualify for unemployment

Some have questioned the legality of mandating vaccines approved for emergency use, but there are no federal laws that prevent states, businesses and employers from requiring vaccination. And the COVID-19 vaccines could receive full FDA approval within the next few weeks.

Our rating: False

The claim that “forced” vaccines are against the Nuremberg Code is FALSE, based on our research. The Nuremberg Code addresses human experimentation, not vaccines approved for emergency use. Americans who get vaccinated against COVID-19 are not part of an experiment. The vaccines have been tested in clinical trials and found to be safe and effective.

Our fact check sources:

  • USA TODAY, Aug. 6, Dr. Anthony Fauci: Expect 'a flood' of COVID-19 vaccine mandates after full FDA approval

  • USA TODAY, July 28, Fact check: Doctors' Trial was one of 13 Nuremberg Trials

  • Full Fact, May 13, Why is the Nuremberg Code being used to oppose Covid-19 vaccines?

  • FactCheck.org, May 17, Nuremberg Code Addresses Experimentation, Not Vaccines

  • Cornell's Legal Information Institute's Oyez, Jacobson v. Massachusetts

  • Harvard's Nuremberg Trials Project, U.S.A. v. Karl Brandt et al.: The Doctors' Trial

  • U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, accessed Aug. 8, Nuremberg Code

  • USA TODAY, May 7, Pfizer-BioNTech seeks full FDA approval for COVID-19 vaccine

  • New England Journal of Medicine, Nov. 13, 1997, Fifty Years Later: The Significance of the Nuremberg Code

  • University of Maryland Medical System, Dec. 16, 2020, COVID Vaccine Testing and Approval

  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration, accessed Aug. 8, COVID-19 Vaccines

  • USA TODAY, June 1, Moderna seeks full FDA approval for vaccine

  • Axios, Aug. 8, Fauci: Covid vaccines could get full FDA approval in the “next few weeks”

Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or electronic newspaper replica here.

Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: COVID-19 vaccine mandates, Nuremberg Code not related

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