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Posts recycle baseless claim about mRNA vaccine SCOTUS case

August 29, 2022 GMT
FILE - The Supreme Court is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 14, 2022. The Supreme Court hasn't ruled that mRNA COVID-19 vaccines cause “irreparable” damage, as recent social media posts baselessly claim. The falsehood is similar to a claim debunked in 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
FILE - The Supreme Court is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 14, 2022. The Supreme Court hasn't ruled that mRNA COVID-19 vaccines cause “irreparable” damage, as recent social media posts baselessly claim. The falsehood is similar to a claim debunked in 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

CLAIM: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. won a U.S. Supreme Court case against “all the pharmaceutical lobbyists” in which the court ruled that mRNA COVID-19 vaccines cause “irreparable” damage.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. There has been no such Supreme Court ruling, according to the court’s comprehensive online archive of opinions. Kennedy, a lawyer who has advocated against vaccines, told The Associated Press in 2021 that articles sharing similar claims were false. At the time, he said he had been involved in dozens of lawsuits regarding vaccine safety, but none had reached the Supreme Court.

THE FACTS: The baseless claim about Kennedy winning a Supreme Court case related to COVID-19 vaccine safety has circulated online for more than a year, driven by fringe blog posts in multiple languages.

Versions of the claim reemerged on Twitter this month. The posts share an image of Kennedy alongside a paragraph of text purportedly describing the recent ruling. The text contains several spelling, capitalization and grammatical errors.

“Supreme Court ruling hardly anyone noticed that Kennedy Jnr won the case against all the pharmaceutical lobbyists,” the text inside the image reads. “In the ruling, the supreme court confirms that the damage caused by Covid mRNA gene therapies is irreparable. As the Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States there and no further appeals and the appeals have been exhausted.”

“Why was this news not Front page headlines?” wrote one Twitter user who shared the image.

But a search of the Supreme Court’s opinion archive shows that no such ruling exists. All of the court’s rulings from its term in 2020, which would have encompassed the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and 2021, the most recent term, can be found on its website. None of the cases have to do with the safety of mRNA vaccines, or mention Kennedy Jr.

While the court has heard cases related to the legality of certain pandemic practices, such as eviction moratoriums and vaccine mandates for both business and health care workers, it has not taken on any cases about vaccine safety, specifically.

The recent claims about a case by Kennedy use similar language to a version that was previously debunked by the AP after it circulated widely online in 2021.

While they contain many similarities, the posts from this month use slightly different wording than the ones that spread in 2021. The newer posts allege that Kennedy’s case was “against all the pharmaceutical lobbyists,” leading the court to confirm that the vaccines caused “irreparable” damage.

Older versions claimed that Kennedy and a group of scientists led a legal challenge against billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates; Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert; and “Big Pharma,” in which the Supreme Court ruled COVID-19 vaccines were unsafe and ultimately “canceled universal vaccination.” That claim originated on blogs that regularly publish hoaxes and misinformation and later spread across social media platforms.

The older posts also included a fabricated quote from Kennedy, who told the AP in September 2021 that he had seen such articles referencing a Supreme Court case circulating online for months. He confirmed that they were false.

“The article about the Supreme Court is misinformation,” Kennedy said, adding that “the same article keeps reappearing.”

​​Kennedy said at the time that he had been a part of dozens of lawsuits on the subject of vaccine safety, but those were at different stages of the judicial process and none had appeared before the Supreme Court.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.