NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn’t happen this week
A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the facts:
No evidence COVID-19 vaccines create new virus variants
CLAIM: The variants of the coronavirus that have been found in the global population were created by COVID-19 vaccines, because the vaccines caused people to develop antibodies and forced the virus to evolve.
THE FACTS: An article quoting a virologist known for spreading conspiracy theories about the coronavirus is pushing the false claim that COVID-19 vaccines were the catalyst that caused new variants of the virus to emerge around the globe. “Bombshell: Nobel Prize Winner Reveals - Covid Vaccine is ‘Creating Variants,’” reads the headline of the article, which has been shared thousands of times on Facebook. The article claims that the vaccines forced the virus to “‘find another solution’ or die,” thus producing the known coronavirus variants. The article attributes the claim to Luc Montagnier, who won the Nobel Prize in 2008 for discovering HIV and has spread false claims about the coronavirus. It is published on the website of the RAIR Foundation, which describes itself as a “grassroots activist organization” aiming to “combat the threats from Islamic supremacists, radical leftists and their allies.” Experts contacted by The Associated Press explained that coronavirus variants found across the globe began emerging long before vaccines were widely available. They said the evidence suggests new variants evolved as a result of prolonged viral infections in the population, not vaccines, which are designed to prevent such infections. “There’s no evidence that the vaccines create new variants, largely because vaccination appears to shut down viral infections, prevent people from spreading it to others,” said Dr. Stuart Ray, a professor at Johns Hopkins University’s medical school. “If the virus can’t spread, it doesn’t have the opportunity to evolve.” With some viruses, such as dengue virus, scientists have observed a phenomenon called antibody-dependent enhancement, in which antibodies generated by a past infection or a vaccine will bind to a viral pathogen but not neutralize it. This can cause people who have antibodies to experience more severe symptoms if they are infected later. However, this phenomenon has not been observed with the coronavirus or vaccines to prevent it. Montagnier did not respond to a request for comment.
— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in Semora, North Carolina, contributed this report.
COVID-19 vaccines do not wipe out antibodies
CLAIM: The Red Cross says if you recovered from COVID-19 and had a vaccine, you cannot donate blood plasma because the vaccine wipes out natural antibodies.
THE FACTS: The Red Cross says that statement is inaccurate and COVID-19 vaccines do not wipe out antibodies, according to experts. As of March 26, the Red Cross discontinued the dedicated collection of COVID-19 convalescent plasma due to declining demand from hospitals and a sufficient industry supply. Posts online are now misrepresenting the change and are spreading the false claim that the Red Cross is no longer taking any plasma donations from those who have had the COVID-19 virus and received a vaccine. Social media users are sharing a February clip from KMOV-4, a CBS-affiliate news station in Missouri, where the anchor incorrectly says the Red Cross is no longer accepting convalescent plasma from people who are vaccinated because COVID-19 vaccines wipe out natural antibodies. “If you have had covid and recovered you can donate plasma to help save lifes UNLESS YOU GET THE VACCINE after having recovered,” reads an inaccurate tweet that shared the video. Red Cross spokeswoman Katie Wilkes told The Associated Press that her organization had reached out to the news station to correct the information, since it is not correct that vaccines wipe out natural antibodies. Wilkes also said that even though the dedicated convalescent plasma program was discontinued, vaccinated people are still able to participate in blood drives. “In most cases, you can donate blood, platelets and plasma after a COVID-19 vaccine as long as you’re feeling healthy and well,” she said. KMOV-4 updated their story on May 27. “Today News4 updated a story we reported in February,” a station spokesperson told the AP in an email. “At that time, a representative of the American Red Cross said the organization’s policy was to discourage convalescent plasma donations from donors who previously had COVID-19 and were then vaccinated because of a then-belief about antibodies.” Experts say the recent posts about antibodies get it all wrong. Dr. C. Buddy Creech, a Vanderbilt University vaccine expert, said there is no reason to suspect that COVID-19 vaccines would diminish antibodies. In fact, vaccines should boost them. Vaccines produce a more consistent immune response to the coronavirus, since mild infections lead to lower antibody levels than more severe infections, Creech explained. “This is why those who have been infected still benefit from vaccination; that vaccine will then serve to boost the immune response that was made during the initial infection,” Creech said in an email.
— Associated Press writer Beatrice Dupuy in New York contributed this report.
Sweden is still using PCR tests for COVID-19 detection
CLAIM: Sweden has stopped using PCR tests to detect viruses.
THE FACTS: A post by Sweden’s top health agency discussing the use of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests to detect the coronavirus is being misinterpreted by social media users who falsely say the test is being discontinued there. “Sweden Stops using PCR Tests - for the reason that good scientists have been saying for fifteen months - RNA from Viruses can be Detected for Months After Infection. Not fit for purpose,” a Twitter user falsely stated. The false claim also spread on Instagram. The PCR test, which can detect whether a virus’s genetic material is present in a sample, is considered to be the most accurate kind of COVID-19 test available. “We can confirm that Sweden has not suspended the use of PCR tests,” Anna Wetterqvist, a spokesperson for Sweden’s Public Health Agency, told the AP in an email. In July, the health agency published a notice describing clinical criteria that can be used to determine when COVID-19 patients should be considered free of infection, which was misinterpreted on social media. “The PCR technology used in tests to detect viruses cannot distinguish between viruses capable of infecting cells and viruses that have been neutralized by the immune system and therefore these tests cannot be used to determine whether someone is contagious or not,” reads a translation of the agency’s website. The health agency’s website notes, however, that PCR tests are used to identify whether someone is infected with COVID-19. Wetterqvist noted that about 350,000 PCR tests were carried out weekly in April and May. Sweden has carried out over 9.7 million PCR tests, she added. “The tests are considered secure given that testing is performed according to regulations for quality assessment as stated by the Health and Medical Services Act,” Wetterqvist said.
— Associated Press writer Arijeta Lajka in New York contributed this report.
Video shows protesters at Toronto vaccine site
CLAIM: Video shows parents in Toronto being blocked by police as children were given the COVID-19 vaccine in exchange for ice cream, without parental permission.
THE FACTS: Posts online are falsely claiming that a video showing protesters outside a vaccine pop-up clinic at Toronto City Hall were in fact parents trying to stop health professionals and police from vaccinating their children. The city of Toronto and the University Health Network held a pop-up vaccination event on May 23 at City Hall, where 2,500 doses of vaccine were administered, along with free ice cream, to those 12 years of age and older, according to the University Health Network. Canada became the first country to approve the Pfizer vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds on May 5, a decision that was criticized by anti-vaccine advocates. In videos online, protesters can be seen at Nathan Phillips Square outside City Hall speaking out against vaccinating children at the clinic. “This is our children and we will not back down,” one woman could be heard yelling in the video at police. Posts online shared the video to falsely claim it showed children being vaccinated against their parents’ wishes. “A pop up vaccine clinic in Canada that is offering kids free ice cream in exchange for a vaccine, no parental permission required. Police are guarding the front to stop parents from intervening,” one tweet said. Another post claimed that the video showed parents being barred from a school campus where children were being vaccinated without parental consent. Gillian Howard, a spokesperson for the University Health Network, said clinic staff did not see children being vaccinated without a family member present. “Anyone receiving vaccination would have been taken through the consent process by clinical staff and if there was any indication that someone – whatever their age – didn’t understand the consent process, they would not be vaccinated,” she wrote in an email. Only a handful of demonstrators took part in the protest. Howard said that police were present due to threats to the clinic. Under Ontario’s Health Care Consent Act, there is no minimum age to provide consent for vaccination, according to Toronto Public Health spokesperson Dr. Vinita Dubey. Rather, it is up to the healthcare providers to ensure that they obtain informed consent prior to immunization. “This means the healthcare provider administering the vaccine has to deem the youth capable of understanding their decision,” Dubey said. “If the individual is incapable of consenting to receiving the vaccine, they would need consent from their substitute decision-maker, such as their parent or legal guardian.”
— Beatrice Dupuy
NY Post 1987 cover with Fauci is fake
CLAIM: The front page of a New York Post newspaper shows an image of Dr. Anthony Fauci under the headline, “THE MAN WHO GAVE US AIDS.”
THE FACTS: The supposed cover is fake. The image of the newspaper’s front page was manipulated to show a photo of Fauci under the headline, “Triggered ‘gay cancer’ epidemic in the U.S. THE MAN WHO GAVE US AIDS,” to give the false impression that a 1987 article was about him. The Post did run that headline on Oct. 6, 1987, but the actual story was about a different individual and did not mention Fauci -- nor did it include his photo. Kenneth Moy, head librarian at the Post, shared with The Associated Press a scanned copy of the authentic front page and accompanying article that showed the real story focused on so-called “Patient Zero,” a gay man who was accused of bringing HIV to the United States. Scientists now say that assumption was wrong, and that HIV appeared in the U.S. at an earlier date. During the AIDS epidemic, Fauci was appointed director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. At the height of the crisis, Fauci and other government officials were criticized by AIDS activists for how they handled developing and administering treatments for the disease.
— Associated Press writer Terrence Fraser in New York contributed this report.
Chelsea Clinton didn’t tweet about Bill Gates’ ‘behavior’
CLAIM: Chelsea Clinton tweeted about Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, asking, “What kind of man pursues a physical relationship with an underling and has relations with her in their office?”
THE FACTS: On May 24, just over a week after news broke that Microsoft Corp. had investigated Gates over a romantic relationship with a female Microsoft employee, social media users were sharing a fake tweet about the situation designed to look like it came from former President Bill Clinton’s daughter Chelsea Clinton. “The more I hear about Bill Gates behavior the more ashamed for him I feel,” the fake tweet read. “What kind of man pursues a physical relationship with an underling and has relations with her in their office??? Time to close the window on him. I always liked Mac better anyway.” Facebook and Twitter users shared the bogus tweet as real, suggesting the younger Clinton’s words were ironic in light of the extramarital affair her father had with a White House intern while in office. But there is no evidence Chelsea Clinton ever tweeted this. A search of her Twitter feed shows she did not post any tweets on the date shown on the fake tweet, May 17. Clinton’s feed before and after that date also shows no evidence of any tweet resembling the image. An internet search finds no credible reports on the tweet, which likely would have garnered media attention had it been real. Chelsea Clinton’s spokesperson Sarah Horowitz confirmed to The Associated Press that the tweet is fake.
— Ali Swenson
Video of Ted Cruz supposedly swallowing a fly was edited
CLAIM: Video shows Texas Sen. Ted Cruz swallowing a fly during a Fox News interview.
THE FACTS: The video circulating on social media was manipulated and was first shared on Reddit last year as a joke with the title “Ted Cruz Eats Spider.” On June 27, 2019, Cruz, the Republican senator, appeared on the Fox News show “Hannity,” but there was no crawling critter in the original clip. In the original video, Cruz’s voice cracks and Hannity tells him, “Take a sip of water. By the way, that’s your Marco Rubio moment, just in case you didn’t know.” A clip of Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida sipping from a water bottle during a speech was widely shared in 2013. In the edited video of Cruz, which has no audio, some kind of crawling pest has been added. Social media users compared the edited video to the time a fly landed on Vice President Mike Pence’s head during a debate with then-vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris last October. “Remember that fly on Pence’s head? Well Ted Cruz ate it last night,” wrote an Instagram user who shared the manipulated video. Twitter users shared the manipulated video with the hashtag #ToadCruz.
— Arijeta Lajka
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