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Video spreads false information about COVID-19 vaccines

March 12, 2021 GMT

A video making the rounds on social media is sharing false information about how the COVID-19 vaccines were made and questions their safety and efficacy. The misleading video, which is titled, “The Truth Behind The Vaccine Trials,” was made by an organization that claims to fight against media “propaganda” to give what they say is an unbiased narrative.

The 32-minute film features vaccine critic Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Dolores Cahill, a professor at the school of medicine at the University College Dublin, who has previously spread misinformation about the pandemic. In the video, Kennedy claims that there was no incentive to make a safe vaccine while Cahill falsely claims that most of the world is immune to the virus that has killed more than half a million Americans. 

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The video, uploaded to video platforms like Rumble and shared on Facebook, attempts to sow doubt about the vaccines by questioning how quickly they were developed and their effectiveness. Research has shown that the COVID-19 vaccines approved for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration prevents severe illness from COVID-19. 

The video specifically targets the vaccines made with new mRNA technology. 

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CLAIM: Pfizer acknowledges on its own information call line that its COVID-19 vaccine has not been fully approved or licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration since clinical trials will not be completed until 2023.

THE FACTS: The FDA issued an emergency use authorization for the vaccine developed by  Pfizer-BioNTech who still await full vaccine licensure, which is expected to occur this year. In the video, a message from the Pfizer phone number plays, stating: “The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has not been approved or licensed by the U.S. FDA but has been authorized for emergency use to prevent COVID-19 in individuals 16 and over.” But the video lacks context about how emergency authorization works. The FDA can give emergency authorization for medical products to address a public health crisis, in this case the pandemic, as long as the benefits outweigh the risks. In order to receive an approval for emergency use, vaccine manufacturers are required to conduct clinical trials on tens of thousands of people, submitting follow-up data for review.

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CLAIM: The PCR diagnostic test is acknowledged by the medical science community to generate high rates of false positive results. This was later confirmed by the WHO when they announced the need for the reduction in cycles in PCR tests due to a large number of false positives. 

THE FACTS: The video is misrepresenting a WHO press release to make the false claim that the agency said that polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for COVID-19 caused large scale false positives. WHO first released an informational notice on Dec. 14 to clarify instructions for lab technicians on how to properly analyze PCR tests for COVID-19. WHO then updated the news release and published it on Jan. 20. The January release was then amplified online by accounts falsely claiming it was evidence of widespread false positives in PCR tests. But WHO did not make any admission nor did the health agency see a large scale number of false positives. WHO told The Associated Press that it has received 10 reports of problems related to PCR tests for the detection of SARS-CoV-2, which included both false positives and negatives. 

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CLAIM: As of Feb. 24, 929 deaths have been reported to the VAERS, Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. 

THE FACTS: Since Americans have been able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, anti-vaccine advocates have been misrepresenting VAERS data. The video uses the VAERS data to support its false claim that the vaccines were rushed and are not safe. The VAERS system is an unverified reporting system that does not determine if a vaccine caused the events that are reported.The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which runs the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, warn that “reports submitted to VAERS often lack details and sometimes contain errors.” VAERS was created in 1990 to allow anyone the chance to submit reports. The data is publicly available online. In recent months, social media users have been sharing screenshots of the data without any context to mislead social media users into believing that the vaccine is causing more adverse events than the public is being told.

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CLAIM: When someone who received an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine encounters the virus, it can lead to an autoimmune response in the body known as antibody dependent enhancement. 

THE FACTS: Some vaccines can, on rare occasions, cause more serious illnesses later, but scientists say that effect – known as antibody-dependent enhancement – has not been seen with COVID-19 vaccines. Such enhancement happened with older shots and more recently with a dengue virus vaccine. There is “abundant evidence” that immunization-enhanced disease “will not be a problem” with the COVID-19 shots, according to  Dr. Paul Offit, director of a vaccine education center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Furthermore, the studies shown in the video are not linked to COVID-19. 

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CLAIM: MRNA vaccines have never been tested on humans before. 

THE FACTS: While mRNA vaccines rely on a relatively new technology, experts have been working on mRNA vaccines for years and they have been tested on humans. MRNA technology has been tested on humans for cancer research and infectious diseases already in Phase 1 trials, said Dr. Carlos del Rio, an infectious diseases specialist at Emory University. “This technology has been researched for quite some time,” he said. “These vaccines are surprisingly incredibly safe.” The turnaround time for the COVID-19 vaccines has led some, like the speakers in the video, to question whether they were rushed. But mRNA vaccine technology had been researched for years before the COVID-19 pandemic, which is one of the reasons it was put into effect so rapidly for the COVID-19 vaccines, said Dr. Arnold Monto, a University of Michigan disease specialist.

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The Mirror Project responded to a request for comment saying it did not retract the claims in the video.

“We will stand by what is in the film, everything we mentioned is based on a study, and people have the right to see everything regarding the topic,” The Mirror Project said in an email. 

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. also stood behind all of his comments in the video. Cahill did not respond to requests for comment. 

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.


Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536