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Video contains a litany of false claims about COVID-19 and vaccines

December 10, 2020 GMT

A recently released 27-minute video is spreading false information about COVID-19, including that the pandemic is a “hoax” that was “orchestrated to make you fearful enough to take the vaccine.” It also contains inaccurate information about how vaccines were developed and the risks they present. The video, “Ask the Experts (Covid-19 Vaccine) - Now Banned on YouTube and Facebook,” had more than 90,000 views as of Wednesday on BrandNewTube.com. A Facebook post that also provides a link to download the video has been shared more than 41,000 times.

The video features brief testimonials from a group of more than 30 speakers who are identified as doctors, scientists, journalists, alternative health practitioners, pharmacists and advocates from the United States, Belgium, England, Germany, Holland, Ireland, Norway, Spain and Sweden.

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Some of the speakers in the video are affiliated with the World Doctors Alliance, a group that was involved in a video that spread COVID-19 misinformation in October.

The video is being shared as the United Kingdom begins administering the COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech. In the United States, the Pfizer vaccine is expected to receive endorsement by a panel of Food and Drug Administration advisers as early as this week. Doses for 50 million Americans are expected in the coming months. An evaluation by U.S. regulators found the vaccine is more than 90% effective for patients of varying age groups, races and underlying conditions, and appears to be safe.

Here is a breakdown of several false and misleading claims that are shared in this video:

CLAIM: There is not a coronavirus pandemic.

THE FACTS: Since the start of the pandemic, there have been false, persistent claims that it is a hoax. On March 11, World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was taking the step of declaring a pandemic due to the “alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction.” At the time, there were 118,000 cases of the virus in 114 countries and 4,291 people had died. Cases of the virus worldwide have now reached more than 15 million, with more than 1.5 million deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. COVID-19 fits the definition of “pandemic” as defined by the medical reference book, A Dictionary of Epidemiology: “An epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people.”

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CLAIM: There has not been a virus that has been “purified” or shown to be the cause of an illness, thus, there is no target for a vaccine.

THE FACTS: The false claim that the virus has not yet been isolated spread on social media before this video’s release. In fact, the virus was isolated by Chinese authorities on Jan. 7, according to the World Health Organization. Days later, Chinese officials released the genetic sequence of the virus, making it possible to begin developing diagnostic kits and a vaccine. At the time of the virus’s isolation, lab tests were performed on patients with suspected cases. WHO said they were able to rule out that the patients had any other respiratory pathogens such as influenza, avian influenza, adenovirus, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus.

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CLAIM: Since no additional deaths have occurred in relation to a new disease there is simply no need for a new vaccine.

THE FACTS: It is not true that no additional deaths have occurred. There have been more than 1.5 million deaths worldwide and more than 287,000 deaths in the United States that are associated with COVID-19, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate up to 368,433 more U.S. deaths have occurred since Feb. 1 than would be expected in a normal year.

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CLAIM: One reason to be skeptical of the vaccine is that previous coronavirus vaccine attempts had adverse side effects for animals. The pharmaceutical industry was allowed to skip animal trials.

THE FACTS: Some social media users have previously raised the false claim that animal trials were skipped in the testing of mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines because of the adverse effects on animals. In fact, animal trials were conducted in the development of the mRNA vaccines developed separately by Moderna and Pfizer. They were done simultaneously with human trials. In the past, researchers working with RNA had found that inflammation took place in animals when RNA was injected into them. However, researchers now know that they can modify a building block of RNA so that it can move in the body undetected by inflammation triggers. Furthermore, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines rely on messenger RNA or mRNA, which does not cause dangerous inflammation in animals. The AstraZeneca vaccine, which is not an mRNA vaccine, was also tested on animals.

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CLAIM: COVID-19 is comparable to the seasonal flu.

THE FACTS: Since the outset of the pandemic, some have tried to falsely equate COVID-19 to the flu. While the two viruses can have similar symptoms, the coronavirus is more contagious and has an increased rate of severe disease and death, according to Johns Hopkins University.

“Since December 2019, COVID-19 has killed more people in the U.S. than influenza has in the last five years,” Andrew Pekosz, a leading virologist at the university said in a blog post.

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CLAIM: COVID-19 vaccines can change your DNA.

THE FACTS: In recent months, false claims have circulated on social media that the vaccine will alter DNA and create genetically modified humans. That is not the case. The vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna rely on messenger mRNA, which tells the body how to make the spike protein that then trains the immune system to identify and attack the real virus. This cannot change your genetic makeup,” Dr. Dan Culver, a pulmonologist at Cleveland Clinic, told the AP. “The time that this RNA survives in the cells is relatively brief in the span of hours. What you are really doing is sticking a recipe card into the cell making protein for a few hours.”

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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