Here’s a look at false and misleading claims circulating as the United States rolled out the newly authorized Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to some health care workers and others. None of these are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the facts:
Alabama nurse did not die as a result of receiving COVID-19 vaccine
CLAIM: A 42-year-old nurse in Alabama died after she received the COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday.
THE FACTS: No health care workers died after Alabama began administering COVID-19 vaccines to them on Tuesday. Yet posts online began falsely claiming that a nurse had died after receiving the vaccine. The posts circulated on Facebook and Twitter, with some users suggesting it was their aunt who had died or they had received the information from a close friend. Social media users shared screenshots of text messages that said, “omg just found out my aunt dead,” and also said that the woman’s family did not want her name revealed. Some online posts suggested a nurse who died of COVID-19 had instead died after receiving the vaccine. The posts were shared by accounts that had previously shared anti-vaccine misinformation. “And so it starts… A 42 y/o nurse in Alabama found dead 8-10 hours after the va((ine,” one post on Facebook said. After being contacted by the AP, Alabama Department of Public Health officials checked with the hospitals that administered the COVID-19 vaccine to confirm that the information being shared online was false. The department released a statement on social media to combat the misinformation. “The posts are untrue,” the department said. “No persons who received a COVID-19 vaccine in Alabama have died.” The posts online claimed that the nurse had died from a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. Those with a history of allergic reactions are being told to not get the vaccine after two health care workers in England suffered reactions. Those two people have since recovered. Pfizer, whose vaccine was granted emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Dec. 11, has reported no serious adverse effects from its clinical trials. The AP reported Tuesday that Alabama received nearly 41,000 doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine in its initial round of shipments, which were delivered to 15 hospitals that could store that vaccine at the necessary temperature. More than 4,254 people have died from the virus in the state, and more than 305,640 have tested positive for COVID-19, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins.
BBC footage shows COVID-19 vaccination with retractable needle
CLAIM: Video shows health care worker faking giving the COVID-19 vaccine in England with a “disappearing needle.”
THE FACTS: The video does not show a staged shot. As video footage of COVID-19 vaccinations floods news channels and social platforms, some social media users are misrepresenting those videos to create a false narrative that health care workers are not actually being inoculated. The posts are being shared by people who oppose vaccines in order to spread doubt about the vaccine and the pandemic. Social media users are amplifying these false claims by sharing a nine-second BBC clip from Wednesday that shows a health care worker administering a vaccine into the arm of a patient. The needle retracts after the vaccine is injected. One Twitter video that falsely suggests the medical worker is faking the inoculation has been viewed more than 420,000 times. ’“Disappearing needles!! There soo desperate, come on!!” one tweet said. Another said, “So far I have yet to see a real vaccine given to a patient. All fakes. May I present to you, the disappearing needle…Remember those collapsible toy knives we used to play with as kids?” In reality, the videos show a health care worker using a safety syringe, which is retractable to prevent needlestick injuries that can spread diseases like hepatitis. Safety syringes have no impact on the amount of vaccine someone gets and are no different from receiving the vaccine through a traditional needle, said Dr. Craig Spencer, director of Global Health in Emergency Medicine at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. Spencer received the COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday. “What you saw in those videos are retractable needles,” he said. BBC debunked the claims earlier Thursday. A BBC spokesperson told the AP that the footage was genuine and showed a health care worker using a safety syringe. “Most importantly, people need to be learning about vaccinations from trusted health sources like the CDC, not your aunt’s Facebook page or a viral tweet,” Spencer said.
Video of vaccination in Toronto does not show ‘fake’ needle
CLAIM: Video shows COVID-19 vaccination in Toronto involved a “fake” needle.
THE FACTS: Social media users shared a video of a health care worker in Toronto receiving a real shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, with false claims that the needle was “fake” because fluid leaked out while she was being injected. On Dec. 14, Tamara Dus, director of health services at University Health Network, administered Canada’s first vaccinations at the Michener Institute of Education in Toronto. Canadian news networks posted a video that shows Dus giving the vaccine to Cecile Lasco, a personal support worker at the Rekai Centres, a long-term care home. In the video, while Lasco is being injected with the vaccine, liquid drips on her arm. Social media users then posted the clip with false claims. “Isn’t that the fakest looking needle you’ve ever seen? Why is there so much fluid leaking from the needle? Why isn’t the skin irritated or red at the injection site?” an Instagram user who shared the clip wrote. The post had over 45,000 views. “This was on CTV this morning. THAT IS THE FAKEST LOOKING NEEDLE INJECTION I’VE EVER SEEN!! First of all… fluid should not be leaking from the needle!! Second of all.. look at when she takes it out. Skin is intact, not red or irritated. Is this a joke,” wrote another Instagram user who shared the video. Gillian Howard, a spokeswoman at University Health Network, told The Associated Press, “It is not uncommon after receiving a vaccine, that some of the vaccine will come back through the puncture made by the needle.” Howard added, “We have also looked at the syringes to ensure that there is a tight lock of the needle to the syringe.” Sarah Kirchofer, nurse practitioner and interim director of occupational health at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, reviewed the video and told the AP in a call that this type of leakage can happen when the syringe isn’t sufficiently tightened to the needle. “It’s something that we see a lot,” Kirchofer said. “It’s definitely not an indication that there was a fake needle.” Kirchofer also administered Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine this week. “In my experience so far in our vaccine clinic, things have gone extremely well,” she said. Howard said that UHN has been in touch with Pfizer and Lasco, the health worker who received the shot, about the incident. “Because this was aired live and people are not aware that this sometimes happens with vaccination, we appreciate the interest,” she said. “However, the idea that this is fake is without merit and irresponsible in the extreme.”
CLAIM: A video clip shows that a nurse on a German television show faked giving the COVID-19 vaccine without a needle.
THE FACTS: Posts are falsely claiming a video shared online shows a nurse who suspiciously “forgot the needle” when administering the vaccine in Germany. In fact, COVID-19 vaccines have yet to be approved in Germany, and the video shows a vaccination rehearsal – not a faked injection. The clip, which is being shared on Twitter by a QAnon conspiracy and pro-Trump account, has been viewed more than 80,000 times. Some users are falsely claiming the video is evidence that the vaccine and pandemic are part of an elaborate hoax. In the video, a health care worker wearing a yellow hazmat suit and white gloves practices administering an injection to a patient’s arm, and then applies gauze while another worker in blue gloves puts on a bandage. “Well, the television team of the ‘Current Camera’ stupidly forgot the needle for the propaganda video,” the caption being shared with the video said. The 8-second video was taken from a segment that originally aired on WELT, a German TV news channel, about the security of vaccination centers in Germany against vaccine opposition groups. AP reached out to WELT, and the news outlet confirmed that the footage shows a logistical test run before vaccinations are administered in Darmstadt, which is near the German city of Frankfurt. The event took place on Dec. 5 to prepare for vaccination centers opening in the city, according to a city news release. City officials said that they wanted the rehearsal to look as realistic as possible. The European Medicines Agency has yet to approve the vaccine for Europe. The group is now set to discuss the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 21 after German officials demanded that the agency move up the date.
COVID-19 vaccine does not contain live virus
CLAIM: The vaccine contains the virus. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said this.
THE FACTS: A clip of Johnson mistaking the word “virus” for “vaccine” is being misrepresented online to falsely claim that the vaccine contains the live virus. During a press conference on Dec. 2, Johnson announced that the British government had accepted the vaccine created by Pfizer and BioNTech for distribution. As he was discussing the logistical challenges of distributing the vaccine, including the temperature required to store the vaccine, Johnson misspoke. “The virus has got to be stored at -70 degrees,” he said while talking about the vaccine. Posts online sharing the clip claimed that Johnson “slipped up and told the truth” that the government wanted to inject its citizens with the virus and encouraged British citizens to reject the vaccine. “It’s time to wakey wakey people! The vaxxine is the virus! Boris Johnson tells you straight up! When are you going to believe your eyes & ears? Retweet!!!!!” said one tweet that included the video of Johnson’s gaffe. All the vaccines that were developed in the U.S. do not contain the live virus and will not cause anyone to test positive for the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The vaccines work by helping the immune system identify the virus in order to fight it. The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine as well as the Moderna vaccine rely on messenger RNA, or mRNA. Each vaccine works by using mRNA to carry a genetic code that works as an instruction card to tell the body to make the “spike protein” that is in the coronavirus. Once the protein is made in the body, the cells get rid of the instructions and the immune system builds an immune response to it. The vaccines do not use the live virus. The Pfizer vaccine began rolling out in the U.S. on Monday, starting with health care workers.
Report spreads debunked claims about Dominion machines in Michigan county
CLAIM: A report released this week in Michigan shows Dominion Voting Systems machines in Antrim County, Michigan, were “intentionally designed with inherent errors to create systemic fraud and influence election results.”
THE FACTS: There is no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election. There’s also no evidence the election technology firm Dominion Voting Systems switched or deleted votes, used algorithms to unevenly weigh vote tallies, colluded with Democrats, or used foreign servers – despite repeated efforts by the president and his supporters to claim it did. Even so, a deluge of false claims around Dominion is circling back to Antrim County, Michigan, this week after starting there on election night, when confusion around a clerk’s error drove social media users to falsely blame the election management system used to tabulate the data. The renewed attention to Dominion and Antrim County this week stems from a report released on Monday as part of a lawsuit seeking to challenge the county’s election results. The 23-page report – signed by a former Republican congressional candidate with a history of spreading misinformation about Michigan’s election – claims Dominion “is intentionally and purposefully designed with inherent errors to create systemic fraud and influence election results.” The report claims the results of the election in Antrim County should not be certifiable because a forensic analysis of voting machines found a “machine error built into the voting software designed to create error.” However, a hand tally of all presidential election votes in Antrim County completed on Thursday matched the results found by voting machines, showing that the machines did not err there. A joint statement released Monday by the Michigan Department of State and the Michigan attorney general’s office strongly disputed the report, saying its analysis is “critically flawed, filled with dramatic conclusions without any evidence to support them.” Antrim County officials concurred in a Tuesday press release, saying, “An analysis which should have been data and fact based is instead riddled with false and unsupported claims, baseless attacks, and incorrect use of technical terms.” Officials have thoroughly explained the human mistake that caused the small, Republican-leaning county to temporarily report unofficial results that reflected a landslide win for Joe Biden. “It was prompted by the clerk not updating media drives in some of the machines in Antrim County, an accidental human error,” the Michigan Department of State said in a release. “Reporting errors are common, and always caught and corrected in the county canvass, if not before, as was the case in Antrim County.” County Clerk Sheryl Guy told the AP, “There was no malice, no fraud here, just human error.” The mistake was corrected. Several social media users, including Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and the president himself, have cited the report’s mention of the county having a “68% error rate,” which it claims is based on a review of tabulation logs from three days after Election Day. The report’s authors didn’t explain all the errors they saw, or what they mean by “error rate.” County officials told the AP they didn’t understand the number, since they have not had a chance to look through the data. The report released Monday also included a slew of other debunked claims about Dominion, which Dominion CEO John Poulos addressed at length on Tuesday in prepared statements to a Republican-led Michigan Senate committee investigating the election. ″The disinformation campaign being waged against Dominion defies facts or logic,” Poulos said. “To date, no one has produced credible evidence of vote fraud or vote switching on Dominion systems because these things simply have not occurred.”
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