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Four Years After Shelter-in-Place, Covid-19 Misinformation Persists

Four Years After Shelter-in-Place, Covid-19 Misinformation Persists

Three vials of different covid-19 vaccines, from left to right: Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Pfizer-BioNTech. (Thomas Kienzle/AFP via Getty Images)

From spring break parties to Mardi Gras, many people remember the last major “normal” thing they did before the novel coronavirus pandemic dawned, forcing governments worldwide to issue stay-at-home advisories and shutdowns.

Even before the first case of covid-19 was detected in the U.S., fears and uncertainties helped spur misinformation鈥檚 rapid spread. In March 2020, schools closed, employers sent staff to work from home, and grocery stores called for physical distancing to keep people safe. But little halted the flow of misleading claims that sent fact-checkers and public health officials into overdrive.

Some people  covid’s symptoms were associated with 5G wireless technology. Faux cures and  populated social media and political discourse. Amid uncertainty about the virus鈥檚 origins, some people at all. PolitiFact named “downplay and denial” about the virus its .” 

Four years later, people鈥檚 lives are largely free of the extreme public health measures that restricted them early in the pandemic. But covid misinformation persists, although it鈥檚 now centered mostly on vaccines and vaccine-related conspiracy theories.

PolitiFact has published  related to covid vaccines alone.

“From a misinformation researcher perspective, [there has been] shifting levels of trust,” said Tara Kirk Sell, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for 国产精品视频 Security. “Early on in the pandemic, there was a lot of: 鈥楾his isn鈥檛 real,鈥 fake cures, and then later on, we see more vaccine-focused mis- and disinformation and a more partisan type of disinformation and misinformation.”

Here are some of the most persistent covid misinformation narratives we see today:

A Loss of Trust in the Vaccines

Covid vaccines were quickly developed, with U.S. patients receiving the first shots in December 2020, 11 months after the first domestic case was detected.

Experts credit the speedy development with helping to  and preventing hospitalizations. Researchers at the University of Southern California and Brown University calculated that  in 141 countries starting from the vaccines’ rollout through August 2021 alone. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows there were 1,164 U.S. deaths provisionally  the week of March 2, down from nearly 26,000 at the pandemic鈥檚 height in January 2021, as vaccines were just rolling out.

But on social media and in some public officials鈥 remarks, misinformation about covid vaccine efficacy and safety is common. U.S. presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has built his 2024 campaign on a movement that seeks to legitimize conspiracy theories about the vaccines. PolitiFact made that its .”

PolitiFact has seen claims that spike proteins from vaccines are  in vaccinated males. (罢丑补迟鈥檚&苍产蝉辫;蹿补濒蝉别.) We鈥檝e researched the assertion that vaccines can change your DNA. (That鈥檚 ). Social media posts poked fun at Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce for encouraging people to get vaccinated, asserting that the vaccine actually shuts off recipients鈥 hearts. () And some people pointed to an American Red Cross blood donation questionnaire as evidence that shots are unsafe. 

Experts say this misinformation has real-world effects.

A September 2023 survey by  “say they are very or somewhat confident” in covid vaccines. And those who distrust them are more likely to identify as politically conservative: Thirty-six percent of Republicans compared with 84% of Democrats say they are very or somewhat confident in the vaccine.

Immunization rates for routine vaccines for other conditions have also taken a hit. Measles had been eradicated for more than 20 years in the U.S. but there have been recent outbreaks in , . Florida鈥檚 surgeon general has  about vaccines and   from the CDC about how to contain potentially deadly disease spread.

The vaccination rate among kindergartners has declined from 95% in the 2019-20 school year to 93% in 2022-23, . Public health officials have set a 95% vaccination rate target to prevent and reduce the risk of disease outbreaks. The CDC also found exemptions had risen to 3%, the  in the U.S.

Unsubstantiated Claims That Vaccines Cause Deaths or Other Illness

PolitiFact has seen repeated and unsubstantiated claims that covid vaccines have caused mass numbers of deaths.

A recent widely shared post claimed  because of the vaccine, despite contrary evidence from multiple studies and institutions such as the World 国产精品视频 Organization and CDC that the vaccines are safe and help to prevent severe illness and death. 

Another online post claimed the booster vaccine had  and would kill 23% of the population. Vaccine manufacturers publish the ; they do not include HIV. People living with HIV were among the people given priority accessduring early vaccine rollout to protect them from severe illness.

Covid vaccines also have been blamed for  and . Experts have found no evidence the vaccines cause either conditions.

“鈥嬧媃ou had this remarkable scientific or medical accomplishment contrasted with this remarkable rejection of that technology by a significant portion of the American public,” said Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children鈥檚 Hospital of Philadelphia. 

More than three years after vaccines became available, about 70% of Americans have completed a primary series of covid vaccination, . About 17% have gotten the most recent .

 often pull from and misuse data from the . The database, run by the CDC and the FDA, allows anybody to report reactions after any vaccine. The reports themselves are unverified, but the database is designed to help researchers find patterns for further investigation.

An  published in November by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania found 63% of Americans think “it is safer to get the covid-19 vaccine than the covid-19 disease” 鈥 that was down from 75% in April 2021.

Celebrity Deaths Falsely Attributed to Vaccines

, , and  are just a few of the many celebrities whose deaths were falsely linked to the vaccine. The anti-vaccine film “” tried to give credence to false claims that the vaccine causes people to die shortly after receiving it.

C茅line Gounder, editor-at-large for public health at KFF 国产精品视频 News and an infectious disease specialist, said these claims proliferate because of two things: cognitive bias and more insidious motivated reasoning. 

“It’s like saying 鈥業 had an ice cream cone and then I died the next day; the ice cream must have killed me,” she said. And those with preexisting beliefs about the vaccine seek to attach sudden deaths to the vaccine.

Gounder experienced this personally when her husband, the celebrated sports journalist Grant Wahl, died while covering the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Wahl died of a ruptured aortic aneurysm but anti-vaccine accounts falsely linked his death to a covid vaccine, forcing Gounder to .

“It is very clear that this is about harming other people,” said Gounder, who was a guest at in 2023. “And in this case, trying to harm me and my family at a point where we were grieving my husband’s loss. What was important in that moment was to really stand up for my husband, his legacy, and to do what I know he would have wanted me to do, which is to speak the truth and to do so very publicly.”

Out-of-Control Claims About Government Control

False claims that the  by government leaders and those in power abound.

At any given moment, Microsoft Corp. co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates, World Economic Forum head Klaus Schwab, or Anthony Fauci, former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, are blamed for orchestrating pandemic-related threats.

In November, Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) falsely claimed Fauci “brought” the virus to his state a year before the pandemic. There is no evidence of that. Gates, according to the narratives, is using dangerous vaccines to push a depopulation agenda. . And Schwab has not said he has an “agenda” to establish a totalitarian global regime using the coronavirus to depopulate the Earth and reorganize society. That鈥檚 part of a  that鈥檚 come to be called “” that has been   .

The United Nations鈥 World 国产精品视频 Organization is frequently painted as a global force for evil, too, with detractors saying it is using vaccination to control or harm people. But the WHO has not declared that  is happening, as some have claimed. Its current pandemic preparedness treaty is in no way positioned to remove human rights protections or restrict freedoms, as . And the organization has not announced plans to deploy troops to corral people and . The WHO is, however, working on a new treaty to help countries improve coordination in response to future pandemics.