Social Media Fact Check: September 25, 2021

The Supreme Court building seen June 8 in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration building, seen beyond its logo on Aug. 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

Public commenter, not FDA, falsely claimed COVID vaccines kill many

CLAIM: Experts with the Food and Drug Administration revealed that the COVID-19 vaccines are killing at least two people for every person they save.


THE FACTS: FDA experts did not say this, and strongly refuted this false claim in an email to The Associated Press. A speaker who is not affiliated with the FDA made these statements during the open public hearing portion of a Sept. 17 FDA vaccine advisory panel meeting.

The 15-member panel of outside experts held an eight-hour streamed meeting to make recommendations on the use of booster doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. In the days after the meeting, social media users and bloggers began misattributing several statements from the livestream to FDA panelists, when they were actually made by independent speakers during a public comment period.

“FDA Panel Member Says COVID Vaccines are Killing More Than They’re Saving During Youtube Livestream,” read a headline on a blog post shared widely in conservative Facebook groups.

However, this unsubstantiated claim actually came from Steve Kirsch, an independent speaker unaffiliated with the FDA, a YouTube video of the meeting shows. Abby Capobianco, an FDA press officer, confirmed that none of the comments in the open public hearing session came from FDA employees or advisory committee members. She said the FDA does not screen remarks by speakers for the open public hearing portion of the meeting.

To support his argument, Kirsch referenced data from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, a CDC- and FDA-run database of unverified reports of adverse events that occur after receiving a vaccine. But the VAERS system does not determine whether a vaccine caused the events that are reported. The FDA requires health care providers to report any death after COVID-19 vaccination to VAERS, “even if it’s unclear whether the vaccine was the cause,” Capobianco said.

More than 380 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in the U.S., and reports of death after vaccination are rare, according to the FDA. Meanwhile, research shows COVID-19 vaccines are safe and extremely effective at preventing severe COVID-19 disease and death. The vaccines also have continued to provide strong protection against the highly contagious delta variant.

Kirsch did not respond to a message requesting comment. Another post that was widely shared online falsely claimed the FDA advisory panel had said the “unvaccinated are more educated on the vaccine than most people who have gotten it,” and that experts cannot disprove concerns made by anti-vaccine advocates.

But the vaccine advisory committee did not make those statements, either. Similar comments were made by Dr. Joseph B. Fraiman, an emergency medicine physician in New Orleans, during the open public hearing portion of the meeting. Fraiman confirmed to the AP that he is not affiliated with the FDA or the vaccine advisory committee and said some of his wording was changed and taken out of context in the online posts. In his comments to the committee, he was urging the FDA to pursue larger booster vaccine trials that he argued could help counter vaccine hesitancy.

Several days after the Sept. 17 meeting, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky decided Thursday that people 65 and older, nursing home residents and those ages 50 and up who have chronic health problems should be offered a COVID-19 vaccine booster once they’re six months past their last Pfizer dose,

Voters did not register to vote in North Dakota using identical details

CLAIM: When registering to vote in North Dakota, 23,000 people used the same phone number.

THE FACTS: An erroneous tweet circulating on Twitter claims that 23,000 people used the same phone number to register to vote in North Dakota. The tweet originally claimed that the voter registration occurred in North Carolina but was updated in the replies to say North Dakota. “Since North Dakota does not have voter registration, that would be false,” Secretary of State Al Jaeger told The Associated Press. In a separate tweet, the same user claimed that 23,000 people used the same phone number and the address of a prison when voting in North Dakota. Jaeger said that would be impossible, too. “And, If they tried using the same address when voting, our systems would have quickly identified the duplicate addresses and that it was a prison,” Jaeger said. “By our law, a citizen that is incarcerated cannot vote.” Voters in North Dakota are asked to show an acceptable form of identification such as a driver’s license as proof of address and then the election officials search for their name on a precinct voting list. If a voter’s name is not on the list, the election board will attempt to verify the voter’s name and address. The state has numerous small precincts which allow electoral board officials to quickly verify who is voting in their precinct, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. Donnell Preskey, executive director of The North Dakota County Auditors Association, said voters can bring in supplemental information to prove their address like a utility bill or bank statement when voting. “The county employees go into their system to verify that the person lives in their county,” she said. “If it doesn’t match up, they contact the voter.”

— Associated Press writer Beatrice Dupuy in New York contributed this report.

Supreme Court hasn’t ruled on COVID-19 vaccines or ‘universal vaccination’

CLAIM: After a legal challenge from Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and a group of scientists, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled COVID-19 vaccines are unsafe and “canceled universal vaccination.”

THE FACTS: The Supreme Court has not issued any rulings regarding the safety of coronavirus vaccines and Kennedy, a lawyer who has advocated against vaccines, called articles sharing the claim “misinformation.” Dozens of posts making the false claim link to blogs that regularly publish hoaxes and misinformation. The claim has been circulating for months and recently reemerged as new vaccine requirements issued by the federal government take effect. The articles and posts include a supposed quote from Kennedy. But Kennedy told The Associated Press that the articles are false, as is the quote. “The quote is fabricated,” Kennedy said. “Clearly somebody made it up and is promoting it because the same quote keeps coming back no matter how many times I deny it.” Furthermore, there is no legal case that matches the one described in the articles. “The U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled in a case involving a challenge to a Covid-19 vaccination requirement,” Joanne Rosen, a senior lecturer at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, wrote in an email to AP. Rosen has studied the legislative precedent for vaccine mandates. While ​​Kennedy said he has been a part of more than 30 lawsuits on the subject of vaccine safety, those are at different stages of the judicial process and none have appeared before the Supreme Court.

— Associated Press writer Sophia Tulp in Atlanta contributed this report.


Medical journal did not suggest vaccines are unsafe in pregnancy

CLAIM: The New England Journal of Medicine posted a correction earlier this month that backtracked on its earlier statements. The journal now admits the COVID-19 vaccine may not be safe for pregnant women.

THE FACTS: The medical journal did not “backtrack” or suggest that COVID-19 vaccines could be unsafe for pregnant women, as vaccine critics have falsely claimed on social media. Posts online misrepresent the journal’s Sept. 8 correction, which addressed an update in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, while still arriving at the same conclusion: that the vaccines were not found to be harmful to pregnant people. The CDC updated an original report on vaccines in pregnant people “to address an issue about how the risk calculation was performed,” according to Jennifer Zeis, director of communications and media relations for NEJM Group. The initial CDC report, published online in April and in print in June, included only a small portion of people who had been vaccinated early in pregnancy. An accompanying editorial based on that incomplete information included an estimated risk for miscarriage before 20 weeks of pregnancy and said the risk was within the expected range for the pregnant population as a whole. NEJM’s correction deleted that wording, along with the risk estimate. The same day, the journal published a CDC research letter that included additional data and estimated that the risk for miscarriage among individuals vaccinated early in their pregnancies ranged from 14% to 19%, which the authors said was “within the expected risk range” for pregnant people generally. March of Dimes statistics indicate that 10% to 15% of people who know they are pregnant miscarry, but the nonprofit says as many as half of pregnancies may end in miscarriage. The exact number isn’t known, because some people lose their pregnancies before they realize they are pregnant. The CDC data on which the NEJM’s conclusions were based included people who didn’t realize they were pregnant until after they were vaccinated. The CDC on Aug. 11 urged all pregnant people to get vaccinated for COVID-19 to protect themselves and their children. Leading obstetrician groups also have recommended the vaccines for pregnant individuals, who face an elevated risk of severe illness if infected with the coronavirus.

– Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in Los Angeles contributed this report, with additional reporting by Associated Press writer Lindsey Tanner in Three Oaks, Michigan.



There was no interruption in England’s vaccine rollout for kids ages 12 to 15

CLAIM: The COVID-19 vaccine rollout for children between the ages of 12 and 15 in England is being suspended due to an error with the paperwork.

THE FACTS: The U.K.’s public health agency, Public Health England, confirmed that a vaccine rollout for children ages 12 to 15 was not suspended nor delayed, contrary to false claims on social media. Earlier this month, the chief medical officers of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland recommended that children in that age group be given a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine, the AP reported. On Monday, England’s National Health Service announced that the rollout began, and will be carried out in hundreds of schools this week. A false tweet linked to a video claims the “Child jab rollout” is “in disarray” and multiple schools canceled because of paperwork issues. “Basically, jab rollouts across schools in England are being suspended because Public Health England haven’t sent out the correct paperwork, something called the Patient Group Direction,” says a man in the video, falsely portraying the situation. A representative for Public Health England confirmed to The Associated Press in an email Tuesday that vaccinations were not halted for those 12 to 15 years old and there will be no delay or suspension. The agency said that the Patient Group Direction, which is the legal framework, was in place for the jabs.

— Associated Press writer Arijeta Lajka in New York contributed this report.



Video clip was manipulated to add anti-Biden chant

CLAIM: A video clip shows a speech in Virginia by President Joe Biden being interrupted by chants of “F—- Joe Biden.”

THE FACTS: The original video, from July, does not include those chants; the clip was altered to add that audio. The video captures remarks by Biden at a campaign event for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe. When Biden spoke, he was interrupted by hecklers speaking out against a pipeline project. A White House transcript shows that some audience members were yelling, “Stop line three!” — a reference to a pipeline replacement project in Minnesota opposed by environmental groups and some Ojibwe tribes. Others in the crowd responded with yelling and chants supportive of Biden, as the president said: “That’s alright — no, no, no, no, let him talk.” That clip is now circulating on social media with different audio, falsely suggesting Biden’s speech was interrupted by chants of “F—- Joe Biden.” Some posts sharing the clip note that the chants were added and not part of the original video. But others do not. In an Instagram post liked more than 6,000 times, the manipulated clip was used at the start of a video montage showing people shouting the same phrase elsewhere, primarily at sporting events. “F Joe Biden in Virginia Speech,” reads text that appears on top of the clip in the video.

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