A look at false and misleading claims circulating as the United States moves closer to approving a COVID-19 vaccine and distribution is underway in the United Kingdom. None of these are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the facts:
ClaimThe antiparasitic drug ivermectin “has a miraculous effectiveness that obliterates” the transmission of COVID-19 and will prevent people from getting sick.
The factsDuring a Senate hearing Tuesday, a group of doctors touted alternative COVID-19 treatments, including ivermectin and the anti-malaria medication hydroxychloroquine. Medical experts have cautioned against using either of those drugs to treat COVID-19. Studies have shown that hydroxychloroquine has no benefit against the coronavirus and can have serious side effects. There is no evidence ivermectin has been proven a safe or effective treatment against COVID-19. Yet Dr. Pierre Kory, a pulmonary and critical care specialist at Aurora St Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee, described ivermectin as a “wonder drug” with immensely powerful antiviral and anti-inflammatory agents at the hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Clips of Kory’s comments about ivermectin during the hearing were shared widely on social media with one clip receiving more than 1 million views on YouTube.
Ivermectin is approved in the U.S. in tablet form to treat parasitic worms as well as a topical solution to treat external parasites. The drug is also available for animals. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health have said that the drug is not approved for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19. According to the FDA, side effects for the drug include skin rash, nausea and vomiting.
Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins University, said most of the research around ivermectin at the moment is made up of anecdotes and studies that are not the gold standard in terms of how to use ivermectin.
“We need to get much more data before we can say this is a definitive treatment,” he said. “We would like to see more data before I recommend it to my patients.”
Kory told the AP that he stands by the comments he made at the hearing, saying that he was not trying to promote the drug but the data around it.
In June, Australian researchers published the findings of a study that found ivermectin inhibited the replication of SARS-CoV-2 in a laboratory setting, which is not the same as testing the drug on humans or animals. After the study, the FDA released a letter out of concern warning consumers not to self-medicate with ivermectin products intended for animals.
“It is a far cry from an in vitro lab replication to helping humans,” said Dr. Nasia Safdar, medical director of infection prevention at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Hospital.
ClaimThe first two recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine in Britain are “crisis actors.” The image of the first person who was vaccinated on Dec. 8 was published in October, long before the vaccine was approved. The same nurse was photographed administering the vaccine to two people, in two locations 20 miles apart.
The factsAfter Margaret Keenan, 90, and William Shakespeare, 81, became the first two people to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech shot outside a clinical trial, multiple false posts surfaced on social media suggesting that they were hired actors. Britain was the first country in the world to deliver the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to the general public. At University Hospital Coventry on Dec. 8, nurse May Parsons first administered the vaccine to Keenan, and then to Shakespeare.
One Twitter post falsely claimed that an image of Keenan being vaccinated first appeared on CNN in October: “Excuse me, but how is the exact same person who’s the ‘first to get vaccinated’ today ... also in a CNN photo wearing the exact same clothes, in the exact same chair, and getting a shot back in October? Which one of these lying stories did you want us to pretend is true?” the post had over 6,000 retweets. The post compares two screenshots. One shows a BBC story dated Dec. 8 featuring an image of Keenan receiving the vaccine. The second screenshot shows an Oct. 22 CNN article about COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. The CNN article includes an image from a video that shows Keenan receiving her shot. But that is because when viewing some articles on CNN.com, a video player automatically plays the latest news reports related to the topic. CNN readers who navigated to the October article this week were shown the recent video from the Dec. 8 vaccination on the same page.
Another post falsely claims that the nurse shown vaccinating Keenan and Shakespeare is not a real nurse because she was photographed in two different hospitals. “Busy nurse today working in Coventry and Stratford Upon Avon at the same time,” read the post, which featured photos of Keenan and Shakespeare being vaccinated by the same woman. “Crisis actors. I’m really hoping people start to wake up because we are headed into a fight for our lives ...” wrote one Facebook user who shared the post. In reality, Parsons vaccinated both Keenan and Shakespeare at University Hospital Coventry. It appears social media users misconstrued news reports noting that the hospital is 20 miles away from Stratford-Upon-Avon, the birthplace of dramatist and poet William Shakespeare.
Claim Scientists have not isolated the COVID-19 virus, so a vaccine is not possible.
The factsThe virus was first isolated by Chinese authorities on Jan. 7, according to the World Health Organization. A virus is isolated when a specimen is collected from an infected patient to be grown and studied. Virus isolation is critical for diagnosis of diseases and in the development of vaccines.
After news that test results showed COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna to be more than 90% effective, Facebook and Instagram users began sharing a post suggesting that the COVID-19 virus was never isolated, making it impossible to create a vaccine. The posts say, “if no one has isolated the virus then what’s in the vaccine??” over a photo that appears to show a doctor holding a vial of the COVID-19 vaccine. According to WHO officials, its office in China was first informed about the virus in December of 2019. The virus was then isolated on Jan. 7 by Chinese authorities. China later shared the genetic sequence of the virus on Jan. 11. The genetic sequence has allowed for diagnostic and vaccine development, said Glenn Randall, a professor in the department of microbiology at the University of Chicago. “The CDC isolated the virus from the first known infected U.S. patient Jan. 20,” Randall said in an email. “It then was grown and distributed to qualified research laboratories.”