Disinformation

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No,  400,000 people haven’t died from Covid-19 vaccines

No,  400,000 people haven’t died from Covid-19 vaccines

Conspiracy theory websites and social media channels have leapt on a new piece of research that, they say, shows Covid-19 shots have killed more than 400,000 people in the U.S. Furthermore, they say adverse events reporting systems underestimate side effects by some...

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No, young athletes are not collapsing after vaccination

No, young athletes are not collapsing after vaccination

Videos of young athletes collapsing and even dying are spreading fast on social media. The falls, many users falsely suggest, are the result of sudden, serious heart problems brought on by Covid-19 jabs. Designed to scare, these claims are being used to undermine the...

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No, vaccines are not causing thousands of excess deaths 

No, vaccines are not causing thousands of excess deaths 

Over the course of the pandemic, most countries have seen more deaths than normal as Covid-19 has travelled through the population. In many cases, deaths have risen and fallen along with national outbreaks. But in recent months, some highly vaccinated countries have...

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No, Covid-19 vaccines do not cause AIDS

Katherine Hignett
Health Studio
United Kingdom

A disturbing, untrue rumour is spreading on social media: that Covid-19 vaccines can cause AIDS, which is completely incorrect. Shared alongside official-looking data, this dangerous claim has spread far and wide, and has even been repeated by Brazil’s embattled president Jair Bolsonaro. There’s no solid evidence to back it up.

The falsehood has its roots in a series of documents published by the UK government’s Health Security Agency (formerly Public Health England). This body’s weekly “vaccine surveillance reports” provide estimates of case rates in vaccinated and unvaccinated people, as part of a wider effort to understand the impact of the country’s vaccination campaign.

The agency has been criticised for publishing potentially misleading results, because of how it estimates the number of unvaccinated people in England. It needs this number to work out the rate of infections in both groups. But too low a figure and reports will underestimate the case rate among unvaccinated people. Fact-checkers have pointed out that the method the agency uses likely does just this. To the casual reader, the data can make it seem like vaccines are less effective than experts typically state.

The agency has since changed the way it presents this data in an effort to clear up confusion. But by the time this happened, its previous reports had been exploited by conspiracy theorists to sow doubt about vaccines. Most notably, a series of articles by British disinformation site The Exposé used the reports to falsely claim the jabs caused acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, better known as AIDS. The reports, of course, show nothing of the sort.

 

What are conspiracy theorists saying?

 

The Exposé wrongly claims the agency’s data shows vaccinated adults will eventually lose the ability not just to fight Covid-19, but any disease. The articles, written by “a concerned reader”, state this is “a form of AIDS” which will leave recipients vulnerable to illnesses like shingles, herpes and endometriosis.

The baseless yet frightening claim is the result of a flawed interpretation of the UKHSA data. The author applies their own “vaccine efficacy” formula to the agency’s already uncertain case rate figures to produce dramatic predictions of future efficacy rates. They then use these highly problematic predictions to surmise that the vaccines rapidly become ineffective and eventually impair the immune system altogether.

 

What’s the truth?

 

In reality, there’s no evidence to support such a conclusion. Scientific data has shown that Covid-19 vaccines may become less effective over time, but that doesn’t mean their efficacy will fall to zero within weeks. And it certainly doesn’t mean they will have a negative impact on the wider immune system.

The vaccines work by teaching the body how to defend itself against Covid-19. They trigger the immune system to produce antibodies that can recognise and attack the virus that causes the disease.

Abbas Kanani, a pharmacist with Chemist Click, told Health Studio: “There is no evidence at present to suggest that the production of antibodies from the vaccine occurs at the expense of the immune system. In fact, the Covid-19 vaccine trains your immune system to be able to stimulate an immune response to the virus, preventing or reducing the severity of symptoms.”

By labelling an alleged immune problem “AIDS”, conspiracy theorists play on existing fears about what is still a highly stigmatised – and in many parts of the world, dangerous – disease. It’s also incorrect to refer to any supposed vaccine-induced immune issues as “a form of AIDS”.

AIDS, Kanani points out, is only ever caused by infection with human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. “This virus attacks white blood cells, which form part of the immune system. It weakens the ability to fight infections and disease,” he said. “AIDS refers to a number of life-threatening illnesses and diseases which occur as a result of damage to the immune system from untreated HIV.”

Even if Covid-19 vaccines did compromise the immune system, and there’s no evidence to suggest they do, this simply would not be classed as AIDS. The term is being used not for the sake of accuracy, but fear. Advances in treatments mean that many people living with HIV today will never develop AIDS. But for those who can’t access them, the disease can still be deadly, making rumours like this particularly dangerous in communities still battling endemic HIV/AIDS.

Katherine Hignett -
Health Studio
United Kingdom

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