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False narratives that the vaccines are mandatory and that they result in widespread death more than doubled across social media, broadcast and traditional media, and online sites over the past three months,  according to Zignal Labs Inc. (Shutterstock) False narratives that the vaccines are mandatory and that they result in widespread death more than doubled across social media, broadcast and traditional media, and online sites over the past three months,  according to Zignal Labs Inc. (Shutterstock)

False narratives that the vaccines are mandatory and that they result in widespread death more than doubled across social media, broadcast and traditional media, and online sites over the past three months, according to Zignal Labs Inc. (Shutterstock)

Bill McCarthy
By Bill McCarthy July 26, 2021

If Your Time is short

  • Misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines continues to spread on Facebook and other social media, with help from public figures like Fox News host Tucker Carlson.

  • PolitiFact has fact-checked online hoaxes and claims about the COVID-19 vaccines’ safety and efficacy, trials, ingredients, purpose and side effects.

  • The COVID-19 vaccines were proven to be safe and effective through a rigorous testing process. Their ingredients are public, and they do not include microchips for government tracking, metals or other toxic materials. They are not mandatory in the U.S.

  • The COVID-19 vaccines do not alter your DNA or affect fertility, and they cannot “shed” to impact unvaccinated people. They have not caused widespread death and disease.

Since the coronavirus pandemic erupted last year, PolitiFact has fact-checked hundreds of misleading statements about the development, deployment, content, safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. Even as the U.S. sees a rise in cases among unvaccinated populations, the unsupported claims keep coming.

False narratives that the vaccines are mandatory and that they result in widespread death more than doubled across social media, broadcast and traditional media, and online sites over the past three months, according to Zignal Labs Inc., a media intelligence firm.

"Every adult can get it, so of course every adult is in the potential audience for misinformation," said John Gregory, deputy health editor at NewsGuard, a firm tracking online misinformation. 

Hundreds of anti-vaccine groups remain active on Facebook, and one watchdog group found that 12 online influencers were behind 65% of the anti-vaccine misinformation on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. False claims are frequently boosted by politicians and pundits, too.

People who get their news from conservative media are more likely to believe misinformation about the vaccines, according to a recent survey from the University of Pennsylvania. On Fox News, for example, recent calls by some hosts to get vaccinated came against the backdrop of months of skepticism and misleading claims from the likes of Tucker Carlson.

Here are 10 persistent falsehoods we have seen, and our related fact checks.

1. "The COVID-19 vaccines do not work." FACT: They do.

"Maybe (the COVID-19 vaccine) doesn't work, and they're simply not telling you that," Carlson said in April, citing government advice to continue taking certain precautions. PolitiFact rated that Pants on Fire.

Clinical trials and real-world studies proved the vaccines are safe and effective at protecting against infections and severe symptoms. As vaccinations ramped up in the spring, cases and hospitalizations went down. Public health officials now say 99.5% of COVID-19 deaths in the past few months have been among unvaccinated people. Our fact-checking has found that:

2. "The COVID-19 vaccines were not properly tested or developed." FACT: They were.

A May Instagram post falsely claimed the COVID-19 vaccine developers "skipped all animal trials." 

The U.S. allowed emergency use of three different vaccines after clinical trials involving tens of thousands of participants showed they were safe and effective. But false and misleading claims about the vaccines’ development still circulated, including: 

  • A blog post that claimed the Food and Drug Administration said Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine killed two trial participants. That’s not what happened.

  • A local politician’s Pants on Fire claim that the vaccines couldn’t possibly be safe because they were developed so quickly. 

  • A pair of Instagram posts that claimed vaccine developers skipped animal and human trials, False and False.

  • Claims that the FDA never signed off on the vaccines, even though the agency allowed three for emergency use. And, no, it wasn’t Fauci’s wife who gave the green light.

  • A False internet rumor that said Moderna developed the vaccine in 2019.

  • A post that claimed Fauci invested millions of dollars in the shots. There’s no evidence of that.

3. "The COVID-19 vaccines are mandatory." FACT: They aren’t.

Colleges and businesses can require vaccinations as a condition of entrance or employment, despite online posts claiming that’s illegal. Businesses are not barred by health information privacy laws from asking customers about vaccinations, either. 

But social media users and influencers have continued to warn without evidence that the White House will be making the vaccines mandatory. The White House has not announced any such plans, and as the federal government has little authority to require vaccinations. 

  • A federal law Facebook users warned about in 2020 never materialized.

  • Biden did not promote mandatory vaccinations in a March address, despite one conservative commentator’s claim in a Facebook Live video.

  • A national door-to-door effort to inform unvaccinated Americans of their options does not involve federal employees forcing people to get the shots.

4. "The COVID-19 vaccines contain microchips for government tracking." FACT: They don’t.

A December 2020 Instagram post falsely claimed Joe Biden revealed an agenda to "microchip the masses."

Baseless claims about COVID-19 vaccines containing microchips were circulating well before the vaccines existed — even though that’s not physically possible.

As Dr. Paul Offit, chair of vaccinology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, pointed out: "A microchip is about 0.5 inch long. That wouldn’t fit through the end of a needle." Also:

5. "The COVID-19 vaccines contain metals and other problematic ingredients." FACT: They don’t.

A vial of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is held at a vaccination site on Feb. 19, 2021, in Oklahoma City. (AP)

The makeup of the vaccines available in the U.S is no secret. Ingredient lists for the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots can all be found online, courtesy of the FDA. 

But conspiratorial claims abound:

6. "The COVID-19 vaccines have caused widespread death and disease." FACT: They haven’t.

Microsoft Corporation co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates, a frequent target of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation, speaks at an event in France on Oct. 10, 2019 (AP).

The COVID-19 vaccines are known to cause some temporary side effects, such as fatigue. But widespread death and serious disease? Such claims often trace back to an unverified federal database that has become a breeding ground for anti-vaccine misinformation. 

Carlson, for example, cited the database to suggest that thousands of people had died from the vaccines. His claim rated False. But similarly problematic claims continue to spread online.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wrote as of July 21 that based on its review of all information for death reports in the database, there remains no "causal link" to the vaccines.

7. "The COVID-19 vaccines killed or harmed various celebrities." FACT: They haven’t.

Instagram posts falsely claimed rapper DMX, baseball player Hank Aaron and boxer Marvelous Marvin Hagler died from the COVID-19 vaccines.

Social media users have tried to link the deaths of celebrities and specific people to the COVID-19 vaccines. Those claims haven’t panned out.

  • Rapper DMX died of a heart attack, not the vaccine.

  • Baseball legend Hank Aaron died from natural causes, not the vaccine.

  • Boxer Marvelous Marvin Hagler died from natural causes, not the vaccine.

  • Social media claims that four British Airways pilots, five JetBlue crew members, and an Ohio doctor died from the vaccines are False. A video of a nurse becoming dizzy after her shot lacked context and was not indicative of something dangerous in the vaccine.

  • Danish soccer player Christian Eriksen’s on-field collapse in June was not due to the vaccine. His professional club said he hadn’t received a shot.

8. "The COVID-19 vaccines alter your DNA." FACT: They don’t.

The COVID-19 vaccines don’t alter people’s DNA. 

The available vaccines use different technologies to instruct cells to build protection against the virus. But no genetic material enters the part of the cell that hosts DNA, per the CDC. 

Gates didn’t say that the vaccines would alter DNA, nor did Moderna’s chief medical officer. 

And the shots definitely don’t replace DNA with genetic coding that makes people "cooperate with the New World Order," as one Pants on Fire Instagram post claimed

9. "The COVID-19 vaccines stunt fertility and disrupt pregnancies." FACT: They don’t.

Online rumors linking the vaccines to pregnancy and fertility complications are unsupported. Studies are ongoing, and the CDC says on its website:

"There is currently no evidence that COVID-19 vaccination causes any problems with pregnancy, including the development of the placenta. In addition, there is no evidence that female or male fertility problems are a side effect of any vaccine."

Some false claims about fertility are premised on the idea that a spike protein generated after vaccination resembles a protein on placental cells. But the two proteins aren’t similar enough to confuse the immune system into attacking the placental cells, PolitiFact reported.

  • Public health officials have not cautioned against getting pregnant after vaccination.

  • The vaccines did not cause a 366% increase in United Kingdom miscarriages over six weeks in March.

  • There is no evidence that the vaccines caused hundreds of miscarriages, and an online rumor about an "82% miscarriage rate" misrepresented a study’s preliminary data.

  • A study did not show that the vaccine affects sperm production.

10. "The COVID-19 vaccines can ‘shed’ to affect unvaccinated people." FACT: They don’t.

The vaccines do not "shed" to affect unvaccinated people. In fact, that’s biologically impossible.

Such shedding can only occur with vaccines that use weakened forms of the virus, according to the CDC. But none of the COVID-19 shots are live-virus vaccines.

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Our Sources

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Selected Adverse Events Reported after COVID-19 Vaccination," July 21, 2021

The Associated Press, "Conservative media offers mixed messages on COVID-19 vaccine," July 21, 2021

The University of Pennsylvania Annenberg Public Policy Center, "Public Trust in CDC, FDA, and Fauci Holds Steady, Survey Shows," July 20, 2021

Media Matters for America, "Despite Facebook's COVID-19 promises, anti-vaccine groups are thriving," July 20, 2021

NewsGuard, "Report for Governments and the WHO," July 20, 2021

Brendan Nyhan on Twitter, July 20, 2021

Renee DiResta on Twitter, July 18, 2021

NewsGuard, "The Top COVID-19 Vaccine Myths Spreading Online," July 13, 2021

Business Insider, "99.5% of COVID-19 deaths in the US are now in unvaccinated people, CDC head says," July 9, 2021

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Myths and Facts about COVID-19 Vaccines," July 7, 2021

Center for Countering Digital Hate, "The Disinformation Dozen," March 24, 2021

PolitiFact, "Deaths of JetBlue pilots falsely connected to COVID-19 vaccine," July 21, 2021

PolitiFact, "No, saline injections are not part of a COVID-19 vaccine plot," July 20, 2021

PolitiFact, "Instagram post misleads on door-to-door COVID-19 vaccination efforts," July 25, 2021

PolitiFact, "No, vaccines do not cause sudden infant death syndrome," July 12, 2021

PolitiFact, "Social media post misrepresents preliminary data on miscarriages and COVID-19 vaccines," July 9, 2021

PolitiFact, "No evidence of ‘graphene oxide’ that’s ‘toxic’ in Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine," July 8, 2021

PolitiFact, "Journal discredits study it published claiming a COVID-19 vaccine causes deaths," July 2, 2021

PolitiFact, "Video of a microchip reader finding a chip in a vaccinated woman’s arm was posted as a joke," July 1, 2021

PolitiFact, "CDC says more young people hospitalized from vaccine than COVID-19 itself? False," June 30, 2021

PolitiFact, "No evidence for post about funeral directors seeing deaths among vaccinated people," June 29, 2021

PolitiFact, "Social media posts falsely link British Airways pilot deaths to vaccine," June 28, 2021

PolitiFact, "Scientists developing mRNA vaccines before outbreak isn’t evidence COVID-19 pandemic was created," June 25, 2021

PolitiFact, "mRNA COVID-19 vaccines were tested in humans, have proven to be safe, effective," June 25, 2021

PolitiFact, "Christian Eriksen, Danish soccer player who collapsed, didn’t receive the Pfizer vaccine," June 14, 2021

PolitiFact, "No proof for speculation that COVID-19 vaccine deaths will rival COVID-19 deaths," June 11, 2021

PolitiFact, "Sherri Tenpenny makes false COVID-19 vaccine magnetism claim to Ohio lawmakers," June 9, 2021

PolitiFact, "Claim about 920 miscarriages caused by COVID-19 vaccination lacks evidence," June 8, 2021

PolitiFact, "No proof for researcher claim that COVID-19 vaccines’ spike protein is a ‘toxin,'" June 7, 2021

PolitiFact, "No, vaccine ‘shedding’ will not give unvaccinated people natural immunity," June 1, 2021

PolitiFact, "Claim from Giuliani on Covid-19 spread ‘wrong on every level,'" May 31, 2021

PolitiFact, "Instagram post misleads on vaccine efficacy by conflating two different measures," May 18, 2021

PolitiFact, "No, a video doesn’t prove the COVID-19 vaccines allow people to be tracked through a 5G network," May 28, 2021

PolitiFact, "There’s no proof that COVID-19 vaccine has injured or killed more than 900 children," May 26, 2021

PolitiFact, "COVID-19 vaccination status doesn’t impact life insurance policies," May 26, 2021

PolitiFact, "No, an Ohio doctor didn’t die from the COVID-19 vaccine," May 24, 2021

PolitiFact, "No, Fauci’s wife didn’t issue emergency use authorizations for COVID-19 vaccines," May 21, 2021

PolitiFact, "No, video doesn’t prove AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine contains Bluetooth chip," May 21, 2021

PolitiFact, "No, the Moderna vaccine does not contain an ingredient that’s for 'research use only,'" May 21, 2021

PolitiFact, "No, video doesn’t prove AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine contains Bluetooth chip," May 21, 2021

PolitiFact, "No, HIPAA doesn’t prohibit businesses from asking about your vaccination status," May 21, 2021

PolitiFact, "University of Miami researchers looked at effects of COVID-19, not vaccines," May 19, 2021

PolitiFact, "Instagram post falsely claims COVID-19 vaccines ‘skipped all animal trials,'" May 18, 2021

PolitiFact, "No, these magnet videos don’t prove the COVID-19 vaccines contain microchips," May 17, 2021

PolitiFact, "No, The Death Rate For Vaccinated People Is Not Higher Than That Of Unvaccinated People," May 10, 2021

PolitiFact, "Tucker Carlson’s misleading claim about deaths after COVID-19 vaccine," May 6, 2021

PolitiFact, "Debunking the anti-vaccine hoax about ‘vaccine shedding,'" May 6, 2021

PolitiFact, "Report that teen died 2 days after a COVID shot was unverified, isn’t confirmed," May 6, 2021

PolitiFact, "Tucker Carlson’s misleading claim about deaths after COVID-19 vaccine," May 6, 2021

PolitiFact, "No, Red Cross isn't warning vaccinated people not to donate blood," May 4, 2021

PolitiFact, "Federal VAERS database is a critical tool for researchers, but a breeding ground for misinformation," May 3, 2021

PolitiFact, "No, there is no evidence that spending time around vaccinated people causes death or disease," April 30, 2021

PolitiFact, "No, it’s not illegal for a college or employer to require a COVID vaccine," April 29, 2021

PolitiFact, "No, Bill Gates isn’t fighting to keep vaccine ingredients secret. They’re already public," April 27, 2021

PolitiFact, "No, you don’t need to avoid getting pregnant after getting a COVID-19 vaccine," April 26, 2021

PolitiFact, "No, women’s cycles and fertility are not affected by being around vaccinated people," April 21, 2021

PolitiFact, "No, the government doesn’t use a ‘national ID’ to track you after receiving COVID-19 vaccine," April 16, 2021

PolitiFact, "Tucker Carlson falsely claims COVID-19 vaccines might not work," April 15, 2021

PolitiFact, "No, Moderna’s chief medical officer didn’t say mRNA alters DNA," April 14, 2021

PolitiFact, "Fact-checking unproven claims that rapper DMX suffered heart attack after getting COVID-19 vaccine," April 12, 2021

PolitiFact, "COVID-19 vaccines have not led to 6,000% increase in patient deaths, as post suggests," April 6, 2021

PolitiFact, "COVID-19 vaccines did not cause a 366% increase in miscarriages, as article claims," April 2, 2021

PolitiFact, "The COVID-19 vaccine is not an ‘operating system’ run by Bill Gates," April 1, 2021

PolitiFact, "Instagram post overlooks FDA sign-off on COVID-19 vaccines," March 31, 2021

PolitiFact, 'No, it’s not safer to skip the COVID-19 vaccine to avoid permanent side effects," March 31, 2021

PolitiFact, "Yes, data shows COVID-19 vaccines are safe despite quick timeline," March 26, 2021

PolitiFact, "The COVID-19 vaccines do not contain aluminum," March 22, 2021

PolitiFact, "Claim blaming COVID vaccine for Hank Aaron, Marvin Hagler deaths lacks evidence," March 16, 2021

PolitiFact, "No, COVID-19 vaccines do not contain nanoparticles that will allow you to be tracked via 5G networks," March 12, 2021

PolitiFact, "No, Biden didn’t promote ‘mandatory’ COVID-19 vaccines in primetime address," March 12, 2021

PolitiFact, "Misleading video suggests Dr. Anthony Fauci said vaccines don’t protect people from COVID-19," March 8, 2021

PolitiFact, "COVID-19 vaccine does not cause death, autoimmune diseases," March 4, 2021

PolitiFact, "The coronavirus vaccine doesn’t cause Alzheimer’s, ALS," Feb. 26, 2021

PolitiFact, "Receiving COVID-19 vaccine does not enroll you in a government tracking system or medical experiment," Feb. 26, 2021

PolitiFact, "Deaths after vaccination don’t prove that COVID-19 vaccine is lethal," Feb. 16, 2021

PolitiFact, "No evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine caused Hank Aaron’s death," Jan. 26, 2021

PolitiFact, "Norway deaths after COVID-19 shot were among very frail elderly, not proved to be caused by vaccine," Jan. 19, 2021

PolitiFact, "COVID-19 vaccines don’t use experimental technology, don’t track humans," Jan. 4, 2021

PolitiFact, "Anti-vaccine video of fainting nurse lacks context," Dec. 21, 2020

PolitiFact, "No, the new coronavirus vaccines are not more dangerous than COVID-19," Dec. 18, 2020

PolitiFact, "No, chip on COVID-19 vaccine syringes would not be injected or track people," Dec. 25, 2021

PolitiFact, "Biden did not ‘confirm’ or support an agenda to microchip Americans," Dec. 11, 2020

PolitiFact, "Social media post falsely claims a federal law would require vaccination against COVID-19," Dec. 11, 2020

PolitiFact, "Two vaccine trial participants died, but the FDA didn’t connect their deaths to the vaccine," Dec. 11, 2020

PolitiFact, "No, Pfizer’s head of research didn’t say the COVID-19 vaccine will make women infertile," Dec. 10, 2020

PolitiFact, "No, COVID-19 vaccines won’t alter your DNA and control you," Nov. 18, 2020

PolitiFact, "The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine does not contain aborted fetal tissue," Nov. 18, 2020

PolitiFact, "Bill Gates didn’t say this about COVID-19 vaccines," Aug. 4, 2020

PolitiFact, "There’s no plot to microchip people during COVID-19 tests," May 28, 2020

PolitiFact, "No, the Gates Foundation isn’t pushing microchips with all medical procedures," May 20, 2020

PolitiFact, "Blog post wrong on what Bill Gates said about COVID-19 vaccine," May 20, 2020

PolitiFact, "Bill Gates did not say a COVID-19 vaccine could kill nearly 1 million people," May 19, 2020

PolitiFact, "No, Democrats aren’t pushing microchips to fight coronavirus," April 21, 2020

PolitiFact, "Facebook posts falsely claim Dr. Fauci has millions invested in a coronavirus vaccine," April 15, 2020

PolitiFact, "Post about Bill Gates’ work on vaccine tracking distorts research, timeline," April 9, 2020

PolitiFact, "No, the US isn’t developing a vaccine or ‘antivirus’ with a chip to track people," April 3, 2020

Email interview with Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, July 20, 2021

Email interview with Jennifer Granston, Chief Customer Officer and Head of Insights at Zignal Labs, July 20, 2021

Phone interview with John Gregory, senior analyst and deputy health editor for NewsGuard, July 20, 2021

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