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90 year old Margaret Keenan, the first patient in the UK to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, administered by nurse May Parsons at University Hospital, Coventry, England, Tuesday Dec. 8, 2020. (AP) 90 year old Margaret Keenan, the first patient in the UK to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, administered by nurse May Parsons at University Hospital, Coventry, England, Tuesday Dec. 8, 2020. (AP)

90 year old Margaret Keenan, the first patient in the UK to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, administered by nurse May Parsons at University Hospital, Coventry, England, Tuesday Dec. 8, 2020. (AP)

Samantha Putterman
By Samantha Putterman December 9, 2020

Conspiracy theory targets first recipient of UK COVID-19 vaccine as crisis actor

If Your Time is short

  • Images of Margaret Keenan receiving the first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in the UK were not published in earlier articles by CNN, or any other news organization. 

  • The photos were taken the day of the event, on Dec. 8, and do not appear on the internet before then.

  • Those who spread the post misunderstood that some news websites, including CNN’s, will sometimes feature videos of other, unrelated stories on various article pages.

On Dec. 8, 2020, news organizations around the world published stories about the first patient in the United Kingdom to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine outside of trials: 90-year-old Margaret Keenan.

Along with the stories came images showing Keenan with her sleeve rolled up as she got the first dose at University Hospital in Coventry, England.

But it didn’t take long for some users on social media to start circulating a bogus conspiracy theory that suggested the story wasn’t legitimate, because the same images appeared online months earlier. 

"Excuse me but how is it 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?" Mindy Robinson, a conservative actress who lost a recent congressional run in Nevada, wrote on Twitter

Robinson’s tweet, which was re-shared on Facebook, includes screenshots of two different articles. 

One depicts a Dec. 8 BBC article that shows Keenan getting the shot, while the other appears to show an unrelated story by CNN published on Oct. 22, with the same images of Keenan receiving the vaccine.

But this is a misunderstanding of how some news websites, like CNN’s, will sometimes display the latest stories at the top of other, unrelated articles. Keenan is not an actor, and CNN did not publish photos of her receiving the vaccine in October.

Another post on Facebook also ambiguously claims that Keenan is a crisis actor because she apparently made a hand gesture that has been connected to the Illuminati, and by including screenshots of another, unnamed woman who is supposedly an actress.

There is no evidence that the images of the woman (or women, the grainy screenshot isn’t clear and may show more than one person) pictured is Keenan, or that her innocuous hand gesture signals something nefarious.

The posts were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

Featured Fact-check

A reverse-image search shows that photos and videos of Keenan receiving the shot were not published before Dec. 8.

The Oct. 22 CNN story in the screenshot covered a report estimating that the U.S. COVID-19 response resulted in 130,000 to 210,000 avoidable deaths. It does not include any images of Keenan. 

Some article pages on CNN’s website display videos from other stories, often the most recent ones, underneath the headline. A reel showing a handful of videos, which currently includes the Dec. 8 vaccinations in the UK, is displayed under that.

These clips were not published at the same time as the Oct. 22 article, but simply feature other CNN segments that viewers can watch if they want.

Many conspiracy theories latch onto the flawed claim that people who appear in various news stories — often tragic events like mass shootings — are actually paid actors pushing a pre-ordained narrative. These types of theories have been, and continue to be, soundly debunked.

RELATED: PolitiFact’s 2018 Lie of the Year: Online smear machine tries to take down Parkland students 

Our ruling

A social media post claims that images of Margaret Keenan receiving the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in the UK appeared in a CNN news story in October, despite the event taking place in early December.

This is wrong. Images of Keenan receiving the vaccine were not published in earlier articles by CNN, or any other news organization. They were taken on Dec. 8, and do not appear online before then.

Those who spread the post misunderstood that some news websites, including CNN’s, feature clips of other, unrelated stories on various article pages.

This is False.

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Conspiracy theory targets first recipient of UK COVID-19 vaccine as crisis actor

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