Stand up for the facts!

Our only agenda is to publish the truth so you can be an informed participant in democracy.
We need your help.

More Info

I would like to contribute

Sofia Ahmed
By Sofia Ahmed January 11, 2024

No connection between zombie deer disease and COVID-19 animal vaccines

If Your Time is short

• The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a charity founded by Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, Zuckerberg’s wife, does not fund a program to vaccinate wildlife. 

•  Zombie deer disease is caused by prions, or transmissible proteins that cause normal proteins in the brain to fold irregularly, causing brain damage.

• Zoetis, a Pfizer subsidiary, donated 11,000 doses of its animal COVID-19 vaccines to zoos, conservatories, sanctuaries and other organizations in 2021.  

Social media users have created a false correlation between the rise of zombie deer disease cases and animal COVID-19 vaccines. 

And some are blaming Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s philanthropic foundation for it. 

A Jan. 1 Instagram post caption claimed that "over 100 million American wildlife were vaccinated through a program funded by the Zuckerberg Charity Foundation," misnaming the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative founded by Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, his wife. "Now, a chilling development known as the zombie deer virus is sweeping across 32 states, affecting deer with disturbing neurological symptoms." 

In November, Yellowstone National Park said a deer that died in the park the previous month had chronic wasting disease, also known as zombie deer disease. Since then, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said zombie deer disease has been detected in free-ranging deer, elk or moose in at least 31 states and three Canadian provinces, but it had nothing to do with COVID-19 vaccines. 

The Instagram post was flagged as part of Meta’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)

Featured Fact-check

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal, progressive, neurodegenerative ailment affecting  deer, elk, reindeer and moose. Its symptoms include weight loss and stumbling. The disease is caused by "prions," transmissible abnormal proteins that trigger other proteins to irregularly fold, causing brain damage , according to the CDC. According to the Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the disease’s first case was discovered in 1967 in a deer in Colorado. 

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has partnerships with 42 organizations to respond to COVID-19. None of the partnerships include a program to vaccinate wildlife. Patricia Condon, a communications manager for the organization, said that it does "not fund such a program" and that all of its grants are publicly disclosed in a database on its website.

An Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services spokesperson told PolitiFact via email that there is no approved COVID-19 vaccine for wildlife. 

A Pfizer subsidiary, Zoetis, has made a COVID-19 animal vaccine for zoo animals. Christina Lood, a Zoetis spokesperson, said her company has donated the vaccine to licensed veterinarians but has not provided the vaccine to organizations that vaccinate wildlife.

We rate the claim that the outbreak of zombie deer disease is connected to the vaccination of 100 million American wildlife False. 

Our Sources

Instagram post (archived), Jan. 1, 2024. 

National Park Service, Mule deer tests positive for chronic wasting disease in Yellowstone National Park, Nov. 14, 2023. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD): Occurrence, Nov. 17, 2023. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), Sep. 10, 2021.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Prion Diseases, Nov. 17, 2021. 

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Accomplishments in Chronic Wasting Disease Research, June 11, 2020. 

Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, CZI COVID-19 Partners, accessed Jan. 10, 2024. 

Zoetis, Zoetis Donates COVID-19 vaccines to help support the health of zoo animals, July 2, 2021.

Email exchange with spokesperson from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Jan. 10, 2024. 

Email exchange with spokesperson from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services, Jan. 10, 2024. 

Email exchange with spokesperson from Zoetis, Jan. 11, 2024. 

Reuters, Zoetis donates animal COVID-19 vaccine candidates to about 70 U.S. zoos, July 2, 2021. 

John Hopkins Medicine, Prion diseases, accessed Jan. 11, 2024. 

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Sofia Ahmed

No connection between zombie deer disease and COVID-19 animal vaccines

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up