It’s certainly no exaggeration to say that the Covid-19 pandemic has provided fertile soil for fake news to spread, from conspiracy theories to resistance against mask wearing.
Now, with the UK government’s focus firmly on vaccinating the public before the summer, the battle is now not only against Covid-19 but also disinformation surrounding the vaccines.
Fake news plays on public fear and uncertainty which can have a detrimental impact if people begin to feel deterred from getting vaccinated.
Videos have recently flooded social media with claims that the vaccine contains animal products such as pork and beef. Eating pork and beef go against the religious beliefs of Muslims and Hindus respectively.
A study by the Royal Society for Public Health found that people from ethnic minority backgrounds were significantly less likely to take the vaccine.
It found only 57% of people from Black, Asian and ethnic minority background were likely to accept the vaccine, compared with 79% of white people.
It is believed that these figures are due to fake news targeting those from BAME groups.
Dr Harpreet Sood, who is leading an NHS anti-disinformation drive, told the BBC:
“We need to be clear and make people realise there is no meat in the vaccine, there is no pork in the vaccine, it has been accepted and endorsed by all the religious leaders and councils and faith communities.”
On 23rd February, the Department for Health and Social Care tweeted reassurance that Covid-19 vaccine is suitable for people of all faith groups.
"If you are worried about the vaccine having any pork or beef or animal products or foetal cells in it, it does not."
— Department of Health and Social Care (@DHSCgovuk) February 23, 2021
T.V. doctor and NHS GP Dr Amin Khan explained in the tweeted video:
“If you are worried about the vaccine having any pork or beef or animal products or foetal cells in it, it does not.
It is completely fine for Muslims, Hindus to take if you are worried about those kind of things and religious leaders across all the faith groups have said the same thing”.
One conspiracy theory which has spread widely online claims that the Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates plans to implant trackable microchips into people’s bodies.
Rumours began last year when Bill Gates said in an interview that “we will have some digital certificates” in order to show who’d recovered, been tested and received a vaccine. However, he did not mention microchipping humans.
In late July, Mr Gates rejected the conspiracy theory, saying:
“There’s no connection between any of these vaccines and any tracking type thing at all. I don’t know where that came from.”
He also added that he found the theories “deeply ironic” given his charity work to promote good global health.
The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, which was founded in 2000, aims to improve global health and reduce poverty.
It also promoted vaccine research and access well before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Claims of Changing DNA
Pseudoscientific content has spread online, particularly on social media, with concern that the vaccine can change human DNA.
One widely spread post contained vaccine disinformation titled THE COVID VACCINE IRREVERSIBLY CHANGES YOUR DNA” began to spread online in December.
In July, a video by osteopath Carrie Madej spread on social media making claims about the vaccine altering DNA. In the video she said, “The Covid-19 vaccines are designed to make us into genetically modified organisms.”
It is entirely false that the Covid vaccine can change DNA.
Mark Lynas, a visiting fellow at Cornell University’s Alliance for Science group told Reuters that the vaccine being able to alter DNA is “just a myth”.
“Genetic modification would involve the deliberate insertion of foreign DNA into the nucleus of a human cell, and vaccines simply don’t do that.”
There has been some public concern that the vaccine has been rushed or not been fully tested but, like all new vaccines, the Covid-19 vaccine has undergone a series of phases of safety checks before being offered to the public.
About 40,000 volunteers took part in tests for Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the first to be approved in the UK.
It is also untrue that one participant (out of many thousands) died due to the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine trial.
The trial was put on hold for an investigation into the case of their death but later restarted when it was confirmed that the death was unrelated to the vaccine.
Indeed, as the UK aims to vaccinate the country by mid-June, we are more vulnerable to fake news than ever before. It is therefore extremely important to be able to tell the fact from fiction surrounding the vaccine.
For more information on the Covid-19 vaccine, visit the NHS website.