Misinformation and COVID-19

By Grayce Mores | August 2021

The coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a respiratory virus that spreads through contact. Fake news related to this virus spread rampantly in 2020 through social media platforms, capitalizing on existing anxiety and uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and inciting panic, distrust and chaos. For official information on the coronavirus and how to prevent its spread, please visit cdc.gov/coronavirus.

COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, they will be critical to ending the pandemic. No steps were skipped in the development process, and safety was a top priority. Tens of millions of people in the United States have recieved COVID-19 vaccines under the most intense safety monitoring in US history. The vaccines are 100% effective at preventing serious hospitalizations and deaths. That's our most urgent, important goal. It's why we need vaccines.

4 Common COVID Vaccine Myths, Debunked:

  1. Getting the vaccine will make me sick - False. After being vaccinated you may feel feverish, tired or sore, as your immune system is fighting a piece of the virus. The COVID-19 vaccinations contain either an mRNA segment or a viral vector, neither of which are able to cause an infection. mRNA and the viral vector contain the instructions for your cells to make only a piece of the virus, which allows your immune cells to recognize the virus if you come into contact with it again.
    It takes time for the body to develop protection against the virus, so you can still be infected with COVID-19 after being vaccinated. If you come into contact with the virus or an infected person shortly after receiving the shot, your immune system is not fully prepared to fight off the infection, and you may become ill.
  2. The vaccine will change my DNA - False. The mRNA in the vaccine never enters the nucleus, which is where DNA is stored. The mRNA is not able to change DNA, and it will not alter a person's genetic makeup or reproductive cells.
  3. Being around vaccinated people is dangerous - False. Vaccinated people can not "shed" the virus or infect others, as the vaccine doesn't include the instructions to make an entire virus, only a piece of it.
  4. The COVID vaccine will affect my fertility or menstrual cycle - False. There is no evidence that the COVID vaccine, or any vaccination, affects fertility or the menstrual cycle. There is no evidence that the COVID vaccine affects pregnant women or their babies.

For more information and sources, visit the CDC's page on the vaccine and common misconceptions. To learn more about vaccines, and to find where to schedule a vaccine appointment, visit John's Hopkins' resource on the COVID-19 vaccine.

False claims related to COVID-19:

  • Telling people to ignore recommendations to socially distance themselves from others - social distancing is important to reduce the spread of the virus
  • Bleach, essential oils, hot baths, vitamin C, cannabis, or walking outside in the heat can prevent COVID-19 infection - visit the CDC website for official recommendations for infection prevention. And wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water!
  • Claims that essential resources (such as food, toilet paper, or water) are very scarce or will run out - stockpiling can leave others without these essential resources and incite panic
  • Claims that specific groups of people or nationalities are more or less susceptible to infection by COVID-19 - "diseases can make anyone sick regardless of their race or ethnicity", according to the CDC
  • Misleading information on COVID-19 symptoms. Visit the CDC website or consult a healthcare professional for information on signs and symptoms of coronavirus infection
  • COVID-19 is an engineered biological weapon created by the United States or China - this has been disproved
  • Hand sanitizer is ineffective against COVID-19 - hand sanitizer and hand washing are both effective.
  • Air purifiers can protect against COVID-19 infection - standard air purifiers are not designed to protect against viral infection
  • Ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatory drugs worsen coronavirus infection - this has been denied by the World Health Organization
  • 5G towers are causing coronavirus - viruses spread through contact with infected people and surfaces not mobile phone towers

COVID-19 Misinfo in the News

  • Twitter removed tweets spreading misinformation about the coronavirus. These tweets encouraged dangerous practices, such as drinking bleach to prevent or cure an infection, ignoring requests to socially distance, or claiming that food or medical resources would be scarce, inciting panic-buying and hoarding. 
  • "Significant disinformation campaigns" were deployed by the Russian media in an attempt to encourage panic and sow distrust. Russian media attempted to amplify the accusation that the coronavirus was a biological weapon released by the United States.
  • The vast majority of Covid-19 anti-vaccine misinformation and conspiracy theories originated from just 12 people, according to a report by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) cited by the White House.
  • President Biden’s surgeon general used his first formal advisory to the United States to deliver a broadside against tech and social media companies, which he accused of not doing enough to stop the spread of dangerous health misinformation - especially related to COVID-19.
  • With more vaccine misinformation spreading on social media platforms, Facebook defends itself during ongoing arguments with the Biden administration.
  • In an article by the New York Times, Lisa Lerer analyzes how Republican vaccine opposition has evolved while bringing forward false information that has been spread by some Republican leaders.
  • In a fact checking analysis by the Washington Post, Salvador Rizzo points to four distinct COVID vaccine lies told by Ron Johnson, a Republican Senator from Wisconsin.

Resources

Seek health information that comes from reputable sources such as the Centers for Disease Control. For more information on how to spot sketchy sources, visit our page on DIY Fake News Detection.