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Pfizer/BioNTech US rollout revives vaccine misinformation
As the US began immunization against Covid-19 yesterday following FDA approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, misleading information spread online. Some posts drew on fears of the novel messenger RNA (mRNA) technology behind the vaccine, citing baseless claims that it’s capable of altering DNA. In the “r/Conspiracy” subreddit, which has over 1.4 million members, one post suggested the vaccine could be “used to basically program a body to do anything you want.”
After a preprint study — a scientific paper that has not been peer-reviewed — claimed to provide evidence that RNA from Covid-19 can be “integrated into the human genome,” Dutch scientist Pieter Borger posted a tweet that read in part, “Stop all RNA vaccination experiments now!” Although scientists cautioned against making premature judgements based on the preliminary study, social media users posted links to it making unevidenced DNA-altering claims.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine rollout in the US also revived some other familiar misinformation tropes about vaccines. Right-wing influencers, such as Eric Matheny and Melissa Tate, advanced the conspiracy theory that the vaccine is a tool for population control in posts that received at least 5,600 shares. Others, including conservative commentator Matt Couch, drew misleading parallels between the vaccine’s reported 95 per cent efficacy rate and the “99.6 percent survival rate” of Covid-19 patients. — Keenan Chen
A new variant of Covid-19 emerges in the UK
UK Health Minister Matt Hancock told parliament yesterday that a new variant of Covid-19 has been discovered, predominantly in the south of England, as several areas in the country including London prepare to enter the highest tier of lockdown restrictions on Wednesday. Hancock’s comments and subsequent media reports are fueling unevidenced claims on social media that the new variant is being used by the government to push its agenda. One account with over 27,000 followers tweeted a fictional conversation suggesting the new variant has been fabricated entirely, with one character saying: “They won’t buy it,” to which the other responds: “Trust me. These people wear masks, alone in their cars.” The post attracted at least 8,700 interactions, including 1,600 retweets. Ivor Cummins, an Irish engineer who regularly posts anti-lockdown content and conspiracy theories, shared a meme on Twitter depicting Hancock and Prime Minister Boris Johnson laughing with an apparent suggestion that the new variant was invented to mislead a gullible population.
The World Health Organization said on Monday that it was aware of a new variant of Covid-19 in the UK and that there is no evidence as of yet that it behaves differently to other strains. Mutations are common among viruses including Covid-19, which has caused some journalists and scientists to raise legitimate concerns over recent media coverage. Others such as David Kurten, a former Ukip member who regularly shares conspiracy theories, used these concerns to call for the end to lockdown rules in a post with at least 1,100 retweets. — Bethan John