The top 10 wildest anti-vaccination theories and why a Covid-19 shot won’t alter your DNA

Welcome to the Infodemic. We’re tracking disinformation is shaping the global pandemic response. Here are the narratives that have grabbed our attention this week and deserve yours. 

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We had been warned. From the very start of the pandemic, scientists said that coming up with a Covid-19 immunization and distribution plan would only be half of the battle. Fending off disinformation against it, would be the other. And, now, that fight has begun. As the UK injected its first patients with Pfizer’s vaccine, we watched in real time as myths and fake news about it spread across social media, threatening the roll out and endangering public health.   

Newsguard, a company that ranks reliability of news sites has an excellent rundown of the top 10 wildest vaccine theories. The best known among them, which states that Covid-19 vaccine will use microchip surveillance technology created by Bill Gates, is obviously on the list. Others include the idea that a Covid-19 vaccine will contain aborted human fetal tissue (it won’t), has been proven to cause infertility in 97% of recipients (it hasn’t) and will turn us all into monkeys (pretty unlikely). 

The new vaccine is also a challenge to skeptics because it doesn’t contain any of the ingredients that anti-vaxxers traditionally rally against, such as preservatives and viruses. Instead, it employs brand new technology using mRNA, which essentially works like a messenger, telling the body how to recognize and fight the coronavirus. And that’s behind the biggest and most prevalent Covid-19 myth. Isobel Cockerell explains and debunks it below, so keep reading. 

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INSANITY IN A SYRINGE by Isobel Cockerell

The biggest and most popular Covid-19 myth at the moment is that the new vaccine fundamentally changes people’s DNA. 

It is a groundless and scientifically impossible assertion that was born out of necessity. Anti-vaxxers could not build their campaign around their usual targets, including preservatives and viruses, because the new Covid-19 vaccine doesn’t contain them. 

One much-reposted video, which comes with a “false information” warning on Facebook, features Dr. Christiane Northrup, a celebrity medic turned QAnon supporter known for being one of the key spreaders of the infamous “Plandemic” video and conspiracy theory, which she shared with her half a million followers. 

“There has never been a vaccine like this,” she said. “It will fundamentally change our DNA.” She falsely claimed that it contains animal DNA and metals that will make recipients into living antennae for 5G and force them to “literally become slaves to the system.”

While Facebook put a warning on it, people still posted comments like “scary, absolutely brutal” and “this is insanity in a syringe.” Then the video was copied over to Telegram, where it proliferated unchecked. 

Dr Ali Haider, a Massachusetts cardiologist with more than 100,000 Instagram followers, began seeing the theory posted on his page and then heard it parroted by his relatives.  “Family members have been like, ‘Oh, I was told this was going to alter our DNA.’ What used to be a far-fetched, anti-vax, non-threatening narrative that’s isolated to a small group of people has just exploded.”

In response, Haider began putting out explainer videos to help people understand why the vaccine is safe. 

He told me he and his colleagues have been gearing up for this moment for months. “We knew that once the vaccines became the real deal, this was going to be ugly.” 

The big picture:  Many doctors acknowledge that legitimate health fears lie at the root of all this gossip. But using the power of social media, the anti-vaccination movement has turned them into outright paranoia. Add geopolitical rivalry to that mix, and war against the Pfizer vaccine suddenly gains a whole new dimension: 

After the news broke that people with severe allergies should not be vaccinated, Hu Xijin, editor of the Beijing-based Global Times, tweeted: “Can Pfizer’s vaccine really be trusted?”. Global Times has been described as “China’s Fox news” and Hu is known for pushing a heavily pro-Beijing narrative to his half a million followers. He may have been responding to the recent bad press China’s own vaccine rollout has received, as several recent investigations by western outlets have delved into corruption within the nation’s pharmaceutical industry.

Hu, whose remarks are often picked up by state media around the world, was stoking mistrust in the vaccine, just as the U.S. is poised to approve it. In Iran, where the government says U.S. sanctions may thwart access to a vaccine, misinformation aimed at Pfizer’s version are also on the rise, with the false DNA-altering theory flying across Telegram.

In South Africa, which participated in the phase three trials for the Pfizer shot, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng prayed for protection against “vaccines of the devil” during a visit to a Johannesburg hospital this week. ““If there is any vaccine manufactured for corrupting the DNA of the people, that vaccine must be burnt,” he said. 

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Hungry for more? Here are a few pieces from our reporters:

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  • In the excellent Oligarchy, Oliver Bullough is tracking how Covid-19 and the world’s response to it is affecting the super-rich — and what that means for the rest of us. 
  • Since you can’t understand the world without understanding China’s soft power, we have teamed up with CEPA to bring you China Influence Monitor. Subscribe here

And before you go:  Have you found working from home a challenge? A welcome break from the office? Whatever your answer, it cannot possibly beat this WFH experience (and my favorite pandemic video to date).  

Thanks for reading, keep your comments, questions and story ideas coming.   

See you next week. 

Natalia 

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