Alerts are categorized as high, medium, and low risk.
  • High risk alerts: Narratives with widespread circulation across communities, high engagement, exponential velocity, and a high potential to impact health decisions. Are often more memorable than accurate information.
  • Medium risk alerts: Narratives that are circulating in priority populations and pose some threat to health. Potential for further spread due to the tactics used or because of predicted velocity. Often highlights the questions and concerns of people.
  • Low risk alerts: Narratives that are limited in reach, don’t impact your community, or lack the qualities necessary for future spread. May indicate information gaps, confusion, or concerns.

An unverified VAERS report that has resurfaced several times since March claims that a breastfeeding baby died suddenly after the mother received a COVID-19 vaccine. The report claims that the mother was vaccinated on March 17 and the baby developed a fever and rash and died the following day. Elsewhere in the report, the vaccination and baby’s death are said to have taken place in March 2020, before any COVID-19 vaccines were available. At least one person who has circulated the claim on social media admitted to using a picture of a child with a rash who is perfectly healthy now. Some who have shared the claims have speculated that the vaccine spike protein could have transferred through the breast milk to cause the alleged symptoms. The spike proteins induced by the mRNA vaccines are harmless; they only serve to train the immune system to recognize the spike protein on the real virus and combat it. All available evidence suggests that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe during both pregnancy and breastfeeding.

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A 2018 article about the possibility that viruses can evolve to evade vaccines is trending on social media. The article was shared online by the self-declared “inventor” of mRNA vaccines, who is a vocal opponent of COVID-19 vaccination, in a post claiming that COVID-19 vaccines are creating new variants. The post received nearly 19,000 engagements. While the article, which was published more than a year before SARS-CoV-2 was identified, argues that vaccine-driven evolution of viruses may be possible, there is no evidence that SARS-CoV-2 has evolved in this way. New COVID-19 variants develop when mutations occur during viral replication. Viruses can’t replicate outside of a host—in this case, human cells—so preventing a virus from infecting cells in the first place prevents it from reproducing and mutating.

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The pre-print Israeli study that compared natural immunity from previous COVID-19 infection to vaccine-induced immunity continues to create a stir online as some use it to argue against COVID-19 vaccination. One widely shared article claims that the study, which is still under peer review, has “demolished” the case for COVID-19 vaccine requirements. The article has garnered more than 100,000 engagements across multiple social media platforms, including more than 56,000 engagements from a post by a U.S. senator. Natural immunity, while robust, is far more unpredictable and dangerous to acquire than vaccine immunity. The only way to gain natural immunity is by contracting COVID-19, which means risking serious illness, long-term effects, and death. Moreover, not everyone who has previously had COVID-19 develops enough antibodies to fight reinfection. One recent study found that vaccination after a previous infection decreases reinfection risk.

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A video with more than 490,000 engagements promotes the idea that COVID-19 is just the common cold by showing a table in the 1989 American Medical Association's Encyclopedia of Medicine with coronaviruses next to the common cold. Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause a variety of illnesses, including the early 2000 SARS outbreak, the 2012 MERS outbreak, and colds. The coronaviruses that cause colds are genetically distinct from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

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A rumor is gaining traction online that the newly FDA-approved Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, now marketed as Comirnaty, is different from the vaccine that was originally granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) and has been administered worldwide. An anti-vaccine site that has published COVID-19 misinformation in the past posted an article claiming that the vaccines are not only different but that the vaccines that will be administered for the foreseeable future are still under EUA to protect Pfizer from liability. Both of these claims are false, and rhetoric of this kind is being used to undermine the confidence of people who were waiting for FDA approval to get vaccinated. It’s common for drugs to be referred to by names used in clinical trials until they are FDA approved, at which point they receive a brand name. Prior to FDA approval, the vaccine developed and distributed by Pfizer and BioNTech was named BNT162b2 but called the Pfizer or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for clarity. The only difference between FDA-approved Comirnaty and the FDA-authorized Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the licensing and labeling. The vaccine is already being distributed under the name Comirnaty in the E.U. The change in status from EUA to FDA approval has no effect on liability protection.

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 A popular podcast host who has previously downplayed the importance of vaccines announced in a video posted to social media that he had recently contracted COVID-19. In the video, he claimed to be feeling great after taking a cocktail of medications, including monoclonal antibody therapy and the anti-parasitic ivermectin. This comes after weeks of influential social media users touting ivermectin as a COVID-19 miracle drug. The claims that ivermectin is an effective preventative or treatment measure for COVID-19 are based on specious evidence. Many of the studies used to back up the claims were found to be poorly conducted and, in the case of a frequently-cited large study and a meta-analysis, have been retracted. A study that analyzed results from random, controlled trials of ivermectin for COVID-19 (the gold standard of clinical scientific research) concluded that “evidence on efficacy and safety of ivermectin for prevention of SARS‐CoV‐2 infection and COVID‐19 treatment is conflicting.” 

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An Israeli study that has not yet been peer-reviewed found that unvaccinated people who were previously infected with COVID-19 have longer-lasting and stronger immunity against Delta infection than those who are fully vaccinated. Some have claimed that this is proof that natural immunity is superior to vaccine-induced immunity and are using the study to discredit officials promoting vaccination. Although natural immunity can provide robust protection against COVID-19, it is unreliable, as not everyone who recovers from COVID-19 develops enough antibodies to fight reinfection. It’s also dangerous because natural immunity can only be gained by contracting a serious and potentially deadly disease. Another recent study found that reinfection risk in unvaccinated people was more than twice that of vaccinated people, while numerous studies have shown that vaccinated people are much better protected against hospitalization and death than unvaccinated people. 

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A video with more than 1 million engagements on social media features a person spreading an unfounded rumor that the government will take children away from parents who refuse to be vaccinated. The claim seems to be based on a story about a Chicago mother whose custody was temporarily revoked because she was unvaccinated. The ruling was roundly criticized and the judge overturned the decision, restoring the mother’s custody rights. There is no evidence to support the claim that the government will strip parental rights from unvaccinated parents. Anti-vaccine organizations are capitalizing on the fears of unvaccinated parents, and stoking them, by circulating materials with instructions on how to interact with Child Protective Services so as not to lose custody of children. 

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A preprint of a Lancet study published earlier this month continues to gain traction online, including a feature on a popular conspiracy site shown to publish anti-vaccine misinformation. The site misrepresents the study’s results to conclude that vaccinated health care workers are more responsible for spreading COVID-19 to patients than their unvaccinated colleagues. The study did find that vaccinated people who contract the virus can transmit it to others, but made no conclusions about unvaccinated people as they were not a part of the study. Studies of health care workers in the U.S. have shown that unvaccinated people are more than twice as likely to contract Delta as vaccinated people.

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A social media post from the now-suspended account of a purported physician-researcher claims that new cancers have been diagnosed following COVID-19 vaccination and patients have seen sudden growth of cancers previously in remission. The user cites multiple VAERS reports about cancer as evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are particularly harmful for cancer patients. This is not the first time the vaccines have been dubiously linked to cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, COVID-19 vaccines may be less effective in cancer patients with weakened immune systems. But there is no evidence that the vaccines are harmful. Cancer patients are advised to get vaccinated due to their high risk for severe COVID-19.

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Alerts are categorized as high, medium, and low risk.
  • High risk alerts: Narratives with widespread circulation across communities, high engagement, exponential velocity, and a high potential to impact health decisions. Are often more memorable than accurate information.
  • Medium risk alerts: Narratives that are circulating in priority populations and pose some threat to health. Potential for further spread due to the tactics used or because of predicted velocity. Often highlights the questions and concerns of people.
  • Low risk alerts: Narratives that are limited in reach, don’t impact your community, or lack the qualities necessary for future spread. May indicate information gaps, confusion, or concerns.
Monthly Misinformation Report

Explore Public Good Project’s report highlighting high-level health trends. This report captures information from April 6th – May 5th, 2024.

Vaccine Misinformation Guide

Get practical tips for addressing misinformation in this new guide. Click image to download, or see highlights