For the control of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments and researchers are betting on the development of an effective and safe vaccine against the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). With an immunizer ready, hundreds of thousands of lives can be spared from mass vaccination campaigns. At least that is the plan, even if a series of fake news tries to implant fear, contesting the benefits of these drugs.
With discussions taking place on social networks on the topic, a 383% increase was observed in posts with false or distorted content about vaccines against COVID-19 in Brazil, within the last two months. This is what the latest survey by União Pró-Vacina (UPVacina), a group linked to USP Ribeirão Preto, points out.
Still on the misinformation in the networks, an Avaaz study pointed out that, between 2019 and 2020, health-related disinformation – published specifically on Facebook – was accessed 3.8 billion times in five countries (United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy).
To scale the issue, this “content” had a reach four times greater when compared to the performance of the accounts of ten major health institutions, considered as safe sources, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for the Control and Prevention of US Diseases (CDC).
In order to avoid these shares, Facebook, for example, has started to adopt measures, such as signs on the quality of content and partnerships with information checking agencies. Because of these measures, an anti-vaccine group, this month, filed a lawsuit against Facebook and, specifically, its fact-checking. And this is not fake news.
One of the great difficulties in defining whether the news is fake news or not is that a significant part of these shares mixes real information with false and inaccurate statements about the topic. In other words, fake news about COVID-19 has become more sophisticated and, thus, has a greater reach and is able to manipulate more information. If the rumors now revolve around the immunizing agent, it is worth remembering that, even in the pandemic, a lot of false news has already spread around, including teaching bizarre recipes, how to consume bleach to fight COVID-19.
Bill Gates and microchip implants
In the fake news universe, one of the most popular associations is between COVID-19 and Bill Gates, current philanthropist and founder of Microsoft. Through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, he would be involved in a plan that originated the COVID-19 pandemic and this tragedy would be used to implant microchips in the world population. In turn, each microchip would allow external control of people with 5G antennas.
These rumors started to emerge in March, when the businessman stated that “we will have some digital certificates” to show who has already recovered from a case of COVID-19, was tested or received the vaccine, without mentioning microchips and 5G technology. The idea was to create a kind of passport for those who had already recovered from the infection.
From that, texts about how Gates planned to implant microchips to fight the coronavirus began to be shared, in a viral way, on social networks. Along with statements about COVID-19, the creators of fake news rescued a Foundation project that planned to use an “invisible ink”, which can be applied to the skin, and which would function as a vaccination record.
You see: there were never any claims about a microchip that would be implemented in humans, but, yes, a special ink. In addition, the original technology of this type of “tattoo” would not allow the tracking of people or the inclusion of information in a database for surveillance.
“Gates is a frequent target of these rumors, because, through his foundation, he funds many health and scientific institutions. Specifically in relation to COVID-19, he gave a lecture a few years ago, saying that there was a great risk for humanity to face a pandemic “, explains João Henrique Rafael Júnior, from the Institute of Advanced Studies at the University of São Paulo (USP) in Ribeirão Preto. This was a full plate for the conspirators.
Kanye West and the mark of the beast
In a controversial interview with Forbes, American rapper Kanye West endorsed fake news involving Bill Gates and potential vaccines against COVID-19. “They want to put chips inside us, they want to do all sorts of things, so that we can’t get through the gates of heaven,” said the singer.
However, West added a new element to conspiracy theories about the immunizer, saying it would be considered “the mark of the beast”. A curious fact is that more users see potential vaccines against COVID-19 in some way linked to Satanism and this so-called mark of the beast.
Even though some currents may interpret a vaccine in a negative way in relation to a given religion, there is no evidence that the thousands of researchers, from different cultures and creeds, and the countless public institutes, spread all over the world, have formal involvement with any sect that be.
Among Catholics, Pope Francis not only advocates vaccination when there is a safe and effective vaccine, but questions its distribution. “It would be sad if the priority of the vaccine for COVID-19 was given to the richest. It would be sad if it became the priority of a nation and was not aimed at everyone,” said the pontiff.
Vaccine does not use fetuses or tumors
Another fake news that circulates with great reach among social networks claims that vaccines, in development, against COVID-19 bring in their formula or used cells from aborted fetuses and tumors. Here, it is necessary to first understand how vaccines are produced, since different immunizers can be produced in different ways.
As part of the vaccines use inactivated (dead) or attenuated (altered so as not to cause infection) copies of a virus, scientists need to replicate millions of these viruses in some cell to then produce the immunizer. For example, the history of the fetuses was related to the CoronaVac vaccine, developed by the Chinese company Sinovac and with ongoing tests in Brazil under the coordination of the Butantan Institute.
In that case, the story makes no sense. “The cells used to replicate coronaviruses are Vero cells. They are a very specific type of cell, which comes from the epithelium of a monkey’s kidney (Cercopithecus aethiops). They are used in this way, because they have a very specific characteristic of development, of replication. They are also cells that do not go into cell death after a while “, explains the Infectologist at the Beneficência Portuguesa Hospital of São Paulo and a doctoral student at the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp), João Prats, for the Canaltech.
It is true that other cell cultures may have developed from embryonic tissues. However, fetuses are not used in this process, but cells that come from a tissue collected more than 40 years ago. Since then, the fabric has given rise to other generations, only replicated in vitro — and it is this material that can be used in the production of an infectious agent, but it is not included in vaccines.
Irreversible DNA damage
Social media posts point out that vaccines against COVID-19, specifically those that use a messenger RNA (mRNA), could cause “irreversible damage” to the DNA of vaccinated people. According to fake news, an immunizer capable of producing this change would be the formula of the American pharmaceutical Pfizer, developed in partnership with the German biotechnology company BioNTech.
In this type of vaccine, a messenger RNA sequence is introduced into the person by the vaccine and causes the body’s cells to build a virus-specific protein. Once produced within the body, the immune system can recognize it as an antigen and create immunity against the true coronavirus. That way, when the virus enters the body, the person will already have antibodies ready.
“Biologically, there is no evidence of this [alteração do DNA]. In the case of mRNA vaccines, everything is transparent, everything is published. The data is there to be analyzed. And a guy who makes a claim like that basically didn’t read the literature. It is very important to explain to people that this is impossible ”, defends Cristina Bonorino, professor at the Federal University of Health Sciences of Porto Alegre (Ufcspa) and member of the scientific committee of the Brazilian Society of Immunology (SBI).
Scientist death and flu cases
Yes, it is a plethora of fake news that take over social networks, and we selected the most absurd to compose this list. For example, a false report also stated that scientist Elisa Granato, one of the first people to be immunized with the Oxford University vaccine in April, would have died after being vaccinated. When the alleged death began to be reported, the scientist needed to confirm the fact that she was alive and healthy.
If the stories created to attack the vaccination against COVID-19 were not enough, rumors try to avoid other vaccinations. This is the case with posts claiming that the flu vaccine could increase the chances of complications due to the coronavirus. “There are no studies correlating vaccination to influenza and risk of illness or complications due to COVID-19,” explained the Ministry of Health, in a statement.
After all, why are vaccines safe?
Conspiracy theories can wreak serious havoc on health systems, especially when talking about COVID-19, a disease that has led to the death of more than 850,000 people worldwide. In Brazil alone, there are more than 120 thousand deaths from infection caused by the coronavirus. In this scenario, an effective and safe vaccine is the goal of thousands of researchers, doctors, scientists and public authorities. Even if it is so desired, steps cannot be skipped in its (careful) approval process and that is why all clinical trials of vaccines are so important.
For the release of a new immunizer, the following are required: the publication of studies that detail the protective capacity against an infectious agent and the possible side effects; authorizations from different public bodies (in the case of Brazil, Anvisa); and thousands of tests on different groups of people. That is why vaccines are safe for human use and, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), prevent between two million and three million deaths per year.
Check before sharing
Before sharing information about vaccines against COVID-19 or any other disease, it is necessary to understand the responsibility that this content has and its ability to influence people in its virtual circle, even as a user. Therefore, it is worth asking whether information can be true or not.
To clarify doubts, it is possible to follow official health profiles on social networks, such as the Ministry of Health. Other safe sources are materials released by institutes, considered as references in the control and monitoring of the coronavirus. Nationally, they are: Fundação Oswaldo Cruz (Fiocruz), in Rio de Janeiro; Instituto Adolfo Lutz and Butantan, both in São Paulo.
It is also worth checking out websites fact-checking, that is, pages that check if a given news item (national or international) is real, in a quick way, like Agência Lupa. For this purpose, a group of more than 100 information checkers, spread over 45 countries, speakers of 15 languages, concentrate their findings on a list on Twitter that can be accessed on here.
Source: With information: BBC, G1, O Globo, Ministry of Health, The Conversation, Estadão, Uol and Jornal USP
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