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Fabricating stories, fantastic conspiracy theories about covid-19 jabs that are deadly

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Fabricating stories, fantastic conspiracy theories about covid-19 jabs that are deadly

2021-01-25 04:26:47

By Dwaipayan

Anti-vaccine groups are exploiting the suffering and death of people who happen to fall ill after receiving a covid shot, threatening to undermine the largest vaccination campaign in U.S. history.

In some cases, anti-vaccine activists are fabricating stories of deaths that never occurred.

Anti-vaccine groups have falsely claimed for decades that childhood vaccines cause autism, weaving fantastic conspiracy theories involving government, Big Business and the media.

Now, the same groups are blaming patients' coincidental medical problems on covid shots, even when it's clear that age or underlying health conditions are to blame, Hotez said. "They will sensationalize anything that happens after someone gets a vaccine and attribute it to the vaccine," Hotez said.

As more seniors receive their first covid shots, many will inevitably suffer from unrelated heart attacks, strokes and other serious medical problems — not because of the vaccine but, rather, their age and declining health, said epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

"The media will write a story that John Doe got his vaccine at 8 a.m. and at 4 p.m. he had a heart attack," Osterholm said on his weekly podcast. "They will make assumptions that it's cause and effect."

Public health officials need to do a better job communicating the risks — real and imagined — from vaccines, said Osterholm, who served on President Joe Biden's transition coronavirus advisory board.

Anti-vaccine groups such as the National Vaccine Information Center and Children's Health Defense, founded by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., are already inflaming fears about a handful of deaths — mostly in Europe — that have followed the worldwide rollout of immunizations.

Here in the U.S., vaccine opponents have pounced on the tragedy of Dr. Gregory Michael, a 56-year-old Florida obstetrician-gynecologist, to sow doubts about vaccine safety and government oversight. Michael died Jan. 5 after suffering a catastrophic drop in platelets — elements in the blood that control bleeding — suggesting he may have developed immune thrombocytopenia.

According to a Facebook post by his wife, Heidi Neckelmann, doctors tried a variety of treatments to save her husband, but none worked.

A spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the agency is investigating Michael's death, as it does for all suspected vaccine-related health problems.

Many Americans were already nervous about covid vaccines, with 27% saying they "probably or definitely" would not get a shot, even if the shots were free and deemed safe by scientists, according to a December survey by KFF. (KHN is an editorially independent program of KFF.)

These people may be particularly susceptible to vaccine misinformation, said Rory Smith, research manager at First Draft, a nonprofit that reports on misinformation online.

Social media users selectively edited a video of a Tennessee nurse, Tiffany Dover to make it appear as if she dropped dead after being vaccinated, when in fact she simply fainted, said Dorit Reiss, a professor at the UC Hastings College of Law in San Francisco. Although Dover quickly recovered, social media users posted a fake death certificate and obituary. Anti-vaccine activists also harassed Dover and her family online, said Reiss, who chronicled Dover's ordeal in a blog post.

In December, multiple Facebook posts falsely claimed that an Alabama nurse died after receiving one of the state's first covid vaccines. One Twitter user went so far as to identify the nurse as Jennifer McClung, who worked at Helen Keller Hospital in Sheffield, Alabama. In fact, McClung died of covid. Social media posts spread so widely that Alabama health department officials contacted every hospital in the state to confirm that no vaccinated staff member had died.

Anti-vaccine groups often build fables around "a tiny, tiny grain of truth," Smith said. "This is why misinformation, specifically vaccine misinformation, can be so convincing. ... But this information is almost always taken completely out of context, creating claims that are either misleading or outright false."

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