Vaccine rap battle full of misinformation

20 October 2021
What was claimed

Coronavirus is as deadly as the flu.

Our verdict

Without vaccination, evidence shows that Covid-19 has a higher fatality rate than the flu. Restrictions such as lockdowns, which are not implemented for the flu, also suppressed the number of deaths.

What was claimed

Ivermectin is a safe and effective treatment for Covid-19 symptoms.

Our verdict

The Department of Health and Social Care previously told Full Fact that, based on available data, there is not sufficient evidence to prove that ivermectin is a safe and effective treatment for Covid-19.

What was claimed

Fact checkers are funded by pharmaceutical companies.

Our verdict

Full Fact has never received funding from a pharmaceutical company, and a full list of major donors who gave over £5,000 is available online.

What was claimed

Unapproved vaccine trials don’t end until 2023.

Our verdict

The Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccine trials have an estimated completion date of April 2023, in order to take into account samples from participants collected up to two years after their final vaccine. This doesn’t mean they are unsafe for use now.

What was claimed

Millions of people have been injured by the vaccines.

Our verdict

This is based on a common misunderstanding of the Yellow Card monitoring system. Suspected adverse events reported through the system are not proven side effects.

What was claimed

Vaccine risks for children outweigh benefits.

Our verdict

The JCVI has said that the benefits from vaccination for healthy 12 to 15-year-olds are marginally greater than the potential known harms.

A video on Facebook, performed in the style of a rap battle and viewed more than 36,000 times, makes a number of misleading claims about Covid-19 and the vaccines. 

In it, the self-proclaimed “truther” tells their “vaxxer” alter-ego that Covid-19 is as deadly as the flu, alludes to ivermectin as an effective treatment for the virus and describes side effects reported through the Yellow Card system. 

These claims, alongside others made in the video, are identical to misinformation we have seen circulating throughout the pandemic and subsequent vaccination programme. 

Here are the facts on six key points made during the video. 

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Coronavirus is much more deadly than the flu 

Comparisons between Covid-19 and the flu have been made since very early on in the pandemic, and we have fact checked them several times before

It is difficult to compare the two. Many measures, such as national lockdown restrictions, were taken to suppress the spread of Covid-19, which have not previously been introduced to limit the spread of flu viruses. 

More than 45 million people in the UK have now also received two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine. While a seasonal flu vaccination programme is delivered every year, it reaches a lower proportion of the UK population than the Covid-19 vaccine. For example, in England in 2020, 80.9% of people aged 65 and over received the flu vaccine. Meanwhile, in England, every age group aged 65 and over has a Covid-19 vaccine uptake rate of at least 92%

Evidence shows that Covid-19 is more contagious than the flu in the absence of any protections and, particularly without vaccination, has a higher fatality rate

Ivermectin isn’t a proven treatment for Covid-19 

During the video, the character presenting themselves as a “truther” says: “We've got safe and effective medicines to cure and to ease all the symptoms. Ever heard of ivermectin?” 

Ivermectin, an anti-parasite medication, has been the focus of significant debate throughout the pandemic, amid speculation that it could be used to treat the virus. 

As we have written before, the World Health Organisation and the European Medicines Agency have said that ivermectin should not be used in patients with Covid-19 except in the context of a clinical trial. The Department of Health and Social Care has previously told us that, based on available data, there is not sufficient evidence to prove that ivermectin is a safe and effective treatment for Covid-19. 

How Full Fact (and the BBC) are funded

During the video it is claimed that fact checkers are funded by pharmaceutical companies. The speaker isn’t specific about which fact checkers they are referring to, but Full Fact has never received donations from pharmaceutical companies. 

We list all donations over £5,000 on our website. To see the full list, and to find out more about how we are funded and how we safeguard our neutrality, click here

Claims that fact checkers are funded by pharmaceutical companies have been raised in the past. For example, a US politician pointed out in April that’s SciCheck Covid-19/Vaccination Project is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which holds shares in Johnson & Johnson

The video also claims that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the top ten donors to the BBC. While it is true that the Foundation donated more than £1.5m to BBC Media Action in 2019/2020, this does not mean that they are directly funding the BBC. 

BBC Media Action was founded by the BBC in 1999 as its international development charity. It runs a variety of projects around the world, for example, efforts to improve women’s digital literacy in India, communicating information to Rohingya refugees and countering Covid-19 misinformation in Nigeria. While it applies the same editorial standards and works closely with the broadcaster, it is legally and financially independent

Vaccines have been fully tested and are safe for use 

It is also claimed that the vaccine trials are not due to end until 2023. This is a common claim, and is often meant to infer that the vaccines are not safe for use. 

As we have written before, in December 2020, the Pfizer and the Oxford-AstraZeneca research teams released their analyses of phase three safety and efficacy data. Moderna released theirs in February 2021.

The 2023 date mentioned in the video is the estimated study completion date for the Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines. An estimated study completion date is the estimated date “on which the last participant in a clinical study was examined or received an intervention/treatment to collect final data for the primary outcome measures, secondary outcome measures and adverse events.”

For the Pfizer vaccine, the primary outcomes include reactions like pain at the injection site, systemic side effects like a fever or vomiting, and adverse events.

Many of the secondary outcome measures involve examining or measuring samples from participants up to two years after their final vaccine. The completion date therefore has to be a few years in the future.

Yellow Card reports are not proven side effects 

A significant proportion of the video is given to listing reported adverse events to Covid-19 vaccines, published through the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency’s (MHRA) Yellow Card scheme.

The speaker in the video says “millions have been injured” by the vaccines, using Yellow Card reports as evidence. As we have written many, many times before,Yellow Card reports are not proven side effects, and it is extremely misleading to present them as such. 

The MHRA’s own website states: “It is very important to note that a Yellow Card report does not necessarily mean the vaccine caused that reaction or event”. 

It adds: “Many suspected ADRs [adverse drug reactions] reported on a Yellow Card do not have any relation to the vaccine or medicine and it is often coincidental that they both occurred around the same time.” 

Vaccine benefits outweigh risks for children 

The claim that the risks of vaccines outweigh the benefits for children has been repeated throughout the vaccine roll out, and is one we have fact checked before

It’s true that healthy children (those without underlying health conditions) are at a very low risk of dying or becoming seriously ill after contracting Covid-19. But even for these children, it’s not as straightforward as saying the risks of the vaccine outweigh the benefits. 

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) considered the evidence on the risks and benefits of vaccination and concluded that: "Overall, the committee is of the opinion that the benefits from vaccination [for healthy 12-15-year-olds] are marginally greater than the potential known harms... but acknowledges that there is considerable uncertainty regarding the magnitude of the potential harms."

It also said: “The margin of benefit, based primarily on a health perspective, is considered too small to support advice on a universal programme of vaccination of otherwise healthy 12 to 15-year-old children at this time.”

The vaccine rollout for children aged between 12 and 15 years old began in September, after the chief medical officers for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland wrote to ministers recommending vaccination for this age group on public health grounds. 

During this section of the video a quote attributed to ex-Pfizer scientist and lockdown sceptic Dr Mike Yeadon appears on screen, stating that children are 50 times more likely to die from the Covid-19 vaccine than the virus. Spanish fact checkers Maldita have previously checked this claim, describing it as false and without evidence. 

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