Did celebrities and politicians just pretend to get the Covid-19 vaccination?
Social media is rife with fake news about the Covid-19 vaccine just days after several countries started their vaccination campaigns. Lots of people have been sharing images that they say show politicians manipulating the public by pretending to be vaccinated.
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The European Medicines Agency authorised the Covid-19 vaccine developed by the American laboratory Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech on December 21, with vaccination campaigns beginning in European countries on December 27. The vaccine has already been deployed in the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada.
However, there is still significant fear and suspicion about the virus, which is fed by the rumours, fake news and faulty information circulating on social media. In an attempt to assuage the fear and encourage people to get vaccinated, several elected officials have opted to be vaccinated publicly.
In this vein, United States Vice President Mike Pence was vaccinated in front of the cameras on December 18. US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez filmed herself getting the vaccine and responded to questions from the public about her experience on Instagram.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on live television on December 19, thus launching the nation’s vaccination campaign. Footage of Netanyahu getting vaccinated was broadcast on all major television networks at the start of the nightly news.
A retractable syringe?
However, these displays weren’t enough to convince some social media users. In early December, people started sharing a video on social media showing an American man demonstrating a retractable syringe.
"When you start to see celebrities and politicians setting an example by getting vaccinated, remember this video, ok? Remember that they are just playing a role, a bad role like in the movies,” wrote one French-speaking social media user in the caption of the video, which he posted on December 3. "Look at how they will make you believe that they’ve had the vaccine,” posted another social media user on December 6.
The problem is that this video has been taken out of its original context. Our fellow journalists at 20 Minutes found the original post, by a man named Scott Reeder, who works with props used in films. He posted the video on TikTok and Instagram in September. In it, he shows off three “retractable props” – a knife, an ice pick and a syringe. He doesn’t mention the Covid-19 vaccine at all in his video. Reeder told 20 Minutes that this excerpt from his video had been used without his permission and he doesn’t support the theories propagated by the people misusing his video.
A disappearing needle?
In mid-December, lots of English-speaking social media users started sharing a second video, this one taken from a BBC TV report (check out examples here and here). The video shows a nurse injecting a patient. When she pulls back on the syringe, the needle seems to retract.
"What happened to the needle?", reads one tweet posted on December 19. “Have a look, guys. Disappearing needle on exit? This is how stupid they think YOU are!” says another user.
In the comments section, some social media users explain that this type of syringe does, indeed, exist. On YouTube, you can find several videos, made by manufacturers of medical material, that show syringes with retractable needles (check out examples here, here or here). When the injection is finished, the needle is retracted back into the syringe. This is a way to protect those administering it from possible wounds or infections.
Did the Mayor of London pretend to get a Covid-19 vaccination?
Other people shared a video showing the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, getting vaccinated … except the needle is still covered by a cap.
"The Mayor of London was vaccinated against Covid (...) but he forgot to take off the cap protecting the needle. They take us for idiots, you have no idea,” reads this tweet from December 5.
Is this some kind of manipulation? Is the Mayor of London trying to get people to take the Covid-19 vaccine without taking it himself? Not really. We carried out a reverse image search and quickly realised that the Mayor posted this same image on Twitter on September 28, well before the start of the Covid-19 vaccination campaign, which was launched in the United Kingdom on December 8. In his post, Khan is advising people to get the flu vaccine.
We are heading into flu season.— Mayor of London (gov.uk/coronavirus) (@MayorofLondon) September 28, 2020
If you or someone you know is entitled to receive a flu jab, remember you can get one for free at your local high street pharmacy or GP surgery.
Booking one is easy. Just visit https://t.co/1tKDvcOzi0 pic.twitter.com/eR1tkfIvcB
Even back in September, social media users raised questions about this image, which shows a syringe with a cover on the needle.
French daily newspaper Le Monde contacted the office of Sadiq Khan, who said that the photo was, indeed, just a photo. A spokesperson said that while Khan did get the flu vaccine on September 28, the photo was taken before the actual injection.
In conclusion, this photo of Sadiq Khan doesn’t have anything to do with the Covid-19 vaccination. He posed for the picture earlier this year in an attempt to raise awareness about the flu vaccine, which he himself took. However, the photo was indeed staged, which raised suspicion.
Suspicious social media users often scrutinise public vaccinations. This summer, a video showing Australian Prime Minister Annastacia Palaszczuk pretending to be vaccinated went viral. That was another case where the syringe still had a cap on it. French fact-checking outlet AFP-Factuel explained in an article that the prime minister did indeed get the vaccine but then posed after the fact to give photographers the time to take a picture.
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