Fact check: Did the first people to get the Covid-19 vaccines die?
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Seventy-eight-year-old Mauricette M. made history on December 27, 2020 when she became the first person to get the Covid-19 vaccine in France. But since mid-January, a rumour that Mauricette died after getting her vaccine has been circulating widely on social media. The rumour is false however – Mauricette is still alive and well. But it is worrying. And similar rumours claiming that the first people vaccinated in the United States, the United Kingdom and Spain also died have also been circulating online.
Social media users in all of these countries have been spreading disinformation to heighten suspicions about the anti-vaccine sentiment.
1 - France: No, 78-year-old Mauricette did not die after getting the vaccine
Mauricette M. got the very first Covid-19 vaccination in France on December 27, 2020 at René-Muret de Sevran Hospital in Seine-Saint-Denis, just outside of Paris. She made headlines across France. But about three weeks later, in mid-January, several social media users started questioning why they hadn’t heard any more about her.
"Could someone from Mauricette’s family reassure us? We haven’t heard anything about her since she was vaccinated!” tweeted one person on January 15.
The same week, dozens of posts on social media claimed that Mauricette had died after suffering a heart attack.
"Mauricette has reportedly died … If you count the number of deaths because of the Pfizer mRNA vaccinations, we must be close to 100 …” says this tweet in French from January 17.
Our colleagues at the fact-checking site CheckNews reported that the rumour began circulating the day after Mauricette was vaccinated. A Twitter user with the handle "Aldente", an account that has since been deleted, tweeted: "Mauricette, the 78-year-old woman vaccinated in Sevran died after a heart attack tonight. I work in the home where she lived. Right now, nothing indicates that the vaccine was the cause of death #vaccination".
The account has since been deactivated, but CheckNews was able to access its history. On January 16, the social media user behind the account "Aldente" admitted in a tweet to lying in order to “dissuade people from getting vaccinated.”
“It’s false. The patient isn’t dead,” said APHP, the group of hospitals that includes René-Muret Hospital, where Mauricette was vaccinated, in a message to French media outlet Franceinfo on Sunday, January 17.
Two days later, on January 19, Mauricette M. got her second dose.
2 - This newspaper headline, claiming that the first person in Spain to be vaccinated died, was photoshopped
The vaccination campaign in Spain also kicked off on December 27. Ninety-six-year-old Araceli Rosario Hidalgo, who lives in a care home in Guadalajara in Castilla-La Mancha, was the first person to be vaccinated against Covid-19 in Spain. As was the case for Mauricette in France, Araceli’s vaccination was covered extensively by the press.
But in the following days, a screengrab showing what looked like an article from the website of El Mundo, the most well-known Spanish newspaper, began to circulate on WhatsApp and Twitter. The title reads: "Araceli, the first person vaccinated in Spain, dies 24 hours after getting the vaccine.”
On December 29, the care home where Araceli lives told fact checkers at AFP Factuel that Araceli was alive and well and that the rumours were false. The government of Castilla-La Mancha also said that rumours that she had died were “lies”, adding that there had been no problems after she was vaccinated.
The same day, El Mundo reported in an article that the screengrab wasn’t authentic. The font used in the title isn’t the font used by the site. The original article, which was published on December 27, doesn’t mention that the patient died. The title reads, simply, “Araceli, age 96, first woman vaccinated against Covid-19 in Spain."
Another article containing the same false information that Araceli had died was also circulated online. However, this article was from "12 minutos", a satirical paper that only publishes spoofs.
Araceli got her second dose of the vaccine on January 18.
"I am doing very well, I didn’t even feel the shot!” she said to journalists.
3 - United States: This video showing a nurse fainting was used in other countries to suggest she had died
In mid-December, a video filmed in a hospital in Chattanooga, Tennessee, started circulating widely on social media in the United States and abroad. The footage shows Tiffany Dover, one of the first nurses in the hospital to get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Shortly after she was vaccinated, when she was speaking to the press along with her colleagues, Dover fainted. Lots of people shared the video in order to increase people’s mistrust of the vaccination.
"Look at what happens to her ... I don’t know what they put in there but @olivierveran will tell us", tweeted one French social media user, referring to Olivier Véran, the French Health Minister.
In Brazil, people were sharing that video and claiming that the nurse had died.
Some people were even sharing screengrabs of an Instagram account called “In Memory of Tiffany Dover”, which was created after her death. It was later deleted.
A screengrab of this fake Instagram account was circulating online. The caption reads "Tiffany Dover, the nurse who fainted after getting the vaccine, has died. The vaccine isn’t aspirin !!! When will people get it??? That wasn’t the first case and it won’t be the last". © Twitter
A video meant to pay homage to Dover was posted on YouTube, where it garnered more than 162,000 views. “Guys please! Please ... Share on social networks ... For justice! And say no to the mandatory vaccine!” reads the caption.
However, on the day she fainted, Dover quickly recovered and explained to journalists that she had a hyperactive vagal response to pain, meaning that even a small pain like “stubbing her toe” could cause her to faint.
>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: Is this video of a nurse fainting proof that the Covid-19 vaccine is dangerous?
4 - United Kingdom: Fake claims that the first person vaccinated died a few days after getting her injection
In the United Kingdom, 90-year-old Margaret Keenan was the first person to get vaccinated. On December 8, she actually became the first patient in the world (outside of vaccine trials) to get the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine when she got her jab in a hospital in Coventry, in the centre of England.
>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS : No, this women wasn’t 'vaccinated twice' against Covid-19
On December 10, several posts in French announcing that Keenan had died were posted online. Some social media users claimed that the news was shared by the BBC.
On December 18, a spokesperson for the NHS, the British national healthcare system, told fact checkers at AFP Factuel that this rumour was “absolutely false”. A member of the BBC’s press service also denied that the media outlet had ever published or deleted an article about this topic.
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