NewsGuard Reports More Than 300 Vaccine-Related False Narratives Now Spreading Online

Nearly four years since the outbreak of COVID-19—and amidst a constant stream of false claims about vaccine efficacy—NewsGuard reports that there are now more than 300 vaccine-related false narratives infecting social media and online search results

(February 7, 2024 — New York) Health misinformation site Natural News (NewsGuard Trust Score: 5/100) reports that elderberries are more effective protection against flu than a vaccine. The National Vaccine Information Center (Trust Score: 12.5/100) cites research claiming measles vaccines cause measles. U.K-based Principia-Scientific (Trust Score: 20/100) claims COVID-19 vaccines contain monkey DNA.

These are among the now more than 300 vaccine-related false narratives that NewsGuard’s healthcare information team has identified circulating on the internet, shared by 4,387 websites and other news sources and social media accounts—and counting. Two thirds of all the news and information websites that NewsGuard has rated as untrustworthy since 2018 publish healthcare misinformation.

“The vaccine-related false narratives we’ve found don’t just reflect the spike in conversations about vaccines since the pandemic,” said John Gregory, health editor at NewsGuard. “Long before COVID-19, people made all kinds of questionable statements about vaccines, related to autoimmune diseases, infertility, cardiac arrest and other health topics. In fact, 67% of news sites rated as generally untrustworthy (below 60/100) by NewsGuard have been flagged for publishing health misinformation, making it one of the largest categories of misinformation we track.”

A recent issue of NewsGuard’s new consumer newsletter “Reality Check” details the anti-vax community’s response to measles outbreaks in the U.S, U.K and continental Europe. Misinformers mischaracterized a 1969 episode of “The Brady Bunch,” a popular sitcom that ran for five years in the U.S. on the ABC network, to portray the disease as low risk.

The X account of health supplement store NaturallyFTW.com shared to its 155,000 followers: “Big Pharma got this 1969 episode of The Brady Bunch pulled from TV in 2019. Because if we knew Measles has a ~100% survival rate, they couldn’t scare us into accepting school Mandates for their toxic injections.” (This episode is one of many currently unavailable online due to licensing issues, not to pressure from pharmaceutical companies.)

“Research continues to show that vaccine disinformation and misinformation have a significant death toll,” said Steven Brill, co-CEO of NewsGuard. “For example, a May 2022 analysis by researchers at Brown, Harvard, Microsoft, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, reported that if the COVID vaccine take-up rate in the United States had been 90 percent of eligible adults after the vaccines became available instead of the actual rate of 70 percent of adults being fully vaccinated, 225,427 fewer people would have died between January 2021 and April 2022.”

Prominent vaccine-related myth examples NewsGuard has identified include:

  • “Fibrous blood clots reported by embalmers are proof of widespread deaths caused by COVID-19 vaccines:” A new version of this false narrative has gained traction due to an online survey of embalmers released in January 2024, which says that 70 percent of embalmers reported seeing an increase in fibrous blood clots in bodies beginning in mid-2021, following the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. In fact, the survey’s responses—which may not have come from actual embalmers—cannot prove a link to COVID vaccines, because blood clots commonly form after a person has died and embalmers would be unlikely to know a deceased person’s vaccination status. The spread of this false narrative was accelerated by RFK Jr.’s Children’s Health Defense (Trust Score: 17.5/100).
  • “AstraZeneca and Sanofi’s nirsevimab shot against RSV led to rise in newborn deaths in France:” This myth spread prominently in Europe, implicating two major pharmaceutical brands, and stems from a December 2023 blog post and January 2024 video posted on Crowdbunker by French pharmacologist Hélène Banoun, who has advanced multiple falsehoods about vaccines.
  • “Zombie deer disease cases linked to vaccine program funded by Mark Zuckerberg:” The claim that chronic wasting disease, a fatal condition that affects deer, elk, and moose, is associated with vaccines, is baseless. It appears to have emerged in a Jan. 1, 2024, post on Instagram by a man named Kashif Khan, who stated in an Instagram post, “In an eerie turn of events resembling a plot from a dystopian film, over 100 million American wildlife animals were vaccinated through a program funded by the Zuckerberg Charity Foundation. Now, a chilling development known as the zombie deer virus is sweeping across 32 states, affecting deer with disturbing neurological symptoms.” The post received more than 10,000 likes.
  • “Canadian study proves that COVID-19 vaccines killed 17 million people:” This false narrative originated in September 2023, but resurfaced due to a Jan. 5, 2024, Tucker Carlson interview that, as of January 31, has 34,000 reposts and 81,000 likes on X.

NewsGuard’s health team publishes these vaccine-related false narratives and associated debunks in NewsGuard’s Misinformation Fingerprints dataset, which catalogs the most significant false claims circulating online.

Licensees of NewsGuard’s Misinformation Fingerprints database can read the full false narrative entries and associated debunks of false claims, as well as access tens of thousands of examples of the claims spreading online.

The machine-readable Misinformation Fingerprints cover provably false narratives in several categories including health misinformation, COVID-19 misinformation, election-related misinformation, Israel-Hamas and Russia-Ukraine war misinformation, brand-related misinformation, and more.

The fingerprints are used as unique identifiers to seed AI/ML tools that search for content containing mis- and disinformation claims across the internet, by generative AI models to gain guardrails against spreading false claims, by human analysts to track emerging narratives before they enter the mainstream, and by corporate communicators to keep abreast of the brand-related misinformation that harms brand and product reputations.


About NewsGuard

Founded by media entrepreneur and award-winning journalist Steven Brill and former Wall Street Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz, NewsGuard provides transparent tools to counter misinformation for readers, brands, and democracies. Since launching in 2018, its global staff of trained journalists and information specialists has collected, updated, and deployed more than 6.9 million data points on more than 35,000 news and information sources, and cataloged and tracked all of the top false narratives spreading online.

NewsGuard’s analysts, powered by multiple AI tools, operate the trust industry’s largest and most accountable dataset on news. These data are deployed to fine-tune and provide guardrails for generative AI models, enable brands to advertise on quality news sites and avoid propaganda or hoax sites, provide media literacy guidance for individuals, and support democratic governments in countering hostile disinformation operations targeting their citizens.

Among other indicators of the scale of its operations is that NewsGuard’s apolitical and transparent criteria have been applied by its analysts to rate news sources accounting for 95% of online engagement with news across nine countries.