NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn't happen this week

·9-min read

A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the facts:

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Altered video twists Kamala Harris statements on COVID vaccines

CLAIM: A video from a speech shows Vice President Kamala Harris repeatedly saying that most people who were hospitalized or recently died from COVID-19 were vaccinated.

THE FACTS: The video was falsified to change what Harris said. The manipulated videos show Harris appearing to say that vaccinated people are being hospitalized and are dying from COVID-19, when the unedited version distributed by the White House shows she actually said this was happening among unvaccinated people. In the doctored clip, Harris appears to state, “Virtually every person who is in the hospital, sick with COVID-19 right now, is vaccinated,” before repeating the sentence again and appearing to add: “Virtually everyone who has recently died from COVID-19 was vaccinated.” But the clip had been edited to make it sound like she used the word “vaccinated.” In the edited version, Harris’ mouth doesn’t match all the words and there is a short, unnatural pause where it appears the word “vaccinated” was inserted into the video in some instances. The real video of Harris captures her remarks at a vaccine mobilization event in Detroit. It was posted July 12 by the White House YouTube account. During the address, she states: “Virtually every person who is in the hospital, sick with COVID-19 right now, is unvaccinated. I’m going to repeat that. It’s a fact. Virtually every person who is in the hospital right now, sick with COVID-19, is unvaccinated. And even more regrettably, virtually everyone who has recently died from COVID-19 was unvaccinated. The loss. The tragedy of that loss. Literally every person who has died from COVID-19 that we have recently been seeing was unvaccinated.” Medical experts have continued to maintain that data shows the vaccines are safe and effective against COVID-19.

— Associated Press writer Sophia Tulp in Atlanta contributed this report.

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Pfizer CEO was not arrested by the FBI, nor charged with fraud

CLAIM: The CEO of Pfizer was arrested on Nov. 5 by FBI agents, charged with fraud and was being held in federal custody while awaiting a bail hearing.

THE FACTS: A conservative blog published an inaccurate article alleging that Albert Bourla, the CEO of the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, had been arrested at his home in a suburb of New York City and charged with fraud in connection with the company’s COVID-19 vaccine. But Bourla has not been arrested, nor has he been charged with any federal crimes. Pfizer spokesperson Pamela Eisele wrote in an email to the AP that the article was “false news.” Bourla made appearances on CNBC and CNN on Nov. 5 — the same day the article falsely claimed he was arrested — to discuss the company’s oral COVID-19 antiviral drug, and he has continued to post on social media. The Federal Bureau of Prisons database does not list Bourla as an inmate and he is not listed on the inmate roster for Westchester County, where the article claimed Bourla was arrested. There are also no results for Bourla involving fraud in a database of federal court records and criminal complaints. The incorrect article, published by the Conservative Beaver, erroneously stated that Bourla faced fraud charges “for his role in deceiving customers on the effectiveness of the COVID-19 ’vaccine.’” It also claimed Pfizer was “accused of falsifying data, and paying out large bribes.” The site did not provide any evidence for its claims and attributed some information to an unnamed FBI agent. The FBI told the AP that it did not have any information on the allegations. The Conservative Beaver did not respond to a request seeking evidence for its claims or any comment on the matter.

— Sophia Tulp

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COVID vaccines did not kill giraffes at Dallas Zoo

CLAIM: Three recent giraffe deaths at the Dallas Zoo may have been related to the COVID-19 vaccine.

THE FACTS: COVID-19 vaccines didn’t contribute to the deaths of three giraffes at the Dallas Zoo in recent months, despite widespread social media posts suggesting otherwise. Several Facebook and Instagram posts incorporated screenshots of two news stories — one about Dallas and Fort Worth zoos planning to vaccinate animals for COVID-19, and the other about the recent giraffe deaths — to insinuate that the two were somehow related. But the giraffes at the Dallas Zoo have not received COVID-19 vaccines, nor have any other animals living onsite, the zoo’s media team told the AP in an emailed statement on Tuesday. The team said the zoo was still waiting for shipments of animal vaccines, which it will initially administer to species that face the highest risk of getting the virus, including big cats and great apes. It’s true that three giraffes at the Dallas Zoo died in October. A 3-month-old calf named Marekani was euthanized Oct. 3 after suffering a “catastrophic” knee injury that would have resulted in lifelong pain and arthritis, according to the zoo’s Facebook page. Later in October, a 19-year-old giraffe named Auggie died “after dealing with age-related health issues that led to liver failure,” the zoo said in a Facebook post. The following week, the death of a 14-year-old giraffe named Jesse, whose blood test results “showed abnormal liver enzymes,” led the zoo to begin questioning whether the two older giraffes’ deaths were related. The deaths are still being investigated. “We have been able to eliminate encephalomyocarditis (EMC) as a cause of death but are still awaiting results on other zoonotic diseases," the zoo posted on Facebook on Nov. 9. “We still believe exposure to a toxin is a potential connection given the abnormal liver enzymes, but we are exploring every possible cause – from bacteria, to parasite, to diseases.” The zoo added that it had trimmed back some vegetation in the giraffes' habitat as a precaution. It also said it had been closely monitoring its hoofstock for symptoms and had seen no sign of any ongoing issues.

— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in New York contributed this report.

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Italy did not revise its COVID-19 death toll

CLAIM: Italy has revised its COVID-19 death toll numbers, showing 97% fewer COVID-19 deaths than initially recorded. This represented a change from over 130,000 deaths to under 4,000 deaths.

THE FACTS: Posts circulating on Instagram and Facebook falsely claim that Italy has revised its COVID-19 death toll due to reporting errors or changes to reporting methodology. The Italian Ministry of Health has not revised the number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 numbers, official data shows. Health officials say statistics in an Italian National Health Service report on the number of people who died of the virus with no comorbidities are being misrepresented. As of Monday, the Italian Health Ministry dashboard shows Italy has had 4,812,594 COVID-19 cases and 132,423 deaths, proving the death toll has not been revised downward. The false claims misrepresent figures from an October study by the Istituto Superiore di Sanità, the research arm of the Italian National Health Service, which said 2.9% of individuals who died of COVID-19 in the country had no pre-existing conditions. In an email to The Associated Press, ISS spokesperson Pier David Malloni said the false posts stemmed from a misleading article in the Italian press that erroneously reported that only 2.9% of the people deceased with a positive test for COVID-19 were really killed by the virus. “This is completely wrong,” Malloni said. He added that the report stated that 2.9% of the people who died did not have other comorbidities. Having multiple chronic health conditions puts individuals at greater risk for complications and death from COVID-19, Malloni said, adding that COVID-19 is listed as the cause of death in cases where there are complicating risk factors. According to Malloni, Italy follows the European Centre for Disease Control and the World Health Organization rules in classifying COVID-19 deaths.

— Associated Press writer Terrence Fraser in New York contributed this report.

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Overcrowding in Australian hospitals not caused by vaccine injuries

CLAIM: Australian hospitals are overwhelmed by “vaccine-injured” patients.

THE FACTS: A number of recent social media posts are incorrectly asserting that Australian hospitals are inundated with patients who have suffered side effects from COVID-19 vaccines, and are sharing a video clip of an Australian premier that is taken out of context to support the false claim. However, hospitals across Australia have experienced diminished capacity, longer wait times and increased demand for years. These issues are being exacerbated by the pandemic, but are not related to COVID-19 vaccine injuries, according to government and health officials. The false claims began circulating following an Oct. 31 news conference in which Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan encouraged vaccination. In response to a question about canceled elective surgeries, McGowan replied that hospitals were under “enormous pressure.” He added, “Why? It is hard to know except that there is some evidence that it is some sort of delayed reaction to COVID." Many social media users shared a clip of McGowan’s response with the caption: “Hospitals all over Australia are overwhelmed by vaccine-injured patients.” A spokesperson for McGowan said his comments were misconstrued and that he was referring to the impacts of the pandemic on the health care system generally, not referencing the vaccine. While Australian hospitals are under stress that has intensified during the pandemic, the official attributed the strain to “increased demand in attendances to hospital for other ailments," a backlog of elective surgeries and other issues. “The Premier was not suggesting it is related to adverse reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine,” the spokesperson wrote in an email. Two reports released by the Australian Medical Association in the past month have highlighted the pressure facing the health care system, but pointed to a long period of decline in hospital capacity and issues with funding as some of the reasons why facilities have been overwhelmed. In an Oct. 15 analysis, the AMA said public hospitals were in a “cycle of crisis” due to a funding formula that failed to address the “sustained decline of hospital performance” over the course of a decade. The organization’s 2021 Public Hospital Report Card found that even during pandemic lockdowns when patient volumes were reduced, health care facilities still demonstrated “backsliding or barely improved performance.” Neither the report card nor the analysis provided any evidence that vaccine injuries were to blame for crowded hospitals. In fact, the reports showed that hospital resources were strained before coronavirus vaccines became widely available. Australia’s health department maintains that data shows the benefits of the vaccines continue to outweigh the risks, and that “the vast majority of COVID-19 vaccine adverse events” are not serious.

— Sophia Tulp

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