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:
CLAIM: Two researchers found that more than 1,500 athletes have suffered cardiac arrest since COVID-19 vaccinations began, compared to a previous average of 29 athletes per year, suggesting the vaccines are causing a dramatic rise in such cardiac issues.
THE FACTS: The researchers cited a number from a blog that lists news stories about recent deaths and medical emergencies among people of all ages, from all over the world — some of which were attributed to other causes. Following Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest during a game Monday, social media posts and Fox News gave air to a long-circulating and faulty narrative that COVID-19 vaccines are causing a dramatic increase in athlete deaths. “Cardiologist Peter McCullough and researcher Panagis Polykretis looked into this trend in Europe, European sports leagues. They found that prior to COVID and the COVID-19 vaccines there were roughly 29 cardiac arrests in those European sports leagues per year,” Fox’s Tucker Carlson claimed in a segment Tuesday. “Since the vax campaign began, there have been more than 1,500 total cardiac arrests in those leagues and two-thirds of those were fatal.” Carlson was in fact referencing a letter, not a rigorous study, that McCullough and Polykretis published in a Scandinavian journal in late 2022. And that letter simply cites the blog goodsciencing.com. The blog’s list is a compilation of news reports about recent deaths and medical emergencies, and it includes cases not reported to be spurred by cardiac arrest: Some deaths, for example, were reportedly from cancer. The list also includes incidents from around the world and among people of all ages — including some in their 70s and 80s — not just athletes in “European sports leagues,” as Carlson claimed. “It’s not real research,” Dr. Matthew Martinez, director of sports cardiology at Atlantic Health System in Morristown Medical Center, told the AP. “Anybody can write a letter to the editor and then quote an article that has no academic rigor.” Dr. Jonathan Kim, chief of sports cardiology at Emory University School of Medicine, similarly said of the blog post: “It’s just shocking to use that as a citation.” “It’s scientific garbage, you can’t just pull a bunch of media reports,” he added. The letter by McCullough and Polykretis goes on to compare the blog’s questionable “1,598” figure of recent incidents to a 2006 study that found 1,101 reports of sudden cardiac death in athletes over a 38-year period, or an average of 29 per year. That analysis, however, reviewed literature specifically for reports of sudden cardiac death among athletes under the age of 35. The study also noted that its findings were limited because cases were likely underestimated.” Dr. Neel Chokshi, medical director of Penn Medicine’s Sports Cardiology and Fitness Program, said it would be “inaccurate” to make conclusions by comparing the 2006 study and the blog’s figures. “The data presented here does not support the notion that vaccines have caused an increase in sudden death,” he said. The COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna do carry a rare risk of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart, though experts and officials say the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks. Cardiologists have told the AP that they have not observed the dramatic increase in sudden cardiac arrest as alleged on social media. McCullough and Fox News did not return requests for comment.
— Associated Press writer Angelo Fichera in Philadelphia contributed this report with additional reporting from Ali Swenson and Sophia Tulp in New York.
CLAIM: Social media personality Andrew Tate has been released from custody in Romania, an interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson shows.
THE FACTS: The Fox Nation interview was posted on Aug. 25, 2022, on Carlson’s social media accounts. Tate, along with three others, will be detained for 30 days in Romania during an investigation. Last week, Tate, a former professional kickboxer, was detained in Romania on charges of human trafficking and rape, according to officials. In the aftermath, multiple social media users resurfaced a months-old clip of Carlson interviewing Tate, claiming the video showed Tate after being released from custody. “ANDREW TATE and his Brother have been Released. NO CHARGES,” claims a tweet containing the video. In the shortened clip posted on social media, Carlson asks Tate whether he was arrested in Romania for human trafficking. Tate responds, “I was not arrested. So, what happened is, I suffered from a case of swatting. It’s very popular with people who are large on the internet. Many large YouTubers have been swatted. It’s where you call the police and you say somebody has a gun or there’s a hostage situation, and the swat team arrives.” But the clip was published months before Tate was detained last week. A longer clip of the interview was published on Carlson’s Facebook page on Aug. 25. On Dec. 29, Tate, a British citizen, was initially being held with his brother Tristan and two Romanians for 24 hours north of Romania’s capital, Bucharest. A judge extended their detention period to 30 days from their initial detention period, said Ramona Bolla, a spokesperson for Romanian anti-organized crime agency DIICOT. Bolla said the decision wasn’t final and that all four suspects have already appealed the extension, the AP reported. Tate was previously banned from multiple social media platforms for expressing misogynistic views and hate speech.
CLAIM: Ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine were suppressed as COVID-19 treatments because the vaccines couldn’t receive emergency use authorization if such treatments were available.
THE FACTS: There is nothing in federal law or regulation that prohibits a preventative measure such as a vaccine from being authorized for emergency use because a treatment is available, experts and officials say. Social media users are sharing a conspiracy theory that posits that the drugs hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin were withheld as COVID-19 treatments by officials in order to greenlight vaccines under emergency use authorization. That’s wrong, experts and officials told the AP. The COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson were all initially made available under emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration — though the Pfizer and Moderna shots were later fully approved for certain people. An emergency use authorization, the FDA explains, allows the use of unapproved medical products — or the unapproved uses of approved medical products — in emergency situations in which “there are no adequate, approved, and available alternatives.” But the FDA said in a statement that an “available treatment for COVID-19 does not preclude the FDA from authorizing a vaccine to prevent COVID-19.” Likewise, Ana Santos Rutschman, a law professor at Villanova University with expertise in vaccine law and policy, said there is nothing in federal law or FDA regulation indicating that the existence of a treatment for a particular disease means that an emergency use authorization can’t be issued for a preventative measure such as a vaccine. “These are two separate types of drugs and tools in the public health toolkit and there may be a need for one of these products or for both of them under an EUA situation,” she said in an email. The FDA also had approved the drug remdesivir for use in hospitalized COVID-19 patients in October 2020 — two months before the agency authorized the first COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use. In addition, the agency had issued an emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma to treat hospitalized COVID-19 patients before the vaccines were available, noted Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, a Harvard Medical School professor and expert on regulation. Hydroxychloroquine was in fact granted emergency use authorization for COVID-19 in 2020, too. The anti-malaria drug was authorized to be used for certain hospitalized COVID-19 patients, but the FDA revoked that authorization in June 2020, saying emerging data suggested it was “unlikely to be effective in treating COVID-19 for the authorized uses in the EUA.” Current COVID-19 treatment guidelines from the National Institutes of Health recommend against the use of ivermectin for treating the disease, except in clinical trials, because studies to date have not demonstrated efficacy for the anti-parasitic drug.
— Angelo Fichera
CLAIM: A video of people helping a deer whose head is covered in snow was recorded in the U.S. during a massive winter storm that killed at least 34 people in late December.
THE FACTS: The video of the snow-covered deer was recorded in Kazakhstan and has been online since at least March 2021, when it was featured in a local news report. The video has circulated widely on social media in recent days, with many users claiming it was filmed amid the recent extreme weather in North America. In the footage, the deer can be seen standing in a road, and then laying on the ground while a person removes snow packed around the animal’s face. Claims that it was taken recently in the U.S. or Canada circulated in both English and Spanish. But the footage was recorded in Kazakhstan and has been online since at least March 2021. A media outlet in Kazakhstan published a news report featuring the video dated March 2, 2021. The report notes that it was filmed by one of two brothers who were driving in Kazakhstan. A Facebook user matching the name of one of the brothers identified in the report, Abylaikhan Kuandyk, shared a version of the video published by Russian news outlet RT on March 8, 2021 and wrote in the post, “Me and my Brother Nurzhan Makayev.” The Facebook user did not immediately respond to the AP’s request for comment. The deer shown in the video clip is likely a roe deer, Timothy Van Deelen, a professor of forest and wildlife ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told the AP. The species is prevalent in Eurasia and is not native to North America. The absence of a white throat patch or bright white hair on the belly of the deer in the video indicates that it is not a white-tailed deer, Van Deelen added. The deer in the video also appears to have white rump akin to that of a roe deer.
— Associated Press writers Josh Kelety in Phoenix and León Ramírez in Mexico City contributed this report.