Coronavirus: fake meme targeting Dr Fauci and other false claims

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This has been a busy week for fact-checkers who have looked into the false and misleading claims regarding the coronavirus pandemic.

A deceptive video featuring American doctors had more than 17 million views before social media platforms took it down.

There have been many other claims on American social media accounts, some of which we have debunked.

Claim: Dr Fauci says that once manufactured, a Covid-19 vaccine should be deployed before “appropriate studies” are performed.

Verdict: The quote, widely shared on social media, is false.

A meme generating thousands of likes on Instagram and Facebook this week implies that Dr Anthony Fauci, who is leading the US response to the coronavirus, is of the opinion that a vaccine should be given for “immediate human injection.” Appropriate studies can be carried out later ”.

This same article also suggests that Dr Fauci refused to endorse the use of the drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for coronavirus because no “major studies” have been carried out, possibly in an attempt to highlight the inconsistency of his position.

Contacted by the BBC, the US National Institutes of Health (where Dr Fauci works) said the reference to vaccines “is completely made up, Dr Fauci never said anything like that”.

“Operation Warp Speed” is the US government’s plan to deliver a working vaccine by January 2021.

“The program will determine the safety of the Covid-19 vaccines under study, ensure the safety of study participants and maintain the integrity of vaccine trials,” according to the NIH.

  • How close are we to developing a vaccine?

Regarding comments on the studies on hydroxychloroquine, the health body said, “Dr Fauci has publicly stated that solid clinical research needs to be done to determine whether a particular drug is safe and effective in treating Covid-19. ”

Dr Fauci also recently told the BBC that there have been “randomized control studies” which have shown that hydroxychloroquine is “not effective in treating Covid-19”.

  • False and misleading vaccine hunting claims

Claim: “6,000 physicians surveyed” say hydroxychloroquine is effective.

Verdict: We cannot find any evidence to support this claim.

A post loved and shared 40,000 times on Twitter claims that 6,000 doctors surveyed around the world said that hydroxychloroquine “works in patients with Covid.”

It was shared without a source and the post gained traction as the “America’s Frontline Doctors” video went viral this week.

We believe he is wrongly reporting the results of a survey of around 6,000 doctors in 30 countries released in April by a company called Sermo.

We contacted the company and they provided data which shows that although 6,000 physicians were contacted, only 2,171 responded to this particular question.

Of these, only 37% chose hydroxychloroquine as the most effective treatment from a list of 15 options. This represents around 800 doctors, or only 13% of those questioned. Much less than the 6000 claimed in the above post.

Additionally, the survey company said the participants were physicians registered with them, and therefore a non-representative sample of all physicians around the world.

Claim: Vital research into coronavirus treatment stalled.

Verdict: This is misleading as it refers to finding a different virus.

Another widely shared tweet this week posted a 2005 laboratory study on the efficacy of the drug chloroquine against the coronavirus Sars, followed by claims that “blocking access to proven preventive treatment during a pandemic is a crime against humanity ”.

This is very misleading. The 2005 study tested chloroquine to fight infection with the Sars virus long before the current coronavirus or Covid-19 was known.

Chloroquine is similar to hydroxychloroquine (the latter is a less toxic form of the former) and has not been shown to be effective against Covid-19.

Sars is similar but not identical to the new coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

Also, it was done in a lab, which means it wasn’t given to human patients.

Claim: “Big Pharma” blocks the deployment of hydroxychloroquine.

Verdict: no proof.

Rumors that the pharmaceutical industry was blocking the deployment of hydroxychloroquine also spread this week, especially following the withdrawal of the video from the “America’s Frontline Doctors” press conference.

A conservative radio host said in a message shared 3,000 times on Facebook: “No one is going to make money with hydroxychloroquine. That is why, ladies and gentlemen, he is opposed to it. ”

A message shared thousands of times claims that “Big Pharma” and “Big Government” in the United States and Europe have deliberately promoted other drugs because they are more expensive.

One Instagram user claimed that the doctors in the viral video “were risking their lives by exposing Big Pharma.”

“There is not the slightest evidence that hydroxychloroquine was ‘blocked’ by anyone,” says Professor Stephen Evans of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

He says the pharmaceutical industry makes money from hydroxychloroquine, which is approved to treat other illnesses like malaria.

“But in this specific area [treating Covid-19] they don’t have a current alternative, so they have little interest in discouraging the use of hydroxychloroquine. ”

Additional reporting by Shayan Sardarizadeh.

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