FactCheck

Posts Misleadingly Link Town Clerk’s Case to 2020 Presidential Election

Este artículo estará disponible en español en El Tiempo Latino.

Quick Take

A Michigan town clerk pleaded no contest in 2023 to a charge of misconduct in office. Social media posts misleadingly highlight her case to push the false narrative that the 2020 presidential election was “rigged.” The clerk’s case was related to her local primary race, not the presidential election.

Full Story

Kathy Funk, who was up for reelection as a town clerk in Michigan, in 2020, took a plea deal in a case accusing her of hampering the recount in her primary.

Funk was the clerk in the Township of Flint — which is next to, but separate from, the City of Flint, which garnered national attention in 2015 for its lead water crisis. She had won the Democratic primary for that August 2020 race by 79 votes.

Prosecutors accused her of breaking the seal on a canister of election ballots so that they couldn’t be recounted.

In January 2023, Funk pleaded no contest to one count of misconduct in office, which means that she accepted the punishment but didn’t admit guilt. The punishment, in this case, was two years of probation and six months of house arrest. Prosecutors dropped a charge of ballot tampering.

Funk’s primary election in August 2020 was not related to the general election in November or the Michigan presidential primary, which was held on March 10, 2020.

But the Epoch Times, a conservative publication with a history of spreading misinformation, has posted a video on social media suggesting that this case — which received news coverage when it was resolved a year ago — is new. The video also vaguely refers to Funk’s crime “during the 2020 election cycle,” leaving some viewers to wrongly conclude her actions affected the 2020 presidential election.

A shorter, promotional video for the full five-minute video doesn’t identify Funk — who had left her job as clerk in 2021 to become the elections supervisor for Genesee County. She was placed on administrative leave from her county job when criminal charges were filed against her, and she was terminated in late 2022.

The promotional video uses vague language, saying only, “A woman who was both a county election official as well as a former township clerk, she was convicted of tampering with ballots during the 2020 election cycle.”

It goes on to say, “Specifically during a recount process, this woman, using her official access, spoiled a batch of ballots in order to make them ineligible to be recounted.”

Posts on social media sharing links to the video falsely suggested that Funk’s behavior impacted the 2020 presidential election, a claim that contributes to the ongoing false narrative that the election was “stolen” from former President Donald Trump, who is a primary proponent of this falsehood.

One post on Facebook, for example, said, “TRUMP WAS RIGHT Election Official busted for rigging the 2020 election!!” The page that shared the post is run by a Minnesota-based marketing company called Making Web, which runs conservative digital properties — including a website called Trending Politics that has published false claims we’ve written about before and a website that sells pro-Trump merchandise, such as a flag with the slogan, “make votes count again.”

Another Facebook post said, “RIGGED FROM THE START Election Official busted for rigging the 2020 election!!”

Both of those posts linked to the Epoch Times’ video hosted on the outlet’s website, which requires users to sign in to watch.

The title of the video says only, “Former Election Official Convicted for Ballot Tampering.” The full video gives more details, including Funk’s name and the fact that her case involved only her own primary election. But the comments on the Epoch Times’ video and the social media posts indicate that the details were lost on users, many of whom expressed anger at the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

President Joe Biden won that election with 306 electoral votes, compared with 232 for Trump, according to the Federal Election Commission. Biden also won the popular vote, 51% to 47%.

But the false narrative that the election was stolen has persisted, and claims like the ones made in social media posts about Funk contribute to its longevity.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.

Sources

State of Michigan v. Kathy Funk. Docket. Accessed 22 May 2024.

Genesee County, Michigan. Primary Election, Tuesday, August 4, 2020. Official results. 18 Aug 2020.

Michigan Department of Attorney General. Press release. “AG Nessel Charges Former Flint Township Clerk with Ballot Tampering.” 11 Mar 2022.

Michigan Department of Attorney General. Press release. “Former Flint Twp. Clerk Funk Sentenced for Misconduct in Office.” 25 Apr 2023.

Norris, Pippa. Lecturer in Comparative Politics, Harvard University. “Electoral Integrity in the 2020 U.S. Elections.” The Electoral Integrity Project. 1 Dec 2020.

Federal Election Commission. “Federal Elections 2020.” Oct. 2022.

The post Posts Misleadingly Link Town Clerk’s Case to 2020 Presidential Election appeared first on FactCheck.org.

Trump, Allies Misrepresent FBI Order on Document Search at Mar-a-Lago

Este artículo estará disponible en español en El Tiempo Latino.

Quick Take

FBI agents who searched for classified documents held by former President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago in 2022 followed standard protocol. But Trump supporters and social media posts now falsely claim the search was an “attempted assassination” of Trump. The claim is based on a misquote of FBI policy in a legal motion — and Trump wasn’t in Florida during the search.

Full Story

The standard policy of the U.S. Department of Justice on the use of deadly force is spelled out in the department’s Justice Manual.

The section on deadly force begins by stating, “Law enforcement officers and correctional officers of the Department of Justice may use deadly force only when necessary, that is, when the officer has a reasonable belief that the subject of such force poses an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to the officer or to another person.”

That basic policy is reiterated on the FBI website in its section on frequently asked questions.

But lawyers for former President Donald Trump misquoted the policy in a motion, which was unsealed on May 21, in Trump’s classified documents case, the Associated Press reported. The motion said the operations order for the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago in August 2022 stated that “law enforcement officers of the Department of Justice may use deadly force when necessary” — omitting the word “only.”

The release of the unsealed motion, with the misquoted order, was then shared by Julie Kelly, a writer with RealClear Investigations, according to Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler. Kelly posted on X, “Oh my god. Armed FBI agents were preparing to confront Trump and even engage Secret Service if necessary. … Gestapo.”

But the operations order was just repeating standard Department of Justice policy, and there was no plan to “confront Trump,” who was in New York City during the search for classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

“The FBI followed standard protocol in this search as we do for all search warrants, which includes a standard policy statement limiting the use of deadly force,” the FBI said in a statement to the Associated Press. “No one ordered additional steps to be taken and there was no departure from the norm in this matter.”

In his fact-checking article for the Post, Kessler noted that Steven D’Antuono, a former FBI assistant director in charge of the Washington field office when the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago, told the House Judiciary Committee in a June 7, 2023, interview that the FBI coordinated the search with the Secret Service “to make sure we could get into Mar-a-Lago with no issues.” D’Antuono said he was “adamant” that there would be no show of force — let alone use of force — at the former president’s resort.

“It wasn’t even a show of force, right, because we were all in agreement. We didn’t do a show of force, right. I was adamant about that, and that was something that we agreed on, right, the FBI agreed on, right. No raid jackets, no blazed FBI,” D’Antuono, who has since retired, said. “We made sure we interacted with the Secret Service to make sure we could get into Mar-a-Lago with no issues. We’re not banging down any doors. We weren’t bringing any like FBI vehicles, everything that was reported about helicopters and a hundred people descending on, like a Die Hard movie, was completely untrue, right. That is not how we played it.”

The release of the motion, with its mention of “deadly force,” sparked a firestorm from the former president and his allies.

A May 21 post on Trump’s Truth Social account claimed, “Joe Biden’s DOJ, in their Illegal and UnConstitutional Raid of Mar-a-Lago, AUTHORIZED THE FBI TO USE DEADLY (LETHAL) FORCE.” A fundraising appeal on the Trump National Committee web page said, “BIDEN’S DOJ WAS AUTHORIZED TO SHOOT ME!”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a supporter of Trump, posted on X on May 21, “The Biden DOJ and FBI were planning to assassinate Pres Trump and gave the green light.”

The claim spread on other social media accounts associated with Trump adviser Steve Bannon, including a May 22 Instagram post by the account @bannonswarroom, which said, “The FBI Raid At Mar-A-Lago Was An Attempted Assassination On President Trump.”

But, as we said, the DOJ order contained standard language for a search like the one conducted at Mar-a-Lago in 2022, and the FBI coordinated its operation with the Secret Service.

Trump and two of his employees, Walt Nauta and Carlos De Oliveira, were indicted in 2023 on charges of mishandling sensitive classified documents and obstructing federal officials who tried to retrieve them, as we’ve written. The case is being heard in Florida by U.S. District Judge Aileen M. Cannon, who has not yet set a date for the trial.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.

Sources

Dawsey, Josh, et al. “Trump’s secrets: How a records dispute led the FBI to search Mar-a-Lago.” Washington Post. 13 Aug 2022.

Farley, Robert, D’Angelo Gore and Eugene Kiely. “Q&A on Trump’s Federal Indictment.” FactCheck.org. Updated 31 Jul 2023.

Feuer, Alan. “Judge’s Decisions in Documents Case Play Into Trump’s Delay Strategy.” New York Times. 8 May 2024.

FBI. “What is the FBI’s policy on the use of deadly force by its special agents?” fbi.gov. Accessed 23 May 2024.

Goldin, Melissa. “FACT FOCUS: Trump distorts use of ‘deadly force’ language in FBI document for Mar-a-Lago search.” Associated Press. 23 May 2024.

Kessler, Glenn. “How Trump used his own court filing to claim an ‘assassination’ attempt.” Washington Post. 23 May 2024.

RealClear Investigations. Author Archive: Julie Kelly. Accessed 23 May 2024.

U.S. Department of Justice. Justice Manual.

U.S. Department of Justice. Justice Manual. 1-16.200 – Deadly Force. Accessed 23 May 2024.

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Rubio Spreads Debunked 2020 Election Fraud Claims

In a May 19 interview on NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” Sen. Marco Rubio made misleading and unsubstantiated claims about election fraud in states lost by then-President Donald Trump in 2020:

  • Rubio said “liberal groups” in Georgia “were paying people $10 per vote.” A conservative group made this claim in November 2021, but failed to provide evidence to state investigators.
  • The Florida senator claimed there were “over 500 illegal drop box locations” in Wisconsin. He apparently is referring to a state Supreme Court ruling in 2022 that said state law doesn’t allow for ballot drop boxes, but there was no evidence of fraud.
  • Rubio said “200,000 ballots” in Arizona had “signatures [that] didn’t match.” This allegation has been made about Maricopa County, but a state investigation found no improper procedures, no criminality and no fraud in the county’s signature-verification process.

Rubio, who is reportedly under consideration as Trump’s possible vice presidential running mate, brought up discredited claims of election fraud in the 2020 election during a lengthy exchange with “Meet the Press” host Kristen Welker. After Rubio said he might not accept the results of the 2024 election, Welker played a clip of the senator on Jan. 6, 2021, saying, “Democracy is held together by people’s confidence in the election and their willingness to abide by its results.”

“So by your own definition, are Donald Trump’s claims undermining Americans’ confidence in democracy?” Welker said, referring to Trump’s repeated false claims that Democrats stole the 2020 election.

In response, Rubio said, in part: “I think what undermines people’s confidence in the election is when you have places like Wisconsin with over 500 illegal drop box locations, when you have places like Georgia where liberal groups were paying people $10 per vote.”

Let’s first take a look at the Georgia claim.

Georgia

We asked Rubio’s office where the senator got the information about the $10 payments, but we received no response. However, True the Vote, a conservative organization, filed a complaint with Georgia election officials in late November 2021 claiming to have proof of a massive “ballot trafficking scheme.” The complaint identified the group’s unnamed source as “John Doe,” who claimed participants in this operation were paid “typically at a rate of $10 per ballot.”

Catherine Engelbrecht, a founder of True the Vote, spoke about the alleged scheme in the controversial film “2000 Mules,” which was produced by conservative activist Dinesh D’Souza. As we wrote in our article “Evidence Gaps in ‘2000 Mules,'” Engelbrecht said in the film that “mules” were paid “generally $10 a ballot” for each ballot that was collected from one of the unidentified nonprofit organizations and deposited in designated drop box locations. Engelbrecht said in the film that the information about the payments came from unnamed “people who shared information with us.”

In January 2022, the Georgia State Election Board launched an investigation into True the Vote’s claim, and issued a subpoena that asked True the Vote to produce, among other things, “witness interviews” and “contact information,” including for the John Doe. After True the Vote failed to provide the information, citing confidentiality agreements with its sources, the state board sued and obtained a court order to compel the group to comply.

In May 2023, True the Vote attempted to withdraw its complaint, which the election board chairman refused to accept. In December, the group responded to the court order by saying, “TTV does not have in its possession, custody, or control such identity and contact information.” True the Vote also acknowledged that it did not have confidentiality agreements that it previously cited as a reason for not complying with the subpoena.

The state board’s investigation, which is “all but officially ‘closed,'” has produced no evidence of ballot harvesting in Georgia, Mike Hassinger, a spokesman for Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, told us in an email.

“It has uncovered zero evidence of the allegations made by True the Vote but did expose True The Vote as a mendacious and deceptive enterprise that it is untrustworthy and unable to provide a shred of evidence for a single one of their fairy-tale allegations,” Hassinger said. “Like all the lies about Georgia’s 2020 election, True The Vote’s fabricated claims of ballot harvesting have been repeatedly debunked, and anyone who repeats them … is either a willful dunce or a co-conspirator.”

Wisconsin

As for Rubio’s claim that Wisconsin had “over 500 illegal drop box locations,” the senator appears to be referring to a 2022 state Supreme Court ruling that said state law does not authorize the use of ballot drop boxes.

Under state law, “absentee ballots ‘shall be mailed by the elector, or delivered in person, to the municipal clerk issuing the ballot or ballots.’ The prepositional phrase ‘to the municipal clerk’ is key and must be given effect,” the court said in a 4-3 ruling. “An inanimate object, such as a ballot drop box, cannot be the municipal clerk.”

The ruling said Wisconsin used 528 ballot drop boxes in the 2020 general election — matching Rubio’s description of “over 500 illegal drop box locations” in the state.

But the existence of drop boxes in the 2020 election isn’t evidence of fraud.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Brian Hagedorn — a conservative who ruled against Trump in other 2020 election-related rulings — said the case wasn’t about fraud, but rather how to apply the law.

“The principal issue in this case involves the lawfulness of ballot drop boxes. This case is not about the risk of fraudulent votes being cast or inspiring confidence in elections,” Hagedorn wrote. “This case is about applying the law as written; that’s it.”

Hagedorn also urged the Legislature to address the issue of drop boxes.

“[T]he election law statutes we are asked to consider are by no means a model of clarity. Many of the controlling provisions were originally enacted over 100 years ago and have been layered over with numerous amendments since,” he wrote. “Significant questions remain despite our decision in this case, especially as absentee voting has become increasingly common. Although our adjudication of this case will provide some assistance, the public is better served by clear statutes than by clear judicial opinions interpreting unclear statutes.”

Arizona

In the interview, Rubio cited Arizona as another example of why Americans are losing confidence in U.S. elections.

“They look at what happened in Arizona, 200,000 ballots that the signatures didn’t match,” he said. “People lose confidence.”

There is no evidence to support the senator’s claim that 200,000 signatures didn’t match in Arizona — let alone that those votes were fraudulent or that they were cast for Biden.

Again, the senator’s office did not respond to our questions about this and other statements he made on “Meet the Press.” However, state Republicans, including then-Attorney General Mark Brnovich, raised concerns about the signature-verification process in Maricopa County, which Biden narrowly won with 50% of the vote.

On April 6, 2022, Brnovich released an interim report on the 2020 election that questioned the county’s signature-verifying process, saying the process was “insufficient to guard against abuse.” As evidence, the report noted that the county received nearly 2 million early voting ballots in 2020, but relatively few ballots were rejected because of missing (1,455 ballots) or mismatched (587 ballots) signatures.

“We have reached the conclusion that the 2020 election in Maricopa County revealed serious vulnerabilities that must be addressed and raises questions about the 2020 election in Arizona,” the AG’s report, addressed to Senate President Karen Fann, said.

However, Brnovich’s own investigators found no improper procedures after reviewing the county’s signature-verification process, according to internal documents that weren’t released until after he left office.

Days before the report was released, the chief special agent in the AG’s Special Investigators Section sent an April 1, 2022, email to top officials in the AG’s office with the subject line “Additional Considerations for Draft Interim Report.” A marked-up copy of the draft report that was attached to the email said the Special Investigations Section, or SIS, found no evidence of fraud, noting that the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office, or MCRO, followed its signature-verification process.

“(Investigators examined the policy and procedures followed by the MCRO relative to signature verification. SIS staff concluded the MCRO followed its policy/procedures as they relate to signature verification; we did not uncover any criminality or fraud having been committed in this area during the 2020 general election),” the marked-up version of the draft report said.

That observation by investigators was not included in the interim report that was released to the public by Brnovich. It wasn’t made public until February 2023 by his successor, Kris Mayes, a Democrat.

In a March 2022 interim report summary, which was also released by Mayes, the attorney general’s SIS staff explained the county’s signature-verification process: All mail-in and drop-box ballots in Maricopa County are scanned and then those images are “run through the Signature Verification Application,” where signatures on the ballots are compared with “historical reference signatures.” Ballots without signatures or those that cannot be electronically verified are then reviewed by county election staffers in a process called “curing.”

“No improper Election Procedures were discovered during the Signature Verification review,” the March 2022 summary said about the county’s process.

So, where did Rubio get his figure of 200,000 ballots with signatures that didn’t match? It likely came from a February 2022 “pilot study” funded by the Republican-controlled Arizona Senate. That study estimated “that more than 200,000 ballots with mismatched signatures in Maricopa were counted without being reviewed” for accuracy during the curing process — according to a report in Just the News.

The pilot study, which was done by a firm calling itself the Election Systems Integrity Institute, was based on 499 images of early voting mail ballot, or EVB, envelopes. The study compared signatures on the envelopes with signatures on public deeds.

But the pilot study didn’t claim that there were 200,000 fraudulent ballots. It said, “Based on this Study, over 204,430 early EVBs should have been cured vs. the 25,000 that the County actually cured; and, using the County’s 2.3% post-curing rate, 5,277 EVBs should have been disallowed.”

Even the 5,277 figure is an extrapolation based on this firm’s review of 499 signatures – a review that didn’t follow the same process as the county. And, as we said, state investigators reviewed the county’s signature-verification process in 2020 and found no improper procedures, no criminality and no fraud.

We’ve debunked many claims about fraud in the 2020 election, and once again, Rubio’s supposed examples don’t show evidence of any widespread illegality. In fact, his claims don’t show evidence of voter fraud at all.

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Pearl Jam Singer’s Criticism of Harrison Butker Didn’t Affect Concert Schedule

Este artículo estará disponible en español en El Tiempo Latino.

Quick Take

College commencement remarks by Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker on the roles of women drew widespread criticism, including from Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder. Social media posts falsely claimed Arrowhead Stadium, where the Chiefs play, then canceled concerts by the band. A team spokesperson said Pearl Jam was “never scheduled to perform” at the venue.

Full Story

Harrison Butker, the kicker for the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, made a series of controversial remarks while delivering the commencement address at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, on May 11.

In his over 20-minute address at the Catholic private college, Butker took swipes at President Joe Biden’s position on abortion, the celebration of PRIDE Month, and “degenerate cultural values in media.”

Butker also offered his views on the roles of women.

Butker, May 11: For the ladies present today, congratulations on an amazing accomplishment. You should be proud of all that you have achieved to this point in your young lives. I want to speak directly to you briefly because I think it is you, the women, who have had the most diabolical lies told to you. How many of you are sitting here now about to cross this stage and are thinking about all the promotions and titles you are going to get in your career? Some of you may go on to lead successful careers in the world, but I would venture to guess that the majority of you are most excited about your marriage and the children you will bring into this world.

I can tell you that my beautiful wife, Isabelle, would be the first to say that her life truly started when she began living her vocation as a wife and as a mother. I’m on the stage today and able to be the man I am because I have a wife who leans into her vocation. I’m beyond blessed with the many talents God has given me, but it cannot be overstated that all of my success is made possible because a girl I met in band class back in middle school would convert to the faith, become my wife, and embrace one of the most important titles of all: homemaker.

Butker received a standing ovation at the end of his address, the Associated Press reported. But his remarks were also widely criticized — including by the Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica, a sponsor of Benedictine College, who said they “do not believe that Harrison Butker’s comments in his 2024 Benedictine College commencement address represent the Catholic, Benedictine, liberal arts college that our founders envisioned and in which we have been so invested,” The Athletic reported.

Pearl Jam Singer Kicks Back

Butker’s views on women’s roles came under fire from Eddie Vedder, the lead singer of Pearl Jam, during a May 18 concert in Las Vegas, Variety reported. Vedder praised the show’s opening act, Deep Sea Diver, which includes two women. “The singer, Jessica, and the keyboard player, Patti, they must not have believed that ‘diabolical lie’ that women should take pride in taking a back seat to their man,” Vedder said, referring to Butker’s remarks.

“There should be pride in homemaking if you’re a man or a woman … it’s one of the hardest jobs and you should definitely take pride in it, but you’re going to benefit by giving up your dreams?” Vedder said, later adding, “There’s nothing more masculine than a strong man supporting a strong woman.”

Social media posts then fabricated a claim about repercussions to Vedder’s comments.

“After Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder went on an anti-Harrison Butker rant, the front office at Arrowhead Stadium canceled three of the band’s upcoming shows. ‘We stand with Harrison and his admirable moral values. Vedder and his band can find somewhere else to play.[‘] The move will cost the band around $14 million,” read a May 20 Facebook post, referring to the stadium used by the Kansas City Chiefs. The post received more than 150,000 likes.

But the post was concocted by America’s Last Line of Defense, a “satire/parody” website that frequently spreads bogus stories and misinformation, as we’ve previously written. The May 20 Facebook post did not include a label identifying the content as satire.

A Kansas City Chiefs team spokesperson told us in a phone interview on May 23, “I can confirm that Pearl Jam was never scheduled to perform [at Arrowhead Stadium] this year. They were not on our concert slate.”

We reached out to Pearl Jam for comment on the claim, but we didn’t receive a response.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here. Facebook has no control over our editorial content.

Sources

Associated Press. “Chiefs kicker Butker congratulates women graduates and says most are more excited about motherhood.” Updated 16 May 2024.

Caplan, Anna Lazarus. “NFL Says They Do Not Agree with Harrison Butker’s ‘Views’ in Graduation Speech, Are Committed to ‘Inclusion.'” People. 16 May 2024.

FactCheck.org. “Tag: America’s Last Line of Defense.”

Kansas City Chiefs. Arrowhead Events Schedule. Accessed 22 May 2024.

Kansas City Chiefs. Team spokesperson, phone interview with FactCheck.org. 23 May 2024.

National Catholic Register. “Full Text: Harrison Butker of Kansas City Chiefs Graduation Speech.” 16 May 2024.

Pearl Jam 2024 Tour. pearljam.com. Accessed 22 May 2024.

Sharf, Zack. “Eddie Vedder Calls Harrison Butker a ‘F–ing P–y’ Mid-Concert Over Sexist Speech: ‘There’s Nothing More Masculine Than a Strong Man Supporting a Strong Woman.'” Variety. 20 May 2024.

Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica. “Statement in Response to the 2024 Benedictine College Commencement Address.” Accessed 22 May 2024.

The Athletic. “Benedictine Sisters denounce Harrison Butker’s speech as his jersey sales rise.” New York Times. 18 May 2024.

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Misleading Claims on Well-Known Rare Risk of AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine

SciCheck Digest

A rare risk of dangerous blood clots associated with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine was identified and reported in early 2021. This month, the company announced it was pulling the vaccine off the market globally, citing a decline in demand. Social media posts misleadingly linked the decision to the company having “admitted” the rare side effect “for the first time” in court documents and used it to impugn all vaccines.

Full Story

The association between the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and a rare and dangerous blood clotting condition combined with low blood platelets has been known for more than three years. The condition is known as thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome, or TTS, in general, and vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia, or VITT, when it implies an association to vaccines.

The European Medicines Agency, which regulates vaccines in the European Union, first warned of the possible link between the vaccine and “very rare cases of blood clots associated with thrombocytopenia, i.e. low levels of blood platelets” on March 18, 2021. In a statement issued that same day, the pharmaceutical company acknowledged the finding and said it “recognises and will implement” EMA’s recommendations, including updating the product information to warn about the reported cases.

A few weeks later, in April 2021, the EMA concluded the unusual blood clots “should be listed as very rare side effects” of the vaccine. TTS is included in the “possible side effects” section in the package leaflet for users for Vaxzevria (page 30), one of the brand names of the vaccine along with Covishield. TTS has also been listed in Covishield’s product insert under the “special warnings” section, as a side effect in the fact sheet for recipients since at least August 2021, and as a possible adverse reaction in an FAQ page from its manufacturer that was updated on July 5, 2021.

In September 2021, the National Health Service in England reported that the “rare condition” affected approximately 1 in 50,000 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine recipients under 50 years old and 1 in 100,000 recipients older than 50. Between May 2021 and May 2022, there were 443 cases of TTS reported following vaccination in the U.K.; 81 of them were fatal. (In July 2021, the vaccine was also linked to rare cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a neurological disorder that leads to muscle weakness and, at times, paralysis. The World Health Organization said that most people recover fully.) 

The vaccine was never used in the U.S. outside clinical trials — AstraZeneca decided not to file the application for approval. But the vaccine was widely used in the rest of the world, especially during 2021. 

In March, the European Commission withdrew AstraZeneca’s authorization to market its COVID-19 vaccine in the European Union, at the company’s request, and on May 7, the company announced it was pulling the vaccine from the market globally. Social media posts misleadingly framed the company’s recent decision as a consequence of “admitting” the rare TTS condition “for the first time” in court documents, as part of a lawsuit in the U.K. The claim was also shared in Spanish.

AstraZeneca had said the decision was based on a decline in demand. Other COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers had developed new versions to target variants of the virus that causes COVID-19. “As multiple, variant COVID-19 vaccines have since been developed there is a surplus of available updated vaccines,” the company said in a statement sent to us.

“AstraZeneca finally WITHDRAW Covid vaccine worldwide, months after the pharmaceutical giant admitted for the first time in court documents that it can cause ‘a rare and dangerous’ side effect. Never forget how they cancelled anyone who questioned its safety,” reads a viral post shared across social media platforms.

The U.K. news website the Telegraph had reported on April 28 that AstraZeneca had “admitted” its COVID-19 vaccine could cause TTS “in an apparent about-turn that could pave the way for a multi-million pound legal payout” in a class action lawsuit in which the company is being sued for “death and serious injury in dozens of cases.” The article said the company hadn’t said that in a court document before. But the story went on to say that a link between the vaccine and the rare blood clotting condition was identified in March 2021, as we said. 

On May 7, the Telegraph reported that AstraZeneca was “being withdrawn worldwide, months after the pharmaceutical giant admitted for the first time in court documents that it can cause a rare and dangerous side effect.” The next day, the Independent, a British online newspaper, published a story with the headline “AstraZeneca withdraws Covid vaccine worldwide after admitting it can cause rare blood clots.”

Christina Pagel, professor of operational research at University College London, said the headlines were “needlessly scary” on her blog on May 8, and days later in an op-ed with Sheena Cruickshank, immunologist at the University of Manchester, in the New Statesman, a U.K. publication.

“Fundamentally, the situation is this: there isn’t a new ‘smoking gun’; the AZ vaccine was one of the first and cheapest vaccines; it saved millions of lives globally; and there are better vaccines out there now, adapted to new variants,” they wrote.

AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 Vaccine Safety and Impact 

Even though the rare risk associated with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine was reported early on and was well-known, some social media users took the Telegraph’s news reports as vindication

“Now they admit it,” wrote conservative commentator Dan Bongino in a Facebook post, linking to a Rumble video titled “AstraZeneca Makes SHOCKING Admission About COVID Vax – We Were Right All Along.” 

Others used the apparent news to cast shade on all other COVID-19 vaccines. “It’s not just the Astra Zeneca,” one Facebook post said. 

A commenter to a post on Instagram wrote, “Whens the class action lawsuit against the US Government?,” although the vaccine was not authorized for use in the U.S. Another one wrote, “When will Pfizer finally step up and do the same?,” although the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has not been linked to TTS.

Just like other COVID-19 vaccines authorized or approved for use, the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, co-developed by Oxford University, was found to be safe and effective for people over 18 years old in clinical trials and in further studies. The efficacy of the vaccine in preventing symptomatic disease in clinical trials was 74%, which was lower than its mRNA counterparts, namely the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

Vials of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. Photo by Leon Neal via Getty Images.

After the potentially deadly blood clot side effect was identified in 2021, many countries restricted the AstraZeneca vaccine use for only older populations. The reported TTS cases were more prevalent among those younger than 50. 

Because AstraZeneca’s vaccine was cheaper and easier to distribute than other COVID-19 vaccines, it was among the first vaccines sent to poorer countries by COVAX, a global initiative that allowed for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. 

Since its rollout, more than 3 billion doses were distributed in over 180 countries, according to a 2022 statement from the vaccine developers, with approximately two-thirds of the doses going to poorer countries. A 2022 analysis by Airfinity, a disease-forecasting company, showed that the vaccine saved 6.3 million lives from December 2020 to December 2021. The company used data from a study by scientists with the Imperial College London on the global impact of COVID-19 vaccination during that year.

Vaccines in the U.S.

As we said, the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine was not used in the U.S. outside clinical trials.

The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, though, uses the same platform as the AstraZeneca vaccine. Both use a modified, harmless adenovirus, a type of virus that typically causes the common cold, to trigger an immune response. The J&J vaccine was granted an emergency use authorization in February 2021, but soon after, in April of that year, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported cases of TTS following the administration of the vaccine and recommended a “pause” in its use. The FDA also reported rare cases of GBS in July 2021.

The FDA limited the authorization of the J&J vaccine to certain people in May 2022, and the vaccine was ultimately discontinued in 2023. As of April 7, 2022, the CDC and FDA had confirmed 60 cases of TTS, including nine deaths, among more than 18.6 million J&J vaccines administered. In September 2023, the CDC said TTS after J&J COVID-19 vaccination “has occurred in approximately 4 cases per one million doses administered.”

The first two COVID-19 vaccines authorized and approved in the U.S., the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, are both mRNA vaccines. The mRNA COVID-19 vaccines were widely used in the U.S., and neither has been linked to TTS. For context, as of April 26, 2023, approximately 367 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, 232 million doses of the Moderna vaccine and 19 million doses of the J&J vaccine had been administered in the country.

Both mRNA vaccines have been shown to be safe, with rare serious side effects reported, and effective at preventing severe COVID-19 disease and death. One estimate published in December 2022 suggests that COVID-19 vaccines prevented more than 18 million hospitalizations and 3 million deaths in the U.S. 

Editor’s note: SciCheck’s articles providing accurate health information and correcting health misinformation are made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation has no control over FactCheck.org’s editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation.

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