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No, coronavirus vaccines aren’t made from aborted fetuses or created to control the population — and more lessons about fake news

William “Bill” Shakespeare, 81, receives a coronavirus vaccine at University Hospital in Coventry, U.K., on Dec. 8. (Jacob King/PA Wire/Bloomberg)
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This is the latest installment of a weekly feature on this blog — lessons from the nonprofit News Literacy Project, which aims to teach students how to distinguish between what is real and what is not in an age of digital communication in which President Trump routinely denounces real news as “fake.”

The material comes from the project’s newsletter, the Sift, which takes the most recent viral rumors, conspiracy theories, hoaxes and journalistic ethics issues and turns them into timely lessons with discussion prompts and links. The Sift, which is published weekly during the school year, has more than 10,000 subscribers, most of them educators.

The News Literacy Project also offers a program called Checkology, a browser-based platform designed for students in grades 6 through 12 that helps prepare the next generation to easily identify misinformation. Checkology is available free to educators, students, school districts and parents. Since 2016, more than 29,000 educators and parents in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., have registered to use the platform. Since August 2020, more than 1,000 educators and parents and more than 34,000 students have actively used Checkology.

You can learn more about the News Literacy Project and all of the educational resources it provides, in this piece, but here is a rundown:

Founded more than a decade ago by Alan Miller, a former Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter at the Los Angeles Times, the News Literacy Project is the leading provider of news literacy education.

It creates digital curriculums and other resources and works with educators and journalists to teach middle and high school students how to recognize news and information to trust — and it provides them with the tools they need to be informed and engaged participants in a democracy. It uses the standards of high-quality journalism as an aspirational yardstick against which to measure all news and information. Just as important, it provides the next generation with an appreciation of the First Amendment and the role of a free press.

Here’s material from the Dec. 7 Sift:

Disinformation immunity

As countries around the world await the mass distribution of two promising vaccines for the coronavirus, researchers and fact-checkers are warning that a surge of disinformation could threaten their acceptance and the efforts to immunize a larger percentage of the population. A Dec. 2 report from the misinformation research organization First Draft warned that those who create and circulate vaccine-related falsehoods often exploit “data deficits,” or the imbalance between the intense public demand for information about the injections and the limited supply of verified information about them that is also clear and accessible. For example, the complexity of the mRNA technology behind the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines has made it easy for bad actors to insert the false claim that the shots alter human DNA. (They do not.)

The report lists some of the false vaccine narratives that have recently gained traction on social media:

  • The human immune system is more effective than a vaccine (FALSE);
  • Vaccines are fueled by “Big Pharma” profit, not public health (FALSE);
  • News organizations are only reporting positive news about the vaccines at the behest of “Big Pharma” (FALSE);
  • Coronavirus vaccines are a secret attempt to control the population (FALSE);
  • The vaccines were developed using aborted fetal cells (FALSE).

While medical experts cannot be sure yet about the exact percentage of people who need to take the vaccine to successfully stop the spread of the coronavirus, Anthony S. Fauci, the top infectious-disease expert in the United States, recently said that the “overwhelming majority” of Americans need to be vaccinated to achieve widespread immunity. About 60 percent of Americans say they would definitely (29 percent) or probably (31 percent) get a vaccine for the coronavirus, according to a Dec. 3 Pew Research Center survey. But 21 percent say they do not intend to get vaccinated and are “ ‘pretty certain’ more information will not change their mind,” the survey found.

Note: On Dec. 3, Facebook announced that it would “start removing false claims about [covid-19] vaccines that have been debunked by public health experts” from its platforms — but some experts worry that it’s too late for such measures to be effective against what has grown to be “a varied and powerful misinformation movement.”

Also note: Some TikTok users, including a number of doctors, have taken it upon themselves to push back against coronavirus vaccine misinformation by sharing their experiences as participants in trials and by creating viral videos with accurate information about the shots.


“Social media must prepare for flood of covid-19 vaccine misinformation” (Kaya Yurieff, CNN).


Use the covid-19 disinformation narratives identified in the First Draft report to create a student project. For example, students could poll their peers and family members to see how many have been exposed to or believed the false narratives. Students could also work in teams to trace these narratives on various social media platforms or create their own social posts with accurate information about the vaccines to counter disinformation

Viral rumor rundown

NO: The covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, which have completed their third and final trial phase, will not severely injure or kill people who take them.

YES: A variety of short-lived mild or moderate reactions to both vaccines — including soreness at the injection site, headaches, fatigue, muscle aches and joint pain — have been documented during trial testing.

YES: The development of covid-19 vaccines is overseen by independent data and safety monitoring boards that can stop or pause the trials over safety concerns.

YES: Trials for two vaccines — from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson — were halted this fall after one participant in each experienced an adverse reaction.

YES: Both trials resumed in late October.

Note: Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines entered Phase 3 trials in July. More than 20,000 people took the Pfizer vaccine during its Phase 3 trial, and about 15,000 people took the Moderna vaccine during its Phase 3 trial. An equal number of people were given a placebo.

NO: The video in this post on the social media website Parler does not show suitcases of fraudulent ballots being pulled out from under a table.

YES: The video shows standard ballot containers at the vote-counting center in State Farm Arena in Atlanta.

NO: Election observers were not ordered to leave the room before these votes were processed or moved.

YES: The ballots had previously been processed with election observers present for the Republican Party and President Trump’s campaign.

NO: This video is not evidence of voter fraud.

Note: This surveillance video was shared by lawyers for Trump at a Georgia Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Dec. 3. One America News, a Trump-friendly cable network with a history of publishing conspiracy theories and other falsehoods, broadcast the full hearing on YouTube. A clip from that coverage was later shared on Trump’s YouTube channel and elsewhere online.

★ Featured rumor resource: This election rumor claims to provide evidence of voter fraud. But does it actually? Evaluate the evidence in this post using these classroom-ready slides.