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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Posts falsely claim 50% of Ottawa police quit over protests
Claim: Half of the police officers in Canada’s capital city resigned on Monday in support of protests against vaccine requirements.
The facts: On the contrary, no Ottawa police officers have resigned in support of a convoy of truckers against vaccine mandates in the city, both the Ottawa Police Service and a union representing its members told The Associated Press. A protest advocate named Patrick King made the false claim in a livestreamed Facebook video Sunday night. Social media users seized on the clip, sharing it across Twitter, TikTok and other platforms with captions declaring it meant that Ottawa truckers were “WINNING” and that police were “siding with the protesters.” But this is “in no way accurate,” according to Matt Skof, president of the Ottawa Police Association, who said his organization represents all of the Ottawa Police Service with the exception of about 50 senior officers and four police executives. Constable Amy Gagnon, a spokeswoman for the Ottawa Police Service, also confirmed the claims were false, saying all available Ottawa police officers were working and there had been “no resignations due to the demonstration.” The rumor “is simply not factual,” said Patrick Champagne, press secretary to Ottawa’s mayor, Jim Watson, adding that no resignations had been reported to the mayor’s office. King did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in New York contributed this report.
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Despite Biden’s claim, gun makers can indeed be sued
Claim: Gun manufacturers are “the only industry in America that is exempted from being sued by the public. The only one.”
The facts: While gun manufacturers have legal protections that shield them from most lawsuits, this does not mean they are exempt from being sued, nor are they the only industry with such protections, according to legal experts.
On Thursday, Feb. 3, President Joe Biden discussed his commitment to fighting gun violence during a Gun Violence Prevention Task Force meeting in New York City. In the following days, people on social media widely shared a tweet from Townhall.com, a conservative news website, that contained a clip in which Biden spoke about the firearms industry and said: “Imagine had we had a liability – they’re the only industry in America that is exempted from being able to be sued by the public. The only one.”
Experts told the AP that taking legal action against firearms makers and sellers is possible – but it’s very difficult for the cases to reach court.
The 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, or PLCAA, gives immunity to gun makers so they can’t be held liable for injuries caused by criminal misuse of their weapons, Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA School of Law, told the AP in an email. He said Congress feared liability could put firearm sellers and manufacturers out of business.
Another purpose of the law was to protect a citizen’s access to buy and use firearms for legal purposes, explained Jacob Charles, executive director of the Duke Center for Firearms Law.
The law includes six exceptions where firearms manufacturers or dealers can be held liable for damages their weapons cause, Charles said, which means it does not provide “absolute immunity.” These exceptions include defects or damage in the design of the gun, negligence, or breach of contract or warranty regarding the purchase of a gun. Another exception is when the manufacturer or seller knowingly violated a state or federal law related to the sale or marketing of a firearm, Charles said.
In the case of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, families of victims of the shooting are suing the gun maker, Remington, and alleging “ wrongful marketing ” of firearms, according to previous AP reporting. This case is still developing.
But even with PLCAA’s exceptions, it’s still very difficult to sue gun manufacturers. Judges have dismissed many cases against gun makers. That’s because PLCAA provides immunity in most scenarios where a person would try to sue, Winkler said.
“The cases, like Newtown, that have survived tend to be innovative suits that test the boundaries of the law,” said Winkler.
Despite Biden’s claim, the firearms industry is not the only industry that has special exemptions in the United States. As the video of Biden’s remarks spread online, many tweets suggested the COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers have legal immunity.
Vaccine manufacturers do have special immunity from liability under different programs, including the 2005 Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act. And individuals or organizations involved in the manufacture, distribution, or dispensing of medical countermeasures can’t be sued if a person had an adverse reaction to or is injured by a vaccine, said Brian Dean Abramson, an adjunct professor of vaccine law at the Florida International University College of Law.
It is possible to sue a vaccine maker if they demonstrate willful misconduct but it’s very difficult to prove, he added.
The White House did not respond to the AP’s requests for comment.
— Associated Press writer Karena Phan in New York contributed this report.
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Cancer rate not up 20 times from COVID-19 vaccines
Claim: There is a “massive spike” in cancer rates, with certain types of cancers up 20 times the normal rate since the “Operation Warp Speed injections were first introduced.”
The facts: U.S. medical professionals who study cancer rates say they have not seen a spike in cancer rates since the COVID-19 vaccines began, and clinical trials and data haven’t shown vaccinated individuals are more susceptible to developing cancer.
Following news last week of President Joe Biden’s initiative to cut the cancer death rate in half within 25 years, false claims began circulating on social media, attempting to link the COVID-19 vaccine to cancer rates.
One Twitter post says “there is now 20 times the normal average of certain types of cancers” since the COVID-19 vaccination program began.
Health professionals who directly work with cancer patients say the claim is baseless.
States have surveillance systems to spot increases in cancer rates and cancer hot spots, and public health agencies are required to report cancer cases, Dr. Arif Kamal, first chief patient officer for the American Cancer Society, told The Associated Press. Kamal noted that state health departments that closely track cancer rates would have sounded the alarm if any upticks were noted.
“There is actually almost real-time monitoring at the state level and if anywhere there was an uptick like that it would be remarkable news,” Kamal said.
The American Cancer Society has estimated that there will be 1.9 million new cancer cases in the U.S. in 2022, with 609,360 deaths. In 2021, the society had also estimated new cases at 1.9 million, and deaths at 608,570. The organization released its 2022 report on cancer figures in January, where it reported that the cancer death rate for men and women fell 32% from its peak in 1991 to 2019.
Cancer research experts say that cancer deaths have been declining over the years due in part to early diagnosis and screening. The death rate for cancer is currently at 146 per 100,000 people, which is down from 200 in 2000.
“Cancer rates are similar to what they traditionally have been,” said Clive Svendsen, executive director of the Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Even more so, cancer research experts say COVID-19 vaccines do not cause cancer. The AP has previously debunked this claim, with experts saying there is no evidence linking the shots to the disease. In fact, the vaccines are recommended for cancer patients, who are considered high risk for complications from COVID-19.
— Associated Press writer Beatrice Dupuy in New York contributed this report.
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Virulent HIV variant is decades old, has no link to COVID vaccine
Claim: The HIV variant recently found in the Netherlands is linked to the COVID-19 vaccines.
The facts: The previously unrecognized HIV variant had been circulating in the Netherlands for decades. Experts say there’s no connection between the vaccines and the variant, and vaccine trials have not shown that recipients are more susceptible to contracting HIV in general.
After news broke last week that the more virulent variant of HIV has been documented in the Netherlands, social media users began spreading false claims attempting to link the variant to the COVID-19 vaccines.
The Associated Press has previously debunked similar claims trying to link the vaccines to HIV or AIDS, the most severe phase of HIV infection.
Experts said the COVID-19 vaccines do not contain HIV, and clinical trials and data from the administration of shots around the world have not shown that it makes the body more vulnerable to contracting the virus. Experts also confirm the vaccines have no connection to the newly identified HIV variant, which actually dates back to the 1990s.
The University of Oxford published a study last week saying that scientists had found 17 cases of the HIV “VB variant” or virulent subtype B, which caused more immune damage and was more infectious than subtype B. Since most of the cases were from the Netherlands, researchers delved into Dutch records and found a cluster of 109 people infected with the VB variant.
But the variant has been around for years and has been virulent the entire time, according to Joel Wertheim, associate professor in the department of medicine at the University of California, San Diego.
“Sometime in the ’90s, a more virulent variant of HIV seems to have evolved and spread, he told the AP. “The only thing that connects this cluster to the COVID-19 pandemic is that the researchers published it during the pandemic, yet all of this happened, decades ago,” Wertheim said. “There’s no connection.”
Wertheim said claims that COVID-19 vaccines cause HIV are “completely bogus and ridiculous.” He added that there have been fewer cases of HIV in the population reported throughout the pandemic.
— Associated Press writer Arijeta Lajka contributed this report.
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Nurse peddles baseless claim that COVID treatment remdesivir is lethal
Claim: Remdesivir is “continuing to kill patients in the United States” and recipients have “a less than 25% chance of survival if they get more than two doses.”
The facts: Experts say claims that remdesivir, an antiviral medicine approved as a COVID-19 treatment, is killing patients are baseless. Clinical trials did not find that the drug increases deaths among recipients.
Still, a video viewed millions of times on social media is spreading the baseless claim.
“They rolled out remdesivir under a substantial number of patients for which we all saw, it was killing the patients,” Nicole Sirotek, a nurse licensed in Nevada, claims in the video posted on YouTube and shared on various social media platforms.
Sirotek was speaking during an event hosted by Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in late January that was rife with falsehoods that then spread online. Sirotek went on to claim that “qualitative data with a humanistic phenomenological approach” that was collected by nurses show remdesivir recipients “have a less than 25% chance of survival if they get more than two doses.”
But experts say that there is no support for those claims, and that the data-gathering process she described is not a rigorous method for assessing the safety or efficacy of a drug. Sirotek and her group, American Frontline Nurses, did not return multiple requests by the AP for supporting data.
Dr. Cameron Wolfe, a Duke University associate professor of medicine who specializes in infectious diseases, said in an email that remdesivir was not shown to increase deaths in recipients in any of the clinical trials that have been conducted. “In fact, they usually did better, especially if the drug was given early in the illness,” he said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration fully approved remdesivir — administered through an IV and distributed as Veklury by Gilead Sciences Inc. — to treat COVID-19 patients in October 2020, based on findings that it reduced patients’ recovery times. The FDA expanded remdesivir’s use in January to include adults and children with early COVID-19 who face a high risk of ending up in the hospital. Remdesivir previously had been limited to hospitalized patients.
Studies have provided mixed results in terms of how beneficial remedesivir is, said Emily Heil, an associate professor of infectious diseases at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy. A recent randomized controlled trial sponsored by Gilead that assessed the use of the drug in unvaccinated outpatients who had at least one risk factor found that recipients were significantly less likely to be hospitalized.
While the drug may not be effective for all COVID-19 patients, such as those later in the disease progression and severely ill, Heil said, there is no evidence for the allegation that it is killing patients.
“Through all of these studies, there were zero signals that remdesivir made anything worse,” Heil said.
She added that “there is really no plausible mechanistic way through which remdesivir could increase your risk of death.”
A retrospective study led by Johns Hopkins University researchers found that hospitalized COVID-19 patients who were on low-flow oxygen and administered remdesivir were less likely to die when compared with a control group.
— Associated Press writer Angelo Fichera in Philadelphia contributed this report.
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