As Australian health officials encourage eligible high school students to get vaccinated for COVID-19 before upcoming in-person exams, social media users are spreading false claims that their efforts involve forcibly injecting children.
The posts have amassed millions of views this week and penetrated every major social media platform. Among them are a video of a police incident misrepresented as the involuntary vaccination of a young child, and a baseless rumor that the government planned to “seize” 24,000 students against their will and immunize them by force in a stadium.
Children are not required to get vaccinated for COVID-19 in Australia, Australia’s health department confirms. Young children aren’t even eligible yet. The country has authorized the Pfizer vaccine for anyone 16 years old and older. Children aged 12 to 15 are authorized to receive the shot if they meet certain criteria, such as living in a remote community or having a medical condition.
Here’s a closer look at the facts around false posts about vaccinating kids in Australia.
CLAIM: A viral video shows police and medical workers in Australia forcibly separating a child from her parents and vaccinating her against her will.
THE FACTS: That’s not what the video shows. The incident in the video is unrelated to vaccines or COVID-19 testing, according to a statement from police in the Australian state of Victoria. The child in the video, who is clearly under the age of 12, would not be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in Australia at this time.
The video of a young child being wrested from an adult man’s arms sparked all manner of false claims online this week, with social media users baselessly claiming the child was being forcibly vaccinated and referring to police as the “Australian gestapo.” Other users falsely claimed the video showed a child being separated from parents after testing positive for COVID-19.
In reality, the video shows a family incident unrelated to vaccinations or a positive COVID-19 test, according to Victoria Police.
“Victoria Police can confirm this is inaccurate,” the police tweeted in response to the video. “This vision was in no way related to Covid/vaccinations or testing. For the privacy of those involved, we will not be providing any further details.”
Police told The Associated Press in an email the incident took place at Werribee Police Station southwest of Melbourne on Aug. 14.
CLAIM: The Australian government will seize 24,000 children and place them in a stadium quarantine camp to be forcibly vaccinated.
THE FACTS: No, that’s not true. The New South Wales health department held a voluntary vaccination drive for students in their final year of high school at Qudos Bank Arena in a suburb of Sydney in early August. But the vaccination drive was not forced on the students, and the stadium didn’t serve as a camp where they or other children quarantined.
Posts circulating widely on Instagram, Twitter and other platforms this week falsely accused the Australian government of plans to “seize 24,000 children” and place them in a stadium quarantine camp for forced vaccination. Several of the posts included excerpts from an Aug. 6 speech by Brad Hazzard, the health minister for New South Wales.
In the clip, Hazzard urged parents not to worry about their children, who would be “well looked after” at the vaccination site. But the clip that circulated widely did not include the full context of his remarks, in which Hazzard explained the vaccination site was an “opportunity” for about 24,000 older teens, not a requirement. He said students from areas with high COVID-19 transmission rates could sign up to get vaccinated at the arena ahead of October end-of-school exams.
This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.