Truth Tracker: 'Plandemic' video full of false conspiracy theories about COVID-19
TORONTO -- A documentary-style video called 'Plandemic: The Hidden Agenda Behind COVID-19' has been removed by social media platforms after peddling potentially dangerous conspiracy theories about the coronavirus pandemic.
The 26-minute video has reportedly been viewed millions of times across Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other websites despite its misleading claims, according to data from social media tracking tool BuzzSumo.
The video is said to be the first part of an upcoming documentary, according to California production company Elevate Films, which did not respond to CTVNews.ca's request for comment. It consists of an interview between filmmaker Mikki Willis, whose other videos highlight conspiracy theories, and Dr. Judy Mikovits, a former scientist at the National Cancer Institute in the U.S.
The documentary is about Mikovits' theories that the coronavirus pandemic was planned. In the video, she claims that the virus was created in a laboratory, that wearing masks actually makes people sick, and that flu vaccines increase people’s odds of contracting COVID-19. She also makes repeated accusations against Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the lead members of the Trump administration's White House Coronavirus Task Force.
No medical or scientific evidence exists to support these or any of Mikovits' claims in the video.
One of Mikovits' main claims is that the coronavirus was created and manipulated in laboratories in China and the U.S.
Despite previous reports that U.S. officials were investigating the possibility that the virus was secretly manufactured in a Chinese lab, there is no scientific evidence to support those theories.
A study by researchers from several public health organizations published March 17 in the journal Nature Medicine found that the virus, when tested by computer simulations, does not appear to bind well to human cells. The researchers determined that if someone wanted to create a dangerous virus capable of spreading among humans, their own simulations would show that this virus simply wouldn’t work.
"Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus," researchers wrote in the article.
Scientists who have studied the virus point to bats as the likeliest source of transmission to humans, suggesting that COVID-19 was created by nature, not humans. The earliest reported cases of COVID-19 were linked to a live animal market in Wuhan that sold exotic species, bolstering this research.
Mikovits also claims that COVID-19 was derived from the SARS virus. While the novel coronavirus is similar to SARS -- both originated from bats, cause respiratory illness, and spread through coughs and sneezes -- SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is a new disease, according to a study published in The Lancet.
According to several independent studies, the virus's genetic structure closely resembles one that already exists in horseshoe bats in China's Hunan province.
Bats have an unusually high capacity to harbour viruses, and scientists believe the virus may have spread from bats to an intermediary animal -- possibly stray dogs, snakes or pangolins -- before infecting humans.
MASKS DO NOT 'ACTIVATE' THE VIRUS
In the video, Mikovits alleges that wearing a face mask can "activate" the coronavirus. She says that people who wear masks are becoming sick from their own "reactivated coronavirus expressions." There is no evidence to support this.
According to health professionals, wearing a non-medical face mask may prevent the spread of the coronavirus; it does not make people more susceptible to it. Public health officials have recommended that people wear homemade face masks when they’re out in public, especially when physical distancing may be difficult, such as in grocery stores or on public transit. This is to protect others around the wearer because there is evidence the virus can be spread among asymptomatic individuals, or those who don't have any symptoms of COVID-19.
Hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug dubbed a "game changer" by U.S. President Donald Trump for its potential ability to fight the new coronavirus, was found to be no more effective than standard treatment in a small Chinese study.
However, in 'Plandemic,' Mikovits repeatedly pushes it as "effective against these families of viruses."
Health Canada issued a warning in April of the possible side effects of the drug. In the health advisory, Health Canada said it is concerned people may be purchasing chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to treat or prevent COVID-19 and that the drugs should not be taken unless prescribed and under supervision of a physician.
Health Canada said that the drugs can lead to dizziness, fainting, seizures, liver or kidney problems, and a potentially fatal irregular heart rate.
There are more than 50 studies in the works on hydroxychloroquine, including in Canada, but health officials say it is too soon to known whether the drug is a viable treatment.
There is currently no accepted cure or vaccine for COVID-19.
Mikovits claims that "the flu vaccines increase the odds by 36 per cent of getting COVID-19." She backs up this claim by citing a study published in January in the peer-reviewed journal Vaccine. The study looked at personnel in the U.S. Defense Department between 2017 and 2018 and found that the odds of getting coronaviruses were greater for vaccinated officials than unvaccinated officials.
However, scientists have since noted flaws in the study's experimental design. For example, the number of vaccinated individuals studied was more than twice as large as the number of those who were not vaccinated. In addition, the study tested for an unspecified "coronavirus," not SARS-CoV-2.
Nowhere in the study does it say flu vaccines increase the chance of contracting the coronavirus by 36 per cent.
Influenza and COVID-19 come from two different families of viruses and have no cross-effect, according to infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch.
Bogoch told CTV's Your Morning in March that a regular flu shot will not protect nor increase one's risk against COVID-19. However, he said individuals can "optimize" the immune system by getting vaccinated for everything that they are eligible to be vaccinated for, such as influenza or bacterial pneumonias.
While it is still unclear if someone can contract COVID-19 more than once, it is possible to have more than one different virus at the same time, such as the new coronavirus and a strain of the flu.
OPPOSITION TO CDC GUIDELINES
In 'Plandemic', a number of unidentified individuals described only as doctors are seen questioning the guidelines put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on physical distancing, or suggesting the preventative measures have been issued for profit.
Mikovits alleges that doctors and hospitals have been "incentivized" to count deaths unrelated to COVID-19 as having been caused by the virus to get greater payouts from the American federal health insurance program Medicare. Medicare pays hospitals a set amount of money for the treatment of certain diagnoses, regardless of what the treatment actually costs.
Medicare has determined that a hospital gets US$13,000 if a COVID-19 patient on Medicare is admitted, and $39,000 if the patient goes on a ventilator. The CARES Act -- one of three federal stimulus laws enacted in the U.S. in response to the pandemic -- has included an add-on of 20 per cent that Medicare will pay hospitals for COVID-19 patients in a move to help with their lost revenue from the halting of elective surgeries. However, Congress has included strict policies for reporting this.
While the U.S. government is giving more money to hospitals that treat coronavirus patients, there is no proof that hospitals are over-identifying patients as having COVID-19.
ACCUSATIONS AGAINST FAUCI
Many of Mikovits' claims concern various high-profile individuals who have become more prominent amid the pandemic. Most notable is Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) since 1984 and one of the lead members of the Trump administration's White House Coronavirus Task Force.
While Mikovits repeatedly drops Fauci's name, she never actually connects him in any material way to her theory that this pandemic was planned.
Mikovits alleges that Fauci orchestrated a cover-up, but of what is unclear. She says that people were "paid off big time," suggesting Fauci may have engaged in some sort of improper activity. However, Mikovits later clarifies that she means researchers' labs got funding from NIAID, which is how science research is typically funded in the U.S.
In an article originally published in December 2018, fact-checking website Snopes reported on a claim by Mikovits that Fauci sent an email that "threatened her with arrest if she visited the National Institutes of Health to participate in a study to validate her chronic fatigue research."
Fauci told Snopes he had "no idea what she was talking about."
"I can categorically state that I have never sent such an e-mail," Fauci said. "I would never make such a statement in an e-mail that anyone 'would be immediately arrested' if they stepped foot on NIH property."
Mikovits also said Fauci profited from patents from research done at NIAID.
The Associated Press reported in 2005 that scientists at NIAID "have collected millions of dollars in royalties for experimental treatments without having to tell patients testing the treatments that the researchers' had a financial connection."
Fauci later told peer-reviewed medical journal The BMJ that as a government employee, he was required by law to put his name on certain patents. However, he said he felt it was inappropriate to receive payment and donated the money to charity.
Presented in the video as a medical expert, Judy Mikovits is one of 13 researchers who, in 2009, claimed to have found a link between a mouse retrovirus and chronic fatigue syndrome -- a disorder with no proven explanation and no cure. The findings were published in prestigious peer-reviewed journal Science.
In the video, filmmaker Willis says the paper "sent shockwaves through the scientific community, as it revealed the common use of animal and human fetal tissues were unleashing devastating plagues of chronic diseases."
However, the paper was retracted two years after its publication. Science said at the time that "multiple laboratories, including those of the original authors, have failed to reliably detect" the mouse retrovirus in chronic fatigue syndrome patients. The journal also cited "evidence of poor quality control in a number of specific experiments" in the report.
Mikovits has not published anything in scientific literature since 2012, but she has co-authored two bestselling books with Kent Heckenlively, a noted anti-vaxxer.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Whittemore Peterson Institute at the University of Nevada fired Mikovits in September 2011 from her job as research director at the facility after her study was retracted. In November 2011, a criminal complaint was filed against Mikovits for allegedly stealing computer data, notebooks and other property from the institute.
Mikovits says in 'Plandemic' that the notebooks were "planted" in her house and that she was "held in jail with no charges." As she is speaking, footage of what appears to be a police SWAT team executing a nighttime raid is shown.
The Chicago Tribune said Mikovits was arrested in California as a fugitive on a warrant issued by Reno police in relation to the November 2011 complaint. She was held in a California jail for five days before being released after an arraignment hearing.
The criminal charges were later dropped, although the Whittemore Peterson Institute subsequently won a default judgment in a civil suit against her seeking the return of the items. A colleague at the institute admitted in an affidavit for the criminal case that he had taken items from the lab on behalf of Mikovits.
A typical viewer of 'Plandemic' may not know these details about Mikovits' background. Mikovits did not respond to CTVNews.ca's request for comment.
Jonathan Jarry, a biologist and science communication expert at McGill University, said it is also the way that Mikovits speaks that can make her seem convincing.
"Her tone is just right. She sounds cool-headed. She is portraying herself as a victim of a cruel system so we can empathize with her," Jarry said in an email to CTVNews.ca on Monday. He added that Mikovits uses a Gish gallop, a common debating technique in which the speaker runs through a long list of arguments that appear convincing just by their sheer number and "would take four times as long to refute."
Jarry says the video's documentary-like style also plays a role in making its misleading conspiracy theories seem legitimate.
"With a little bit of money, anyone can now produce a serious-looking documentary. These images look professional, so they are more convincing to us," Jarry said. "The video also taps into our collective anxiety during this pandemic, of looking for someone to blame, some clear answer to the questions we are asking."
Edited by CTVNews.ca's Ryan Flanagan