April 15, 2021

Factually is a newsletter about fact-checking and misinformation from Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network. Sign up here to receive it on your email every Thursday.

Explaining a pause

This week, fact-checkers in the United States faced a similar challenge to one faced by their European counterparts a little less than one month ago. In mid-March, several European countries paused their use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine after a small number of patients reported developing blood clots shortly after receiving the vaccine. European fact-checkers shifted gears to explain the decisions of their countries’ health departments.

So far, U.S. fact-checkers have echoed moves by their European counterparts after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended pausing the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after similar reports of clotting in that vaccine. Most, if not all, have opted to explain the reasoning for the decision as well as what it could mean for their audiences.

FactCheck.org explained the mechanics of the rare blood clots, and why the six cases out of a total of approximately 6.8 million Johnson & Johnson vaccine shots were concerning enough to pause the rollout. They quoted Dr. Peter Marks, director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, who cited the clots occurring in conjunction with low blood platelet counts necessitating the pause and further study.

FactCheck.org also explained the connection between the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines. Both use the same “vector,” or method, to teach a body’s cells how to fight COVID-19. While the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use an mRNA vector, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca use an adenovirus vector, which is a deactivated virus that carries the data to cells.  U.S. officials observed the similarities in the clotting and low blood platelet counts as those present in Europe, which they speculated may be due to this similar vector.

PolitiFact staff writer Bill McCarthy wrote a piece explaining what the Johnson & Johnson pause means for those who’ve already received the vaccine. He cited experts who noted that only those who’ve recently gotten the vaccine should be vigilant about any potential symptom. Those who’ve been vaccinated for more than a couple of weeks and haven’t had symptoms are most likely fine, experts said.

MediaWise used a series of tweets to both explain the development, and use it as a teachable moment for how to avoid misinformation linked to breaking news. Its thread pointed out how headlines like, “U.S. halts J&J vaccine due to blood clots,” lack context, and advised its audience to read beyond the headlines while also linking to a training video from MediaWise ambassador Joan Lunden.


Interesting fact-checks

Photo by DD Video Lab // Faktograf

  • GhanaFact “COVID-19 vaccines do not alter your DNA” (in English)
    • This fact check flagged a heavily forwarded WhatsApp video that took false claims by two Western scientists and a medical journalist and dubbed them into Ghana’s most widely spoken indigenous language Twi. Ghana Fact debunked each claim, explaining the COVID-19 vaccines don’t alter DNA, the vaccines are safe and effective and the pandemic is real.

Quick hits

From the news: 

From/for the community: 

  • El Sabueso, the fact-checking unit of the Mexican media outlet Animal Político, is partnering with independent media outlets in Chihuahua and Sinaloa to fight misinformation ahead of national elections in June.
  • Full Fact, based in the U.K., offered this breakdown of the facts surrounding the reports of blood clotting potentially related to the AstraZeneca vaccine.
  • A report from Brazillian fact-checking organization Aos Fatos found that videos featuring Brazillian doctors spreading COVID-19 falsehoods received 30.8 million views on YouTube, with the majority of these coming from interviews published by mainstream news outlets.

Events and training

Promotional photo by Agência Lupa

  • April 16 — The Environment for Tech Regulation: The Shorenstein Center at Harvard University is hosting a talk with Tom Wheeler and Michael Copps, two former members of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, about current tech regulations and what potential changes they think could help. Sign up here.
  • April 27 — Lives at risk: the impacts of misinformation on health: Brazillian fact-checking organization Agência Lupa is holding a training in Portuguese looking at the types of health misinformation in the country and its impacts. Sign up here.
  • May 10-13 — The United Facts of America Festival: PolitiFact is hosting a celebration of fact-checking featuring over 10 hours of virtual programming including talks with Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, CNN’s Brian Stelter, and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner. Get tickets here.

If you are a fact-checker and you’d like your work/projects/achievements highlighted in the next edition, send us an email at factually@poynter.org by next Tuesday.

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Harrison Mantas is a reporter for the International Fact-Checking Network covering the wide world of misinformation. He previously worked in Arizona and Washington D.C. for…
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