Tucker Carlson Video Spreads Falsehoods on COVID-19 Vaccines, WHO Accord
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Contrary to claims amplified by podcaster Bret Weinstein during an interview with Tucker Carlson, COVID-19 vaccines have saved millions of lives, not killed 17 million people worldwide. Weinstein also inaccurately characterized a proposed World Health Organization pandemic accord and other changes, claiming they aim to take away “personal and national sovereignty.”
COVID-19 vaccines reduce the risk of severe COVID-19, including in children, and serious side effects are rare. Increasing evidence indicates they reduce the risk of long COVID, and they are estimated to have saved millions of lives.
Still, various people have persisted in making egregiously false claims about COVID-19 vaccines, blaming them for hundreds of thousands of deaths in the U.S., or millions of deaths globally.
According to a survey conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, FactCheck.org’s parent organization, over time more and more Americans have come to incorrectly believe that the COVID-19 vaccines have killed large numbers of people. In August 2023, for example, 34% of respondents said it was probably or definitely true that the COVID-19 vaccines had killed thousands of people in the U.S., up from 22% in June 2021.
Recently, podcaster and former biology professor Bret Weinstein — known for spreading COVID-19 misinformation — spread yet another falsehood about COVID-19 vaccine deaths.
“I saw a credible estimate of something like 17 million deaths globally from this technology,” Weinstein told Tucker Carlson on a web show published Jan. 5 on Carlson’s streaming platform. Carlson, ousted as a Fox News host in April 2023, has a history of spreading misinformation on diverse topics.
Weinstein had previously told Carlson in the same interview that he was “hesitant to say what I think the toll might be because this is not my area of expertise,” referring to the purported harms from the COVID-19 vaccines. However, the false claim about COVID-19 vaccine deaths has since spread widely on social media.
Weinstein said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the 17 million deaths figure came from former physics professor Denis Rancourt. Fact-checkers have previously concluded that Rancourt’s conclusions are flawed because they rely on assumptions that spikes in deaths were caused by COVID-19 vaccines without showing evidence of this — and when COVID-19 itself is a clear contributor to excess deaths.
Some of the social media posts have also spread incorrect claims from the same interview about the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines for children. Weinstein claimed that “there’s never been any proper justification of administering it to healthy kids. … Healthy kids don’t die of COVID, and the shot doesn’t prevent you from catching or transmitting it.” COVID-19 has in fact killed some children without known underlying health conditions, not to mention the otherwise healthy children who have gotten very sick. The vaccines have been shown to reduce the risk of severe disease in children, which is the primary goal, as well as infection to some degree.
Bret Weinstein appears on the Tucker Carlson Encounter in an episode posted Jan. 5.
During the lengthy interview, Weinstein also spread misinformation about the World Health Organization, claiming that a pandemic accord and other changes are being discussed that would give the United Nations agency sweeping powers.
“I think it is fair to say that we are in the middle of a coup, that we are actually facing the elimination of our national and our personal sovereignty, and that that is the purpose of what is being constructed,” Weinstein said, referring to changes that he said nations could sign on to in May 2024. Weinstein’s false claims about WHO have also spread on social media.
WHO nations are working on putting together a pandemic accord, to be submitted at an annual assembly in May 2024. They will also discuss possible amendments to global health regulations. But as we have previously written, neither the amendments nor the accord, also sometimes referred to as a pandemic treaty, would affect national sovereignty.
The accord “is a generational agreement among countries to work in cooperation—not in competition—to face shared threats with a shared response,” according to an email sent to FactCheck.org by a WHO spokesperson. The spokesperson also affirmed, “No country will cede their sovereignty to WHO.”
COVID-19 Vaccines Did Not Kill 17 Million People
Claims about mass COVID-19 vaccine deaths are not plausible, given the existing data on vaccine safety, which do not show elevated mortality among vaccinated people.
Rancourt and other researchers posted the false claim that COVID-19 vaccines caused 17 million deaths on Sep. 17 in a report by the Canada-based group Correlation Research in the Public Interest, where Rancourt is a board member and associate researcher. The report is not published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The authors of the report gathered data from various sources on all-cause mortality in 17 countries in the Southern Hemisphere, baselessly attributing all spikes in deaths after the COVID-19 vaccines became available to the vaccines.
The authors then calculated the supposed rate of vaccine-related deaths, coming up with a bogus figure they dubbed the “vaccine-dose fatality rate.” They then used these figures to estimate global deaths from COVID-19 vaccines up through September 2023, based on the number of people vaccinated globally.
Rancourt subsequently made a similar claim on Nov. 18 at an event in Romania that also featured Weinstein as a speaker.
Rancourt’s report did not consider COVID-19 deaths. Jeffrey S. Morris, director of the division of biostatistics at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, highlighted the omission in a tweet to Rancourt the day after the report’s release.
“Why do you completely ignore the fact that the excess deaths all over the world largely cluster in spikes that happen to correspond to spikes of confirmed Covid cases and Covid-attributed deaths?” he asked. “They don’t line up with strictness of Covid mitigation, and they don’t line up with vaccination rollouts (except in places when vaccination rollouts were done during massive Covid surges).”
Since the start of the pandemic, COVID-19 is estimated to have killed more than 1.1 million Americans. Worldwide, more than 7 million COVID-19 deaths have been reported to the WHO. But during a Jan. 12 press conference, WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove emphasized that that tally is an undercount. “We know that that number is certainly higher,” she said, adding that the WHO expects the true number is “at least three times higher.”
Children Benefit From COVID-19 Vaccination
Weinstein’s comments about healthy children minimized the harms of COVID-19 and potential benefits of vaccination for this group.
First, while COVID-19 is usually mild in children, the disease has been a leading cause of death in children — a group in whom deaths are generally uncommon. Between August 2021 and July 2022, COVID-19 was the eighth most common cause of death and the most common cause of death from infectious or respiratory diseases in Americans ages 19 and younger, according to a 2023 paper published in JAMA Network Open.
It is not always possible to identify which children will get very sick from COVID-19. According to data from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention presentation, about half of hospitalized American children who died of COVID-19 between January 2022 and June 2023 did not have underlying health conditions.
There has been some legitimate debate over whether all children need to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or get updated shots. Still, there is broad consensus that the benefits outweigh the risks, and many experts and groups, including the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend COVID-19 vaccination for all children 6 months of age or older, unless there is a contraindication.
Second, while the vaccines’ main purpose is to prevent serious disease, they have also been shown to reduce the risk of infection in the short term.
For instance, a paper published Jan. 9 in Annals of Internal Medicine evaluated the effectiveness of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, finding that a primary vaccine series reduced documented infections in children in the omicron era by around 74%. The vaccines also reduced cases of moderate or severe COVID-19 by around 76% and ICU admission by around 85%.
WHO Accord Will Not Affect National Sovereignty
Finally, Weinstein resurrected claims about the WHO pandemic accord, as well as amendments being made to global health regulations. He claimed, among other things, that the organization would be able to mandate what vaccines people would and would not receive and take away people’s rights to free speech.
For instance, Weinstein agreed when Carlson asked him if he was saying that “an international health organization could just end the first amendment in the United States” — an assertion that doesn’t have grounding in reality.
“What Weinstein is claiming is an even wilder, more extreme, version of the idea that the pandemic agreement is going to take away America’s sovereignty,” Lawrence Gostin, faculty director of Georgetown’s O’Neill Institute for National & Global Health Law, told us in an email. “These claims are entirely untrue.” Gostin, who is also director of the WHO Collaborating Center on National and Global Health Law, has been involved in drafting the new pandemic agreement.
Mandates in the accord are meant to govern international obligations, not set nations’ policies within their own borders, Gostin previously told us. This includes, for instance, obligating countries to share information on disease outbreaks with each other.
In response to Weinstein’s claims, Gostin affirmed that “the US constitution is the highest law of the land. No international treaty can override the provisions of our constitution.” He called it “false” and “legally impossible” that the WHO negotiations could “override the First Amendment” — both because the negotiations contain no provisions to do so and because any such attempts “would have no legal standing in the United States.”
He also said that the agreement would not mandate vaccinations, treatments or other public health measures. “The WHO has no power to force individuals or countries to do anything,” he said.