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We Fact-checked VAIDS, a New Antivax New Conspiracy (Hint: It Doesn’t Exist)

Eva & Daiva @ The Inoculation

In this episode, we fact-check VAIDS, a made-up syndrome anti-vaxxers are using to scare people away from getting vaccinated.

Here is some background info:

Here's the list of the "Disinfo Dozen":

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Eva Schaper  0:00
It's just not a real syndrome. What is not? Hello and welcome to the inoculation. Today we're going to look at how anti Vax groups are pushing the idea that vaccination can harm the immune system. So it's not real syndrome is what vana Farber, Chief of the Division of surgical scientists at Columbia University, told Reuters by an email,

Daiva Repeckaite  0:30
what was she reacting to?

Eva Schaper  0:32
You know, she was reacting to a thing called vaids. This is something that I literally found that I stumbled across in a tweet last week. vaids is a thing. And so I just started scrolling around Twitter. And that was not the only tweet I found. So I just decided to look around what vates could possibly mean, though, what

Daiva Repeckaite  0:52
did you find Vator? What

Eva Schaper  0:54
anti vaxxers? Save it is it's it's a vaccine Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. And it's basically just a new spin on the falsehood that vaccines can make people sick. I think the most famous take on that is probably that childhood vaccinations cause autism, which we know is not true.

Daiva Repeckaite  1:17
So first of all, is there any merit or issue? No,

Eva Schaper  1:21
there's no merit at all. And maybe we'll just take a quick look at the science. So that you know, so that we can show our listeners that vaids doesn't exist. First of all, they it sounds like AIDS. Yeah, I think you're right. And I think this is probably also just a choice of a name to really scare people, because AIDS was, for a long time, and still is, in many parts of the world, a life threatening disease, contrary to AIDS, which is a real disease with real medicines to cure it. There's no scientific fact, to back up the claim that veyts does exist, I see that

Daiva Repeckaite  2:00
there were fact checks on it back in December. So why are we looking at it now?

Eva Schaper  2:04
Well, I think one, it's a really good example, how anti vaxxers work. So how they actually take bits of factual information, and weave weave them together into this one big falsehood. And it also shows how, then these little falsehoods, they work their way into the mainstream. And then we have, you know, politicians picking up on these anti Vax, who used to score points with voters.

Daiva Repeckaite  2:34
I thought only marginal Twitter accounts were making this claim but a mainstream politician.

Eva Schaper  2:39
Yeah. And I think this is surprising, because we do tend to think that maybe anti vaxxers are just ill informed, or maybe not that smart. But here we have a US senator, saying that it may be true that vaccines against COVID cost aids. So this was wrong. countin, who was who's a senior senator from Wisconsin, which is a fairly high ranking politician in the United States, and what is it? So basically, it's it's just a fabricated claim that COVID vaccines harm our immune system, and deplete our body's defenses against illnesses.

Daiva Repeckaite  3:16
Are they just saying that or do the anti vaxxers? Haven't you

Eva Schaper  3:19
proof? Well, of course, the anti vaxxers say they have proof and the proof they have is a real study. They have a study? Yes. And it's a good study in a well known medical journal, what? Yes, and they're actually really pushing the fact that there's a study in a journal phase is real. But the problem here is and it's almost like, if it was tragic, it would be really funny. The study doesn't really show in the slightest what the anti vaxxers says it does show

Daiva Repeckaite  3:50
what what does the study say?

Eva Schaper  3:53
So the study was published in a leading medical journal, The Lancet, and it was conducted by a real physician at a leading Swedish University. What they wanted to actually find out was what happens in the days and months after people have gotten a vaccination against COVID. What happens to the protection that the vaccines give them? So they looked at how effective vaccinations were protecting people against infection, hospitalization and death during the first nine months after they received the

Daiva Repeckaite  4:38
vaccination, and what did they find out?

Eva Schaper  4:41
Expanding was a really good study. So they had almost a million participants. So 840,000 individuals who were fully vaccinated, and then they had the same number who were unvaccinated, and then they follow Have them for the nine months after the second vaccination.

Daiva Repeckaite  5:03
And did they really find that the unvaccinated were better off than the vaccinated participants?

Eva Schaper  5:09
No, not at all. Of course not. What they didn't, didn't see was that over time that the vaccine was less effective over nine months, the first month, there was still some effectiveness of about 90%. And then the effectiveness started waning. After seven months, the effectiveness was basically non detectable. Okay, but what I think is important that the vaccines did continue to protect against people having to go to the hospital or people dying from COVID If they were vaccinated.

Daiva Repeckaite  5:45
Okay, so that's why we have the boosters. But what do the study findings mean?

Eva Schaper  5:49
Well, what they actually did say this is what the researchers very clearly stated is that you should get more vaccines, you should actually go get a booster not you shouldn't take a vaccine at all, but you should go out and get a booster

Daiva Repeckaite  6:03
what? So the study says, Get More COVID shots, but anti vaxxers is claiming that you should get fewer shots.

Eva Schaper  6:10
Yeah, because that is not extremely crazy.

Daiva Repeckaite  6:13
Well, this is just how anti vaxxers and other peddlers of disinformation work, right? Yes, it

Eva Schaper  6:18
really is. So we really have to see that they're taking a study conducted by a researcher at a big university, published in a really renowned journal, and, you know, turning it into the worst kind of vaccine disinformation that's meant to scare people away from taking vaccines and away from protecting themselves.

Daiva Repeckaite  6:37
Isn't this with someone called Mel information?

Eva Schaper  6:40
Right. And I think that was Brett Shafer, who talked to us last year, he's an analyst at the Alliance for securing democracy.

Daiva Repeckaite  6:48
Look, I just stuck out the clip. Let's listen to it.

Bret Schafer  6:51
So what we've seen is just sort of cobbling together selective bits of information to create a narrative that is damaging to InMail information, in some ways, the most difficult to deal with, because it exists technically in this sort of world of truth, or at least a sort of gray area of truth. And this is honestly, this is this is what we see with our own partisan news outlets. Right? I mean, for the most part, they are not making up stories. There's just this intense sort of selection bias of the stories that cover to create this view of the world that they want to pass along to their audiences that their audience is looking for. And but the problem with this mal information is when it is technically true, most of our measures to try to mitigate the effects of falsehoods are based on trying to highlight lies. So if you talk about fact checkers, or labeling and all of these things that the social media companies have tried to do, it's it's hard to fact check and label a tweet that, again, it's sort of technically true. But you really need context there. And context takes a lot of explanation. It's hard to get across to people.

Eva Schaper  8:09
And where's this idea being spread?

Daiva Repeckaite  8:12
So we already talked about it last year with sub carbon who is a research analyst with a background in economics and international relations at first draft.

Eva Schaper  8:22
Okay, and what did he say last year? What did he tell

Seb Cubbon  8:25
us kind of actors that typically evolve on these sort of more niche fringe communities and platforms try to get their content to be diffused on major social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc, and then also be reported on by, by mainstream media and not talked about by politicians. And and it's kind of a model to try and alert on the dangers of potentially reporting on stuff when you do have large holdings. Because once you might inadvertently amplify the content itself.

Eva Schaper  9:05
Who is pushing one of the people is pushing it is Joseph America. So he's basically one of the people who's been at the forefront of the anti vaccine movement. What he does is he's made lots of money from selling so called immunity boosters. He's one of the so called disinformation doesn't be the 12 people who push about two thirds of all vaccine disinfo

Daiva Repeckaite  9:30
classic. So we can see the conspiracy spreading on Twitter, but its proponents are also using substack and other newsletters and Facebook to to transmit their views.

Eva Schaper  9:43
Right. And so this is really what's quite dangerous is that, of course, often newsletters are not edited. So there's no editorial oversight. And this is when when we talk to subcut in the last year, he said that tackling This info will will just require audiences to become more selective and more informed.

Daiva Repeckaite  10:05
Let's listen to what he said detailed,

Seb Cubbon  10:08
specific and creates nuanced information can never rival sensation, information in terms of its immediate immediate appeal in terms of its value, etc. So much of the conversation minimal around in terms of health communications, well, how can we produce messaging that isn't a 30 page PDF for you, that's never going to compete with a mean. And there is something to that there is something to try and kind of simplify messaging and making it more accessible, etc. However, there comes a point where, as I said, nuanced information, taking information that isn't supplemented with kind of visual and emotive means can't compete. And that's why I think we have to redirect efforts towards making sure that people are less prone to being attracted by sensationalized content to make sure that yeah, as I said, critical thinking, media literacy, all these things. And obviously, these these are more long term solutions. But I think that, as I said, it comes to the point where we can't make accurate information that often is detail heavy, as appealing ism as a funny meme. The match itself contains information. And so that's, I think we really need to make sure that it becomes appealing by it by developing people's receptiveness to different types of content and appreciating that just because something might be appealing will necessarily be a trend.

Eva Schaper  11:44
Okay, so that was really interesting. And this is I don't think this is going to be the last conspiracy theory we hear of. So but I don't think it's fair to say that, I mean, it can only be on consumers to educate themselves.

Daiva Repeckaite  11:57
Yeah, exactly. How much research can a single individual make for every claim they see on social media? So this is going to need the long term multi pronged solutions. I totally

Eva Schaper  12:11
agree with you.

Daiva Repeckaite  12:17
We will keep following this topic. As always, if there's anything that we should know, please send us a tip. And don't forget that when we are not releasing new podcast episodes, we are sending a newsletter. And our newsletter is very carefully verified. So do subscribe to it on our website. www dot the

Eva Schaper  12:41
If you want to find our podcast, we are on Apple podcasts on Spotify everywhere, actually where you like to listen to podcasts. If you are looking for a transcript, the transcript is on our website and that's www. Here.

Daiva Repeckaite  12:58
Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Eva Schaper  13:01
Thank you bye for now.

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