Plandemic Fact-Check is our effort to correct the scientific misinformation presented in a recent COVID-19 conspiracy video.
Welcome to Plandemic Fact-Check. In unsettling and uncertain times like these, it can be difficult to navigate the overwhelming amount of information and misinformation that is circulating on the web. As always, here at FutureMDvsCOVID, we are committed to providing you with accessible, digestible, and scientifically accurate facts. Our hope is that the research-backed information presented on this page will continue to help you make decisions that keep you and your loved ones safe and healthy.
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Mask use weakens the immune system because it interferes with the normal bacteria that live on the body, leading to increased risk for serious infection and a second peak of COVID-19 cases when social distancing stops.
There is no evidence that mask use weakens the immune system. We all have harmless types of bacteria living on the surface of our bodies, and evidence suggests that they might affect the way our immune systems behave, but wearing a mask does not make these bacteria go away.
The data on the usefulness of masks are mixed. While in principle, fabric provides a physical barrier that filters potentially infected particles, scientists are still working to figure out exactly how well masks and various mask materials work. Some data suggest that surgical masks and homemade masks made of multiple layers of heavy materials can be extremely effective while other studies have had less promising results. Regardless of the exact effectiveness of mask use, masks only work when they fit well over the nose and mouth with minimal gaps between the edges of the mask and the skin of the face.
One key goal of universal mask use is to minimize disease spread by people who are infected but either have not yet shown symptoms or never go on to develop symptoms of COVID-19. This model has shown that this group of patients could be responsible for 44% of the spread of this disease. Since symptoms are not a perfect indicator of infection, our best chance to minimize disease spread is to behave like everyone could be infected when we are out in public spaces. When everybody wears a mask, everybody has two layers of protection from infected particles in the air: 1) they are guarded by their own mask and 2) they are guarded by the mask worn by the people who did not know that they were infected but still wore a mask just in case.
Although our current models do predict a later peak in COVID-19 cases after social distancing measures relax, this peak is not caused by weakened immune systems. Instead, the problem is that our immune systems are only trained to effectively fight viruses similar to the ones that they have seen before, and COVID-19 is caused by a new virus: SARS-CoV-2. As a result, when lots of people with healthy immune systems that are just not trained to fight SARS-CoV-2 come back into social environments that expose us to the virus, people get sick. This is not an unexpected problem that can only be explained by masks weakening the immune system. Instead, it is an unfortunate but completely expected drawback to the way our immune systems work.
Fortunately, because we know about this risk of a later peak, the medical community is also working on strategies to minimize later rises in case counts. One proposed strategy is the use of multiple shorter periods of on-and-off social distancing rather than relying on a one-and-done approach. Models supporting this strategy show that it can keep the case count low enough to avoid overwhelming our healthcare system when cases rise again.
Finally, while masks do not weaken the immune system, stress might. Now is a stressful time, and unfortunately, stress has been linked with changes in immune system function and increased risk of infections. On the other hand, making an effort to minimize stress, eat a well-balanced diet, stay active, and get enough sleep can help improve immune system activity.
Mask use does not weaken the ability of the immune system to fight infection. Instead, wearing a mask helps to keep your community safe by preventing the accidental spread of COVID-19 by people who are infected but do not show symptoms. In addition to wearing a mask, you can also improve your immune system by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and minimizing stress.
The flu vaccine increases risk for COVID-19 infection.
There have not been any studies that have linked the flu vaccine with COVID-19 infection. The study on military personnel and their beneficiaries mentioned in the video looked for diagnosis of respiratory viral illness in members of the Department of Defense who either did or did not receive the flu vaccine during the 2017-2018 flu season. Overall, their data suggested that the flu vaccine did not increase the risk of getting other viral airway or lung diseases. Although this study did report higher odds of coronavirus infection among those who received the flu vaccine, the coronaviruses mentioned here refer to the ones that cause the common cold, not SARS-CoV-2. In fact, the data analyzed to draw this conclusion came from the 2017-2018 flu season, which is well before SARS-CoV-2 was first reported in humans in December 2019. Also, this study did not account for several important variables including age and season of infection for different categories of respiratory viruses, which could have affected their results.
On the other hand, the flu vaccine could help keep you out of clinics and emergency rooms. According to an interim report from the CDC, this year’s flu vaccine has been 45% effective at reducing medical visits associated with the flu. Although the vaccine is not perfect, it can prevent millions of medical visits and save thousands of lives. This reduction in medical visits is critical during a pandemic when the healthcare system is being stretched. Getting the flu vaccine is important, not only to keep you healthy but also to free up medical resources to treat patients with COVID-19.
There is no evidence to suggest that getting the flu vaccine increases the risk of COVID-19 infection. Getting vaccinated decreases your chances of getting sick with the flu, keeps you out of the hospital, and helps healthcare workers maintain enough resources to treat people who get sick with COVID-19.
Hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment for COVID-19.
Data on hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of COVID-19 have been mixed at best, and there are several key flaws in the studies that have investigated its use. In February and March, there were reports out of China and a study conducted in France suggesting that hydroxychloroquine might be an effective treatment for COVID-19. Unfortunately, the study in France was very small and was not randomized. Randomization in clinical trials is important for preventing various types of biases from affecting the results of the study. Without randomization, there is no way to know whether improvements that we assume to be caused by hydroxychloroquine were caused by the drug itself or if for some reason, doctors tended to choose this drug when treating patients who shared some other characteristic that made them more likely to get better in the first place. As such, even though the group of study participants receiving hydroxychloroquine in this study did clear the virus faster, it’s tough to know what to conclude from this study, especially since 6 out of the 26 patients who received hydroxychloroquine were not included in the results for various reasons. According to the study authors, 3 of these 6 were transferred to an intensive care unit and 1 of them died, meaning their exclusion could make the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine look better than it really is.
A more recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine looked for whether hydroxychloroquine reduced rates of intubation and death. There were 1376 patients included in their study, of whom 811 had received hydroxychloroquine. They found that hydroxychloroquine use doesn’t change the rate of intubation or death in either direction, although it should be noted that this study was also not randomized.
A randomized control trial conducted in Brazil with 81 participants at the time of analysis compared high and low dose chloroquine as treatment for hospitalized patients with confirmed or likely COVID-19. The authors found that the higher dosage of chloroquine was associated with toxicity and death. That said, it is important to note that these patients were also receiving other medications, which complicates the interpretation. Still, based on their results, the researchers stopped giving the higher dose and recommended against giving high-dose chloroquine to critically ill patients with COVID-19, especially at the same time as certain other medications.
In addition, after reviewing case reports in the FDA Adverse Event Reporting System database, published studies, and the American Association of Poison Control Centers, the FDA has specifically warned against using hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 outside of hospitals or clinical trials because it has been associated with an increased risk for heart rhythm problems, especially when combined with other drugs that also affect heart rhythm.
It’s unclear if hydroxychloroquine could be an effective treatment for COVID-19. Multiple studies in different patient populations around the world have shown mixed results on efficacy and safety. While it is possible that hydroxychloroquine could be helpful in certain groups of patients, some doctors are recommending against its use because of serious concerns about patient safety.
The number of COVID-19 cases and deaths have been exaggerated, partially because other lung conditions like COPD can look exactly like COVID-19.
While some official COVID-19 case counts and death counts now include both confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, strict criteria must be met for a case to be called “probable." These criteria include a combination of clinical evidence, likelihood of exposure, and laboratory tests. Further, in countries such as the United States where COVID-19 testing was initially limited, it is likely that the opposite of the film’s claim is true: the numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths are probably underestimated. Those who got COVID-19 but were not tested because they did not meet the necessary clinical criteria to get a test may not have been counted in the number of cases. Similarly, people who died of the disease at home without a positive test may also have been left out of official tallies.
Difficulties in testing and diagnosis aside, current all-cause death rates alone suggest that we might be underestimating the death toll of this disease. The New York Times used CDC statistics on all deaths, COVID-19-related or otherwise, to compare death rates during this pandemic with typical death rates in the United States during this time of year. Since death rates due to other diseases are unlikely to have changed substantially from historical averages, any difference can be used to estimate the effect of COVID-19. The data show that during the six weeks between March 15 and April 25, the number of deaths in the United States was 64,000 more than usual. This count is more than 16,000 higher than the number of COVID-related deaths that were officially reported during that time.
In addition, the diagnosis of COVID-19 after death is not based on the appearance of the lung tissue but rather the detection of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. More specifically, for a suspected case of COVID-19, the CDC advises collecting and testing samples from the upper and lower airways (if an autopsy is performed) to look for the presence of the virus. The upper airway sample is collected by nasopharyngeal swab, the same procedure used to look for the virus in people that are alive. The lower airway sample is collected from the lungs directly.
One specific claim made in the Plandemic video is that COPD can be easily mistaken for COVID-19. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, aka COPD, is an umbrella term that refers to a group of lung diseases including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and certain types of severe, irreversible asthma. In two studies of autopsies performed on deceased individuals diagnosed with COVID-19, there was evidence of damage to the tiny air sacs of the lungs that are important in gas exchange (called diffuse alveolar damage) and airway inflammation, which can look similar to COPD. However, in one of these studies, scientists were able to use electron microscopes to see the actual viral particles inside certain types of lung cells in patients with COVID-19. These sorts of coronavirus-looking particles definitely would not be expected in the lungs of someone with just COPD.
The numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths have not been exaggerated. Instead, they have likely been underestimated, especially in countries like the United States that have had limited testing at some point during the pandemic. Also, other lung conditions such as COPD are not likely to be misdiagnosed as COVID-19 after death because the lung tissue looks different and diagnosis involves looking for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in airway samples.
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was manipulated in a lab because it could not have evolved in nature to infect humans without the intervention of laboratory efforts.
Based on studies of the genetic material of SARS-CoV-2, there is no evidence that this virus was manipulated in a lab. Scientists are able to figure out the most likely origin of new viruses like SARS-CoV-2 by comparing the genome, or the complete set of genes, of the new virus with the genomes of existing viruses. The closer the match, the more likely that the two viruses are related. Plandemic argues that SARS-CoV-2 must have been manipulated in a lab because it would take 800 years for this virus to evolve from SARS-CoV, the virus that caused the 2002-2004 SARS outbreak. However, scientists are not claiming that the new coronavirus causing COVID-19 developed from SARS-CoV. According to leading virologists, SARS-CoV-2 most likely evolved in nature from some sort of bat coronavirus that developed the ability to infect humans. Supporting evidence for this theory is that the SARS-CoV-2 genome is a closer match to known bat coronaviruses than SARS-CoV. Also, it has certain distinctive features and quirks that would be extremely unlikely to be picked up in a laboratory setting but have been seen in other viruses present in nature.
Plandemic also suggests that other viruses have been manipulated in order to cause recent outbreaks. It specifically calls out Ebola virus, claiming that it could not infect humans until it was taught to do so by scientists in 1999. However, Ebola was actually discovered in 1976, during which serious outbreaks in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo killed 431 people.
Based on what we know about the genes of this virus, SARS-CoV-2 most likely evolved in nature from a bat coronavirus that picked up the ability to infect humans. The current evidence does not support a laboratory origin.
We have no working vaccines that target RNA viruses.
There are several effective vaccines targeting RNA viruses that are routinely given. RNA viruses are a diverse group of viruses that store their genetic material in a biological molecule known as ribonucleic acid, or RNA. Coronaviruses like SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus that causes COVID-19, are one of many different types of RNA viruses. Other examples of RNA viruses include the viruses that cause measles, mumps, and rubella, which are covered by the combination MMR vaccine, as well as rotavirus and poliovirus, both of which also have vaccines that are part of the normal childhood immunization schedule. Not only do these vaccines work, they are so effective that measles, rubella, and polio have been eliminated in the United States.
While we do not yet have a vaccine for COVID-19, there are currently many ongoing efforts by doctors and scientists around the world to look for a safe and effective vaccine that provides immunity against this disease. According to a May 15th update by the World Health Organization, there are 8 different candidates that are in clinical trials and 110 other candidates that are still in the pre-clinical phase.
We have multiple working vaccines that target RNA viruses, but we are still waiting on a vaccine for COVID-19. The medical community continues to remain hard at work developing a vaccine that will be safe and effective against this disease.
Here at FutureMDvsCOVID, we focus on the science and the data, which we have presented in the topics above. We are not investigative journalists, but based on the detailed research done by reputable professionals, including the ones linked below, we have seen no compelling evidence that any of the conspiracy allegations presented in “Plandemic” are true.
Although we were not able to tackle every false claim made in this video, we hope that you found our brief summary to be helpful and informative. For more detailed information about other inaccuracies in “Plandemic” and about Dr. Judy Mikovits, the key figure interviewed in the video, here are several additional well-researched fact-checking articles:
Fact-checked by Anne Feng and Sara Rubin
Infographics by Constance Wu