CoronaCheck is RMIT ABC Fact Check’s weekly email newsletter, dedicated to fighting the misinformation infodemic surrounding the coronavirus outbreak.
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In this week’s CoronaCheck, we update you on COVID-19 vaccines and pregnancy, following a recommendation issued by Australian health authorities that pregnant women receive the Pfizer shot.
We also look at those Daniel Andrews rumours, and bring you a fact check on former US president Donald Trump’s supposedly-backwards trousers.
Pregnancy and COVID-19 vaccines
Health authorities in Australia this week recommended pregnant women get the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, with the risk of severe outcomes from coronavirus significantly greater for both women and unborn babies than risks associated with immunisation.
“Global surveillance data from large numbers of pregnant women have not identified any significant safety concerns with mRNA COVID-19 vaccines given at any stage of pregnancy,” read a joint statement issued by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG).
But while the science appears to stack up, misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines and pregnancy has proliferated from the outset of the vaccination program.
In February, fact checkers at AFP took on a claim that inferred that 10 pregnant women had suffered miscarriages in the US as a result of vaccination.
According to AFP, there was nothing to suggest the jabs were the cause of miscarriages reported to have occurred after women received vaccines.
“The reports are not proof that a vaccine caused a problem, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is currently no evidence of an increase in miscarriages after COVID-19 immunisation.”
PolitiFact also took aim at a claim that 920 miscarriages had been linked to the vaccine.
“The post does not provide evidence supporting its claim, and we found none confirming that COVID-19 vaccines have caused hundreds of miscarriages,” PolitiFact said.
Meanwhile, in the UK, Reuters debunked a similar claim.
“These figures have been taken out of context, having failed to mention the overall increase in the number of vaccines being administered,” the fact checkers said.
“This, according to experts speaking to Reuters, must then be compared to the expected frequency of miscarriages occurring in the UK.”
The UK’s Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said there was no evidence to suggest an elevated risk of miscarriage in women who received coronavirus vaccines.
Fact checkers have also found that vaccines do not lead to infertility in women.
Filipino fact checkers at Rappler reported that there was no evidence of COVID-19 vaccines causing infertility, citing Australian and US health authorities, as well as robust scientific studies.
Additionally, a claim supposedly made by the “head of Pfizer research” that the vaccines cause “female sterilisation” was examined by AFP Fact Check.
“Independent medical experts and Pfizer said no sterilization was documented during clinical trials,” the fact checkers noted.
They added that the claimant, Michael Yeadon, had not worked at Pfizer, where he was involved in allergy and respiratory research, since 2011.
Victorian MP’s baseless questions
A Liberal MP in Victoria has fanned the flames of a long-running conspiracy theory about Premier Daniel Andrews’ fall and subsequent back injury by demanding he answer a series of questions about the incident.
Louise Staley, the shadow treasurer and Member for Ripon, this week listed as matters urgently requiring explanation: the time of day Mr Andrews fell, those who were present at the time, the address where the incident occurred and the owner of that address.
Ms Staley also requested that the public be informed of any police involvement in the incident.
“These are the questions Daniel Andrews must answer before he comes back to work,” Ms Staley demanded on Facebook.
The questions come after months of unsubstantiated rumours about Mr Andrews’ fall at a holiday home in Sorrento on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula in March, and the involvement of businessman Lindsay Fox, who owns a property in nearby Portsea.
In response to the rumours, and with the permission of the Premier, Ambulance Victoria released a statement detailing its involvement in the incident.
“Ambulance Victoria received a triple zero call for an ambulance at 6:36am on Monday 9 March for a patient who had fallen on steps at a house in Sorrento,” it said.
According to the statement, an ambulance arrived at the Sorrento property at 7:01am after which Mr Andrews was transported to the Peninsula Private Hospital’s emergency department.
This statement counters claims that Mr Andrews was at Mr Fox’s Portsea property at the time of the incident.
Freedom of Information requests lodged by ABC reporter Richard Willingham and showing no ambulance callouts to Portsea on March 8 or 9 also contradict the claim.
On Thursday, Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Shane Patton added that police were not called on the morning of Mr Andrews’ fall.
“What you’ve got is a tragic accident that’s left a person severely injured, who happens to be the premier of the state. That’s not a matter the police would be involved in,” Mr Patton told ABC Melbourne.
The family of Mr Fox, meanwhile, reportedly considered pursuing legal action against a Queensland blog that published rumours in April about Mr Andrews’ fall.
TGA’s warning for Clive Palmer
The Therapeutic Goods Administration has issued a warning to Clive Palmer and radio network Grant Broadcasters over a Queensland advertising campaign featuring misleading claims about COVID-19 vaccine deaths.
“Public figures have a responsibility to be factual and to not to undermine our health through spreading misleading information,” the TGA announced this week in a news release.
“The head of the TGA, Adjunct Professor John Skerritt, has written to both Mr Palmer and the CEO of the Grant Broadcasters Radio network to remind them of this responsibility.”
The ad in question, authorised by Mr Palmer, suggested that 210 Australians had died as a result of COVID-19 vaccinations.
As Fact Check has previously reported, that claim is a misrepresentation of the number of reports to the TGA of deaths following vaccination. Two of these deaths has been linked to COVID-19 vaccines.
“Sadly, about 160,000 people die in Australia every year — almost 3000 each week — and therefore it is quite expected that there have been some deaths reported within days or a few weeks of vaccination,” the TGA has said.
From the US
In one of his first public outings since his departure from the White House in January, Donald Trump’s appearance last weekend at the North Carolina Republican Convention set social media alight for reasons totally unrelated to his speech.
According to some Twitter users, zoomed-in footage focusing on Mr Trump’s crotch area was proof that the former president was wearing his trousers backwards.
“Others are noting this, but it can’t be shared enough: Donald Trump gave his big speech today with his pants on backwards,” one popular tweet read. “Look close and tell me I’m wrong.”
Fact checkers at Snopes did just that.
According to Snopes, photos from the event published by Getty Images “clearly show the former president on stage wearing pants with a zipper in the front”.
“And a video posted by C-SPAN of the 90-minute speech also showed the former president wearing pants the right way,” the fact checkers said.
“As such, we rate this claim as ‘False’.”
‘Fair call’ on Frydenberg claim
Following the end of the JobKeeper payment, the Morrison Government pointed to Australia’s jobs figures as evidence the economy was bouncing back strongly from the coronavirus pandemic.
On May 20, the day the latest jobs data was released, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told reporters: “More Australians are in work than were in work prior to the pandemic”.
Fact Check this week found that claim to be a fair call.
The April 2021 jobs figures show there were roughly 46,000 more Australians working than in March 2020 at the onset of the pandemic.
As experts noted, there are other ways of assessing the health of the jobs market.
Viewed as a share of the population (aged 15 and over), employment was close to March 2020 levels, sitting just one-tenth of a percentage point lower in April this year.
It was also similar to the average level for the year before the pandemic.
While the April employment-to-population ratio dipped slightly from the previous month, experts said the figures showed a return to pre-pandemic employment levels.
However, the gains have been spread unevenly.
There were, for example, more jobs in Queensland and Western Australia than before the pandemic, but fewer in New South Wales and Victoria.
And while certain industries, such as healthcare and public administration, have thrived, others, such as hospitality, have gone backwards.
In addition, the proportion of the population officially counted as “unemployed” remains slightly higher than it was at the beginning of the pandemic.