Within the past few days, there have been multiple viral news stories claiming that Dr Elisa Granato, one of the first participants in the UK's Covid-19 vaccine trial, has died after receiving her first shot of the vaccine.
Reports of her death are total nonsense; Dr Granato is alive and well.
"Nothing like [waking] up to a fake article on your death... I'm doing fine everyone. Please don't share the article in question, we don't want to give them attention/clicks,” Granato tweeted on Saturday evening.
Granato also spoke to BBC News on Sunday morning and said she’s feeling “absolutely fine,” adding she was going to “chill and enjoy the nice weather today.”
Last Thursday, April 23, Granato became one of the very first human participants in the UK to be infected with the trial Covid-19 vaccine as part of the Oxford vaccine trial, carried out by the University of Oxford. She is one of some 800 people in the UK who will receive a vaccination for the study; half will receive the Covid-19 vaccine and half a control vaccine that protects against meningitis but not coronavirus.
The Oxford Vaccine Trial team said they were aware of the fake reports and "urge people not to give these any credibility and not to circulate them.”
The false reports were reportedly widely shared on Facebook, notably among private anti-vaxxer groups, many of which are hidden from the public unless a user is invited.
From 5G towers to unsubstantiated cures, misinformation has been ever-present throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Back in March, Politico investigated 30 invite-only communities on Facebook that were used to discuss and share coronavirus-related stories, some of which had tens of thousands of participants, and found dozens of examples of lies and rumors circulating in various languages.
Social media platforms, together with the help of governments, the World Health Organization (WHO), and independent fact-checking services, have rolled out new initiatives to tackle misinformation about Covid-19. However, as this latest fabricated report shows, this is a long and arduous battle that many platforms are struggling to stay on top of.
“We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic. Fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus, and is just as dangerous,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, warned in February 2020.
“We’re concerned about the levels of rumors and misinformation that are hampering the response,” he said. “And most of all, we’re concerned about the potential havoc this virus could wreak in countries with weaker health systems.”