Chinese social media users recirculate false claim about 'US Supreme Court ruling on Covid vaccines'

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Chinese social media users have shared a screenshot of a year-old article from a US conspiracy site that falsely claims the Supreme Court ruled "the Covid pathogen is not a vaccine and is unsafe" and has cancelled "universal vax". As of March 13, 2023, AFP has found no similar or related cases in the US Supreme Court docket. The United States has not made Covid-19 vaccination mandatory at a federal level for all people. The Covid-19 vaccines available in the US do not contain live viruses and are safe, experts say.

"Breaking: The US Supreme Court has ruled that Covid pathogens are not vaccines, are unsafe, and must be avoided at all costs -- the Supreme Court cancelled universal vaccine!" reads a Twitter post on February 17, 2023 written in simplified Chinese characters.

"Big pharma and Anthony Fauci have lost a suit brought against them by Robert F Kennedy and a group of scientists!" the tweet continues, referring to the former director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Fauci and Robert F Kennedy Jr, an environmental lawyer with an anti-vaccination stance.

The post includes a screenshot of an English-language article with the same claim and the same Chinese text across the bottom of the image.

Screenshot of the false post, taken March 8, 2023.

AFP previously debunked the claim that "Fauci and big pharma had lost a suit" brought by Kennedy here in April 2021.

The claim stems from a Freedom of Information lawsuit brought by the Anti-Vaccine Informed Consent Action Network against the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in 2018 in a district court, demanding it releases detailed reports about vaccine side effects. However, the department found no such reports.

Similar claims resurfaced in February 2023, shared hundreds of times in Chinese-language posts on several social media platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, Gettr and the Chinese social media site Weibo.

The posts link to a misleading article by the conspiracy site American Media Group, which has also been reshared by users in English.

The article does not provide any sources for its claims, which also include allegations that the mRNA vaccines "reprogram normal RNA/DNA".

Scientists have widely rejected the unsubstantiated claim that mRNA vaccines can modify human DNA, which AFP has debunked here and here.

Covid-19 vaccines

The false posts and the American Media Group article conflate the Covid-19 vaccine with a "pathogen" and say it is actually "a microbe or virus that was killed or attenuated".

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has debunked such claims on its website.

"None of the authorized Covid-19 vaccines in the United States contain the live virus that causes Covid-19," the site states.

The US has approved two mRNA vaccines for use in the country -- from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna -- and the CDC has clarified those jabs "work differently than other types of vaccines, but they still trigger an immune response inside your body".

The federal health agency states that while mRNA vaccines are new, research and development on it has been underway for decades.

"The mRNA vaccines do not contain any live virus. Instead, they work by teaching our cells to make a harmless piece of a 'spike protein,' which is found on the surface of the virus that causes COVID-19.

"After making the protein piece, cells display it on their surface. Our immune system then recognizes that it does not belong there and responds to get rid of it. When an immune response begins, antibodies are produced, creating the same response that happens in a natural infection," the CDC explains.

Fabricated lawsuit

The claim that the US Supreme Court "cancelled universal vaccination" is also false.

As of March 13, 2023, AFP found no pending or decided cases in the Supreme Court's docket system that are similar or related to the claim.

No such ruling appears on the Supreme Court's website, which lists all decisions under "opinions of the court" for cases currently under review and under “orders of the court” for summary judgments.

The United States has not made Covid-19 vaccination mandatory at a federal level for all people. As of March 13, 2023, the federal government has only mandated Covid-19 vaccination for federal employees and contractors, in addition to those employed by health care providers that receive federal funds.

The Biden administration has said it does not intend to enforce requirements for federal employees or contractors, from whom there have been legal challenges.

Each state has the legal and constitutional authority to require its citizens to be vaccinated against contagious diseases, however, some states have faced growing litigation to mandates in recent years.

All 50 states have legislation that requires children to be vaccinated “against certain communicable diseases” to attend both public and private schools, which can be seen on the CDC website here.

There are also certain mandatory vaccines for healthcare workers and for people applying for permanent residence in the United States.

"CDC only makes recommendations for use of vaccines, while school-entry vaccination requirements are determined by state or local jurisdictions," said CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund in an October 2022 email to AFP.

All states, however, allow for medical exemptions – such as for an allergy to a vaccine – and 44 states and Washington DC grant exemptions for religious or philosophical purposes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

AFP has debunked a wave of misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines here.