PolitiFact fact-checks ‘Plandemic’: A documentary full of false conspiracy theories about the coronavirus
If you’ve been on social media in the past two days, there’s a good chance you’ve seen someone share “Plandemic: The Hidden Agenda Behind COVID-19,” a 26-minute video about the coronavirus pandemic.
The video is a deep dive into conspiracy theories about COVID-19, public health and the pharmaceutical industry. It discusses Dr. Anthony Fauci’s efforts to combat the AIDS epidemic during the 1980s and Bill Gates’ support of vaccination efforts around the world.
Many of Willis’ videos highlight conspiracy theories. In one clip, Willis’ young son says Jeffrey Epstein didn’t kill himself. In another, Willis floats a debunked conspiracy that the coronavirus was “intentionally released.”
In “Plandemic,” Willis interviews Dr. Judy Mikovits, a former scientist at the National Cancer Institute. Mikovits, before her work was discredited, was lauded in the late 2000s for her research on chronic fatigue syndrome. Mikovits makes several claims that are either unsupported or outright false.
Several readers asked us to look into Willis’ documentary. Copies of the film have been removed from YouTube and Facebook for violating the platforms’ community guidelines, but they still received tens of millions of views.
We fact-checked eight of Mikovits’ most misleading claims in the film.
‘I was held in jail with no charges’
This is inaccurate spin about Mikovits’ past legal problems. She was charged in 2011 with stealing computer data and related property from her former employer.
The Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Disease in Reno, Nevada, fired Mikovits in September 2011 as research director after her study linking a mouse retrovirus to chronic fatigue syndrome was discredited and retracted by Science, a prestigious peer-reviewed journal.
In November 2011, the district attorney in Washoe County, Nevada, filed a criminal complaint against Mikovits for allegedly stealing computer data, notebooks and other property from the institute.
Mikovits was briefly jailed in California on criminal charges. On June 11, 2012, the district attorney’s office filed a petition to dismiss the charges without prejudice.
Mikovits says in “Plandemic” that the notebooks were “planted” in her house. She also alleged that the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases “paid off” investigators at the direction of Fauci, the director of the agency.
There is no evidence to support either claim. We reached out to the National Institutes of Health, which houses the NIAID, for a comment.
“The National Institutes of Health and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases are focused on critical research aimed at ending the COVID-19 pandemic and preventing further deaths,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “We are not engaging in tactics by some seeking to derail our efforts.”
‘It’s very clear this virus was manipulated’
A Nature article published March 17 says the genetic makeup of the coronavirus, documented by researchers from several public health organizations, does not indicate it was altered. Instead, scientists have two plausible explanations for the origin of the virus: natural selection in an animal host, or natural selection in humans after the virus jumped from animals.
“Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus,” the article reads.
That finding does not rule out the possibility that Chinese researchers were studying the virus in a lab when it managed to spread outside the lab, although the government there has denied that.
‘This occurred from SARS 1 within a decade — that’s not naturally occurring’
This is a wrong explanation for the source of the novel coronavirus. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a new disease — it’s not derived from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.
But the viruses only have a 79% genetic similarity, according to researchers. The novel coronavirus is more genetically similar to other bat-derived coronaviruses than SARS.
Hospitals get ‘$13,000 from Medicare if you call it COVID-19’ when a patient dies
This is misleading. We rated a similar claim Half True.
The federal government is giving more money to hospitals that treat coronavirus patients. But there is no indication that hospitals are over-identifying patients as having COVID-19 — if anything, evidence suggests the illness is being underdiagnosed.
Medicare pays hospitals a set amount of money for the treatment of certain diagnoses, regardless of what the treatment actually costs. Medicare has determined that a hospital gets $13,000 if a COVID-19 patient on Medicare is admitted and $39,000 if the patient goes on a ventilator.
In addition, Medicare will pay hospitals a 20% “add-on” for COVID-19 patients. That’s a result of the CARES Act, the largest of the three federal stimulus laws enacted in response to the coronavirus, which was signed into law March 27.
Experts previously told PolitiFact that Congress included the add-on in the CARES Act because hospitals have lost revenue from routine care and elective surgeries. It is unlikely that physicians would falsify the data, as there are strict policies for reporting.
Hydroxychloroquine is ‘effective against these families of viruses’
This is unproven. There is no cure or vaccine for SARS or the novel coronavirus.
While some studies have found that hydroxychloroquine could mitigate some of the symptoms associated with COVID-19, other research has found no such effect. With more than 50 studies in the works, as well as an NIH clinical trial, it’s too soon to say whether the drug is a viable treatment for the coronavirus. (The most recent study, a large-scale study of nearly 1,400 New York-area patients with moderate to severe COVID-19, found that patients fared no better by taking hydroxychloroquine.)
Fauci tempered expectations for hydroxychloroquine during a March press conference after Trump touted the drug. And several states have restricted access to it given how little scientists know about how it affects the coronavirus.
‘The flu vaccines increase the odds by 36% of getting COVID-19’
In “Plandemic,” Mikovits points to a study published in January in the peer-reviewed journal Vaccine. The study found that, among personnel in the U.S. Defense Department between 2017 and 2018, the odds of getting coronaviruses were greater for vaccinated officials than unvaccinated officials.
But that doesn’t support Mikovits’ claim.
First of all, the study was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic. And scientists have noted flaws in its experimental design; for example, the number of vaccinated subjects was more than twice as large as the number of unvaccinated subjects.
Finally, nowhere in the study do the authors say flu vaccines increased subjects’ odds of getting a coronavirus by 36%. That bogus claim was added to the study in a March 11 story from DisabledVeterans.org.
‘If you’ve ever had a flu vaccine, you were injected with coronaviruses’
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most flu vaccines in the United States protect against four different kinds of viruses: influenza A (H1N1), influenza A (H3N2), and two influenza B viruses. Others protect against three kinds of flu viruses.
There are no coronaviruses in the flu shot. And there are no human coronavirus vaccines.
‘Wearing the mask literally activates your own virus. You’re getting sick from your own reactivated coronavirus expressions.’
There is no evidence to support this. We’re not sure what a “coronavirus expression” even is.
The CDC advises anyone who goes out in public to wear a mask. Since it can take up to 14 days for an infected person to exhibit symptoms, the goal is to prevent unwittingly spreading the coronavirus through coughs and sneezes.
Wearing a face mask prevents the spread of the coronavirus — it does not make people more susceptible to it.
“There is nothing about wearing a mask that would have any biologically relevant impact on viral activity,” said Richard Peltier, an assistant professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, in an email. “Wearing a mask simply catches the droplets before they reach our mouth or nose. It isn’t rocket science, and Dr. Mikovits should know that.”