A review by Media Matters found that Fox News’ A-list personalities, including Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Jeanine Pirro, have made a number of baseless claims related to COVID-19 vaccine and therapeutic development. Many of their conspiracy theories hinge on funding provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for vaccine research, which they claim was given for various malevolent reasons, including to enact “mass social control” in the name of climate change, force “population control,” and create a “vast mass surveillance system” for “digitally tracking Americans’ every move.”
The network’s dangerous anti-vaccination conspiracy theories are having an impact on its viewers: A Yahoo/YouGov poll in May found that fully half of people who get their news primarily from Fox believe Gates wants to vaccinate Americans in order to digitally track them. Among MSNBC viewers, that number was just 15%.
Conspiracy theories are partly fueling the widespread public mistrust of the coronavirus vaccine and therapeutic approval process overseen by the Food and Drug Administration. A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that “less than half of Americans surveyed would want to get vaccinated against Covid-19 if a vaccine was available before November,” and 14% of respondents mistakenly believe a cure for the coronavirus already exists.
Other vaccine-related conspiracy theories on Fox News claim Democrats want to force Americans to get a vaccine if one becomes available. At one point, Carlson said Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris wants to apply “affirmative action” so that only “people of a certain color” get a vaccine for the coronavirus.
Here is a guide to how Fox personalities have spread anti-vaccine conspiracy theories on and off the air.
Anti-vaccine conspiracy theories related to Bill Gates
- On August 24, Carlson spun a bizarre conspiracy theory about Gates and the director general of the World Health Organization making a COVID-19 vaccine mandatory as part of an effort to enact “mass social control.” He said the goal would be to advance a global climate change agenda and to cover up for the Chinese government’s response to the pandemic.
- Former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) appeared on the August 3 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co. to tell viewers it should make them “very nervous” that Gates is helping to fund vaccine research. Paul said rather than focusing on a vaccine, he would “emphasize” the tactic of “natural immunity” achieved through mass infection in the population, an approach that would overrun the health care system and lead to millions of unnecessary deaths. Paul suggested this dangerous anti-vaccination strategy is needed to protect “freedom of choice in not having certain treatments run down our throat by the government.” Immediately following his appearance on the network, Paul went live on YouTube in a stream titled “Vaccine Tyranny - Will You Take Bill Gates’ Shot?” (Paul has repeatedly pushed COVID-19 conspiracy theories on his Facebook and YouTube pages.)
- On a livestream in April, Fox News’ Diamond & Silk said they will refuse any COVID-19 vaccine Gates was involved with, falsely claiming he “pushed for population control.” Fox News has since “cut ties” with the duo.
- On April 7, Fox host Laura Ingraham quote-tweeted an anti-vaccine activist to spread the conspiracy theory that Gates is helping fund vaccine research to enable “digitally tracking Americans’ every move.” On April 24, she pushed the same conspiracy theory on her show, saying Gates wants “a pretty vast mass surveillance system to be put in place” to fight the coronavirus.
- On April 15, Ingraham and her guest speculated that the funding Gates gave the World Health Organization for vaccine research was a bribe to get the WHO to declare a global pandemic: “Should we be concerned with how much one man has maybe an outsized influence with an obviously corruptible entity such as the WHO?”
Other anti-vaccine conspiracy theories
- On August 19, Carlson said Democrats want a COVID-19 vaccine to be mandatory: “Their message is clear and has been from day one: ‘COVID-19 is an imminent mortal threat to everyone in America, young and old, healthy and sick. A mandatory vaccine is our only hope. Until that arrives, you must do exactly what we say.’ That’s their position -- it’s not science, it is propaganda.”
- On August 12, Carlson said Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris wants only “people of a certain color” to get a vaccine for the coronavirus, saying: “It's likely you never imagined affirmative action would be applied to lifesaving medical treatment. But Kamala Harris thinks it should be.”
- In late July, Fox’s Jeanine Pirro said she doesn’t “want a vaccine” for the coronavirus during an appearance on London Real, a digital program that has previously hosted discredited anti-vaccination activists. Pirro agreed with the host that people should be “wary” of a COVID-19 vaccine in part because “it feels like we're kind of all being herded in this one direction. And yet a lot of this technology seems to also be owned by some strange characters that have financial interests, even some of the institutions.” (Days after the appearance by Pirro, London Real served as the launching ground for the sequel to COVID-19 conspiracy theory film Plandemic.)
Fox Nation host Isaiah Washington (who is also a QAnon conspiracy theorist) has pushed anti-vaccine conspiracy theories and other coronavirus misinformation on Facebook.