Covid vaccine red
Molly Butler / Media Matters

Research/Study Research/Study

Right-wing media is an echo chamber of anti-vaccine messaging

As the United States grapples with coronavirus vaccine hesitancy and continued hospitalizations and deaths -- primarily among those who are unvaccinated -- the country’s right-wing media apparatus is promoting misinformation, confusion, and distrust about coronavirus vaccines to its massive audience.

Not only is the map of the most and least vaccinated states in the country is very similar to the 2020 presidential election map, but the same is true at the county level as well. A poll confirmed that Republican voters are far less likely than others to get vaccinated, despite recent analysis showing that the overwhelming number of people who are dying from COVID-19 in recent months are unvaccinated. Medical experts — from the World Health Organization, the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, and Johns Hopkins Medicine, among others — have repeatedly assured the public that the vaccines are safe and highly effective. And recently, Dr. Anthony Fauci stated that the vaccines will be effective against the most recent COVID-19 variant as well.

While vaccine hesitancy has been persistent across the right-wing media echo chamber, Fox News has served as one of the chief drivers of this misinformation and related conspiracy theories, including by telling its viewers that the World Health Organization and tech billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates are trying to make the vaccines mandatory in order to enact “mass social control.” In fact, from June 28 through July 11, nearly 60% of all Fox News segments about the vaccines included efforts to undermine their efficacy and public trust in the science behind them. These narratives have also appeared on conservative outlets including Newsmax, One America News Network, the conspiracy theory network Infowars, right-wing websites, and conservative talk radio.

In its efforts to undermine vaccines, the right-wing media ecosystem has also seized on some extremely rare side effects from the injections, and -- contrary to the advice of nearly all trusted public health officials -- has also recently promoted “natural immunity” as a way to combat COVID-19. These outlets additionally have fearmongered that the vaccines are only “experimental” and compared the Biden administration’s vaccine-related community outreach efforts to Nazi tactics and Jim Crow-era America.

Here are just some of the right-wing media's talking points promoting vaccine skepticism and misinformation from recent months. These examples are illustrative but not nearly exhaustive due to the sheer volume of research. For more examples, click here.

  • Right-wing media figures spread the conspiracy theory that vaccines are causing health concerns “more problematic” than the virus   

  • Vaccine experts and the American Academy of Pediatrics continue to strongly recommend vaccination, and the acting FDA commissioner noted, “The benefits of Covid-19 vaccination continue to outweigh the risks, given the risk of Covid-19 diseases and related, potentially severe, complications.” However, many in right-wing media are hyping rare reports of patients experiencing myocarditis, a heart inflammation condition, after getting their vaccine shot — at a rate NPR described as “slightly higher than the ‘background’ rate” for such a condition. (The FDA added a warning of the “rare” side effect to its continued recommendation for vaccination.) Medical experts have also shut down the right-wing-media-fueled myth that a “spike” in protein from the vaccine can cause other variants of the virus; variants come from mutations, not vaccines. Similarly, there’s zero evidence the vaccines are killing people -- but in the conservative media echo chamber, dangerous myths about vaccination risks persist. 

    One America News Network guest Dr. Brian Tyson: The vaccine is “causing the mutations.” During the July 12 edition of One America News Network’s Real America with Dan Ball, guest Dr. Brian Tyson speculated that the vaccine “does not appear to be efficient against the new strains that we're seeing” and that instead, “the vaccines seem to be causing the mutations.” Tyson concluded that this is why “they’re telling you that you need a third shot or a second shot.” [One America News Network, Real America with Dan Ball, 7/12/21]

    OAN reporter falsely claims there are “more than 9,000 deaths attributed directly to the [COVID-19] vaccine.” Citing incorrectly interpreted data from an unregulated database of potential negative vaccine outcomes, an OAN reporter stated that in addition to the over 9,000 deaths that he falsely claimed have been attributed “directly” to the vaccine there also have been over 27,000 people who have been hospitalized, 3,000 who have had heart attacks, and 19,000 people who have had a “severe allergic reaction.” The reporter also characterized the vaccine as a “man-made disaster.” [One America News Network, One America News, 7/11/21]

    Tucker Carlson: “The vaccine itself could make the coronavirus into something different and potentially more harmful.” Carlson interviewed “intellectual dark web” biologist Bret Weinstein during the July 9 edition of his streaming show on Fox Nation, Tucker Carlson Today. Weinstein said there were unexpected harms from the vaccines and “not only is there the question of the harms that they may do to individuals who get them, but there's also a question about what they will do to the epidemic itself.” [Fox Nation, Tucker Carlson Today, 7/9/21]

    Sidney Powell: “More than 7,000 people have died already just in the United States from the vaccine.” On the July 9 edition of Steve Bannon’s War Room: Pandemic, election conspiracy theorist Sidney Powell claimed that there have been over 35,000 “serious injuries” from the vaccine, which she referred to as “experimental.” Powell said she is “appalled by the recent pushback on CNN and everywhere else to try to get everyone vaccinated and make everyone think it's all right.” [Real America’s Voice, War Room: Pandemic, 7/9/21]

    Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones claimed the vaccine is causing “spontaneous abortions.” On the July 1 edition of Infowars’ The Alex Jones Show, Republican Senate candidate Lauren Witzke claimed there is an 82% miscarriage rate among pregnant woman who get the vaccine, which she referred to as a “depopulation agenda." Host Alex Jones read from an alleged study that says “four out of five” pregnancies in vaccinated women end in “spontaneous abortions.” [Infowars, The Alex Jones Show, 7/1/21]  

    OAN’s Pearson Sharp: “The fallout from the coronavirus vaccine continues to grow, and the toll on human life is now worse than anyone could have imagined.” During the June 30 edition of One America News Networks' One America News, OAN's Pearson Sharp ran through a list of possible side effects and concluded that “the vaccine, for now, seems more problematic than the disease it’s intended to cure." [One America News Network, One America News, 6/30/21]

    OAN guest Dr. Brian Tyson: The vaccines probably aren't working against the Delta variant, in part because “45% of the vaccinated are responsible for these new infections.” During the June 29 edition of One America’ News Network’s Real America with Dan Ball, guest Dr. Brian Tyson and host Dan Ball both hyped rare reports of myocarditis in younger vaccinated people, with Tyson describing them as “victims” of the vaccine. [One America News Network, Real America with Dan Ball, 6/29/21

  • Right-wing media figures encourage doubt of vaccines, saying they are “experimental” and haven't been ”sufficiently tested"

  • The Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccines all went through clinical trials and were granted emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration due to the severity of the pandemic. Once the pandemic is over, the EUA will be removed and the companies can apply for full FDA approval. Emergency use is not the same thing as experimental; the FDA still extensively evaluates the vaccines before approving the EUA. However, this has not stopped some in conservative media from insisting the vaccines are “experimental” or have not been appropriately tested. 

    Fox Nation’s Tomi Lahren: This “experimental” vaccine is “not yet FDA approved.” The Fox Nation host attacked what she called the “experimental” vaccine during the July 8 edition of her show Final Thoughts with Tomi Lahren. Lahren went on to say it’s reasonable not to want a vaccine that has “not yet even been FDA approved.” She explained her anti-vax position, saying, “I am personally not going to get the jab because I’m young, healthy, and unafraid of coronavirus.” She also said the Biden administration is made up of “COVID-obsessed tyrants.” [Fox Nation, Final Thoughts with Tomi Lahren, 7/8/21]

    Newsmax host John Bachman: Getting the vaccines means taking part in an “experimental drug trial.” During the July 8 edition of Newsmax’s John Bachman Now, host John Bachman said of the vaccines that no one should feel like they’re being forced to comply with an “experimental drug trial right now, and that's still where we are.” [Newsmax, John Bachman Now, 7/8/21]

    Newsmax guest host Carl Higbie spread hesitation about “experimental” COVID-19 vaccines. During the July 5 edition of Newsmax’s John Bachman Now, guest host Carl Higbie said that he’s had COVID-19 and doesn’t feel that he’s at risk enough to “take this risk of taking this experimental vaccine.” [Newsmax, John Bachman Now, 7/5/21]

    Steve Bannon's War Room guest Michael Yeadon: The vaccines were approved “fraudulently, in my view.” Conspiracy theorist Dr. Michael Yeadon told War Room podcast host Steve Bannon that the vaccines have not been “sufficiently tested” during his June 6 interview, claiming the vaccines were “approved for emergency use, fraudulently, in my view, because they shouldn’t do it if there are safe and effective medicines. And there are. They’ve just been hidden.” [Real America’s Voice, War Room: Pandemic, 6/9/21]

  • Right-wing media figures hype “natural immunity” for COVID-19 survivors, suggesting they don’t need the vaccine

  • According to experts, though contracting and surviving a virus will create antibodies and give patients a degree of an immune response, “research suggests vaccination provides more consistent protection against the virus.” Current research also suggests the vaccine provides longer and stronger protection than any “natural immunity” does. Despite these recommendations, some in right-wing media are suggesting that people do not need to get vaccinated if they have previously contracted the coronavirus. 

    Clay Travis: “No one seems willing to even talk about people like us who know we have COVID antibodies, who had COVID, and it doesn’t really make any sense for us to go get the vaccine.” Travis, who co-hosts the right-wing radio program The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show, falsely claimed that because 100 million people in the United States, which he called a “conservative number,” contracted COVID-19 and now have antibodies, “it doesn’t really make any sense for us to go get the vaccine.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show, 7/13/21]

    Radio host and Fox personality Dan Bongino: People who have had the virus may have “some form of long-term immunity.” During the July 12 edition of his podcast, conservative personality Dan Bongino slammed the idea that everyone needs the vaccine and suggested that individuals who had COVID-19 in the past “likely have a significant antibody response still, or a T- and B-cell response and have obtained some form of long-term immunity.” [The Dan Bongino Show, 7/12/21]

    OAN guest: “Natural immunity and early treatment is the best approach" to the coronavirus. OAN host Dan Ball interviewed Dr. Brian Tyson, who suggested that “natural immunity and early treatment is the best approach to this.” [One America News Network, Real America with Dan Ball, 6/29/21]

    OAN’s Dan Ball: “I’ve got antibodies. I’m stronger than you, if you got your shot but never had it." Ball hosted Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) to celebrate his response to a reporter who asked for Massie’s vaccination status. In the June 24 segment, the two agreed that there is no need to be vaccinated if you have had the coronavirus. [One America News Network, Real America with Dan Ball, 6/24/21]

  • Right-wing media figures insist there is “no reason whatsoever” younger people should get the vaccine

  • Younger people are not immune to COVID-19. While they do have a lower risk of dying than older people or those with health complications, the CDC has documented thousands of deaths from coronavirus in Americans under the age of 35. And of course, even if a young COVID-19 patients' symptoms are milder, they can still transmit the disease to others. Conservative media figures, however, have continued to suggest younger and generally healthy people do not need to get vaccinated. 

    Fox guest Peter McCullough said “no one under age of 30 should receive any one of these [coronavirus] vaccines.” During the July 7 edition of Fox News’ Ingraham Angle, guest and cardiologist Peter McCullough said “no one under the age of 30 should receive any one of these vaccines” citing the risk of rare health complications following one or both injections. [Fox News, Ingraham Angle, 7/7/21]

    Radio host Clay Travis: “There’s no reason whatsoever” that young, healthy people should get the vaccine. During the July 6 edition of his radio show, co-host Clay Travis insisted that he is “not anti-vax,” but then proceeded to tell his listeners “there’s no reason whatsoever” for healthy, young people or children to get vaccinated. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show, 7/6/21]

    Newsmax’s Schmitt: There’s nothing wrong with younger, healthy people not getting the vaccine. Newsmax host Rob Schmitt said he told his parents to get vaccinated ,but “for myself, I kind of feel a little bit different. I’m 37 years old. I’m a relatively healthy guy, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.” [Newsmax, Rob Schmitt Tonight, 6/29/21]

  • Right-wing media figures fearmonger about the Biden administration's vaccine outreach, comparing the efforts to “gestapos”

  • During July 6 remarks, President Joe Biden announced his administration’s efforts to increase the nation's vaccination rate by adopting a hyperlocal focus “in place of mass vaccination sites.” The president said this outreach will include people going “community by community, neighborhood by neighborhood, and, oftentimes, door to door -- literally knocking on doors -- to get help to the remaining people protected from the virus.” White House press secretary Jen Psaki also added on June 8 that in most cases it won’t be federal government employees going door to door, but rather volunteers, clergy members, and other “trusted voices in communities who are playing this role and door knocking.”

    Fox's Jeanine Pirro fearmongered about door-to-door vaccine outreach, claiming the program is really about confiscating guns. On the July 10 edition of her Fox News show, Jeanine Pirro reacted to the Biden administration vaccine outreach announcement by focusing on the “invasion of your privacy. Strange people coming to your door, asking how many people live in your home or apartment.” She went on to speculate that “there is an end game” involving confiscating guns. [Fox News, Justice with Judge Jeanine, 7/10/21]

    Newsmax host Rob Finnerty: A “socialist Democratic gestapo that could be going door to door in white coats to vaccinate people — it sounds like they are serious.” Newsmax host Rob Finnerty made this claim on the July 12 edition of his Newsmax show, while guest Mark Halperin pushed back against the comparison, calling it “misleading” and “dangerous.” [Newsmax, Wake Up America, 7/12/21]

    Infowars: Internal documents “confirm” Biden is unleashing door-to-door vaccine “gestapos.” Conspiracy theory website Infowars claimed to have gotten “internal docs” that show the Biden administration's efforts to target local communities for COVID-19 vaccine outreach are actually vaccine “gestapos preparing to round up unvaccinated Americans.” Infowars also claimed that Biden’s vaccine “strike force” is authorized to supposedly lie to the public that the COVID-19 vaccine “is safe and approved.” [Infowars, 7/11/21]

    Newsmax hosts Diamond & Silk invoked brownshirts and questioned whether the Biden administration is a dictatorship because of vaccine outreach. On the July 10 edition of their Newsmax program, Silk said, “I wonder will they be wearing brown shirts and arm bands. ... Is the Biden regime now a dictatorship? ... That's what they acting like.” Diamond claimed the government is “trying to force vaccines on the American people.” [Newsmax, Diamond & Silk: Crystal Clear, 7/10/21]

    OAN anchor Mike Dinow: “The Biden administration is threatening to send political operatives to the homes of people who refuse to take an experimental COVID vaccine.” The July 8 OAN segment also claimed the door-to-door program intended to “pressure” people into getting a vaccine and referred to the initiative as an “invasion of privacy.” [One America News Network, One America News, 7/8/21]

  • Right-wing media figures claim that vaccines are a part of an “agenda of fear” set by Democrats to control people

  • Newsmax contributor Jennifer Kerns: “We know that liberals want to control your kids from the cradle to the grave. Vaccines are just one more way to do that.” Conservative commentator Jennifer Kerns appeared on Newsmax to suggest COVID vaccines are just another way for liberals to seek political control. Later in the segment, former Colorado state Sen. Ted Harvey (R) falsely claimed the government is pushing children to get an unsafe vaccine that has caused “over 440,000” injuries and 9,000 deaths. [Newsmax, National Report, 7/12/21]

    Dan Bongino: “Big government totalitarians, they want to make sure they punish you and they see your liberty as a tool.” On the July 12 edition of his Westwood One radio show, Bongino also asserted that the government is not pushing for vaccine distribution because of science but because the left wants “to enact their big state agenda.” [Westwood One, The Dan Bongino Show, 7/12/21]

    Dan Bongino: Democrats are using vaccines in their “agenda of fear” to get people to “voluntarily give up their civil liberties.” Dan Bongino, who also hosts the weekly Fox News program Unfiltered, also called Biden administration officials “mini totalitarians" for “pushing these door-to-door scare tactics” on the July 10 edition of the show. [Fox News, Unfiltered, 7/10/21]

    OAN panelist Donna Jackson: The Biden administration is trying to intimidate “regular Americans” to believe that “the federal government is going to micromanage your life, and if you don’t fall in line then we’ll get you.” [One America News Network, Weekly Briefing, 7/10/21]

    Turning Point USA contributor Alex Clark: “Under leftist vaccine policies, we are all Britney [Spears].” On the June 25 edition of OAN's In Focus with Stephanie Hamill, guest Alex Clark used a false equivalency with Britney Spears’ forced IUD under the control of her conservatorship to criticize support for mandatory vaccines, saying of vaccination supporters, “You have no standing to harp about medical freedom in this country.” [One America News Network, In Focus with Stephanie Hamill, 6/28/21

    BlazeTV host: Vaccine drives are part of a “shift into this collectivist mentality.” On OAN’s Tipping Point, host Kara McKinney claimed that one will be “excommunicated as some kind of anti-vaxxer” if they ask any questions about vaccinations. Her guest, BlazeTV’s Sara Gonzales, encouraged viewers to “wonder what the government would be doing pressuring all of these institutions to force people, mandate them to get the vaccine.” Gonzales then asserted that the vaccine push is meant to “push us back into Marxism, where the left wants us to go, and that’s the only thing that I can take away from this.” [One America News Network, Tipping Point6/23/21]

  • Right-wing media figures make absurd comparisons between vaccination efforts and historical atrocities

  • On Fox prime-time show, Tucker Carlson compared vaccine requirements to forced sterilization. On the July 8 edition of his Fox News prime-time show, Carlson invoked the 1927 Supreme Court case of Buck v. Bell that said it was constitutional to perform forced sterilizations for the public welfare, warning his viewers that “the same legal framework that justified mandatory vaccination also permitted the government to sterilize people against their will.” As he told his viewers about the case, the graphic over his shoulder read “Vaccine Coercion.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 7/8/21]

    Pandemic conspiracy theorist Naomi Wolf: CDC and public health boards will turn into “blackshirts and brownshirts” to crack down on the unvaccinated by placing them in “quarantine camps.” Wolf appeared on Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast to spread a conspiracy theory about an authoritarian CDC that will take unvaccinated children from their parents. Bannon referred to this as the “American Stasi.” Wolf compared a vaccine passport to Nazi efforts to determine ethnic purity. [Real America’s Voice, War Room: Pandemic, 7/6/21]

    Tucker Carlson: “Medical Jim Crow has come to America. If we still had water fountains, the unvaccinated would have separate ones.” In June, the Fox News host suggested that vaccination will cause segregation similar to Jim Crow-era policies and that, as a result of COVID restrictions for unvaccinated people in New York, the Democratic Party was telling people, “You're too dirty to appear in public. You're not welcome near normal people.” [Fox News, Tucker Carlson Tonight, 6/1/21]