Update (3/18/21): This piece has been updated with additional examples.
Fox News’ Tucker Carlson has ramped up misleading anti-vaccine conspiracy theories on his nightly prime-time show as the latest polls show only half of Americans are willing to take a coronavirus vaccine.
With the Food and Drug Administration inching closer to approving its first vaccine candidate, and other options on the horizon, public cooperation is necessary to end the pandemic through widespread vaccination. Instead of aiding in this effort, Carlson fearmongered that Democrats will force a vaccine on unwilling people, which he sarcastically remarked is “so safe they have to threaten you to take it.” (President-elect Joe Biden has said that the COVID-19 vaccine will not be mandatory for Americans.) Carlson is only one of many vaccine conspiracy theorists who have appeared on the network.
This is not Carlson’s first foray into unfounded speculation about vaccinations. In 2017, he hosted vaccine conspiracy theorist Robert F. Kennedy Jr twice after Donald Trump invited Kennedy to chair a government commission on “vaccine safety”, a plan that was never implemented. During Kennedy’s first appearance on Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson told him he had “read a lot” of Kennedy’s writings on vaccines, and concluded, “I don’t think you’re crazy. You’re not anti-vaccine.”
A few months later Kennedy appeared again for a softball interview in which he responded to a segment from HBO’s John Oliver on vaccines and baselessly claimed there is “very little safety testing” of vaccines.
More recently, Tucker Carlson’s coverage of the coronavirus vaccines have struck a similarly conspiratorial tone. On December 9, he said, “If the people in charge force the population to take this vaccine, we could have a legitimate crisis on our hands in this country.” In a tease for the segment prior to a commercial break, he said the vaccine is “so safe they have to threaten you to take it.”
On November 10, Tucker Carlson said, “Democrats believe vaccines are the answer to everything. Don’t ask questions; just take the shot.”
On August 24, Carlson said that even after Democrats “make you get” the coronavirus vaccine, “you’ll still be under arrest.” He also falsely claimed that the commonwealth of Virginia will mandate taking the vaccine. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has said the opposite. Carlson’s comments crescendoed with his unsubstantiated claim that that Bill Gates and the World Health Organization don’t care about overdose deaths in the United States because “when a 26-year-old mother in New Hampshire drops dead from fentanyl, Bill Gates and Dr. Tedros don't get more powerful. Her death is useless to them. So they don't care.”
On August 19, Carlson said Democrats are pushing “propaganda” because, he claims, they say “a mandatory vaccine is our only hope. Until that arrives, you must do exactly what we say.”
In a May 20 interview with former Jeffrey Epstein lawyer Alan Dershowitz, Carlson asked whether “the government still has a right to endanger you by forcing you to take” a coronavirus vaccine because “in some rare cases, and sometimes not that rare, they can hurt people.”
On the December 17 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson went on an extended rant suggesting the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine is a “marketing campaign” and a tool of “social control.”
On the February 9 edition of his show, Carlson baselessly claimed that experts are “clearly” lying to the public about the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine, telling his audience, “From the very first day, the way the authorities handled the COVID vaccine did not inspire confidence.”
On the March 8 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson hosted serial pandemic misinformer Alex Berenson, who claimed that “the vaccines aren't 95% effective” and incorrectly suggested that the vaccine rollout in Israel had caused some individuals to get sick and die.
On March 12, Carlson attacked President Joe Biden for “vaccine coercion,” suggesting that if individuals don’t get the vaccine, the federal government “is going to have to shut the country down again.”
During the March 15 edition of his show, Carlson baselessly fearmongered about the vaccine, falsely claiming that “we don't know about the effects of this vaccine” and suggesting that these gaps in knowledge should possibly “scare you.” Media Matters has previously noted that Carlson’s “questions” about vaccine safety are easily answered via a simple Google search.
Carlson’s spurious vaccine claims have also crossed paths with his constant stream of racist propaganda. In August, he falsely claimed now-Vice President-elect Kamala Harris wants “only people of a certain color” to get a coronavirus vaccine. He then played a clip of Harris in which she remarks that pandemic preparedness should consider “where the resources should go based on” health disparities and inequities suffered by non-white people. Carlson’s deliberate distortion ignores the fact that COVID-19’s death toll is disproportionately killing people of color, prompting states to address this harm.