Fox News viewers who see the network’s personalities and guests discussing vaccination against COVID-19 are now overwhelmingly likely to see attacks on the immunization campaign. Media Matters found a whopping 78% of the network’s vaccine segments included claims undermining vaccinations during the eight-week period from January 1 through February 25.
That figure represents a sizable increase since Media Matters last analyzed Fox’s coverage of the COVID-19 vaccines in the summer of 2021. At that time, we reviewed Fox vaccine segments from June 28 through August 8, 2021, and found that 59% featured arguments undermining vaccination. And claims that the vaccines are unnecessary or dangerous have nearly doubled, from a still-too-high 33% of vaccine segments in the 2021 study to 63% this year.
The vaccines provide crucial protection from a virus that has killed millions of people, including more than one million Americans, over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Without the vaccines, studies show the toll would have been far worse.
“The Covid-19 vaccines have kept more than 18.5 million people in the US out of the hospital and saved more than 3.2 million lives,” CNN reported of a study from the Commonwealth Fund and Yale School of Public Health that was published in December, adding that the researchers say their “estimate is most likely a conservative one.” At the time, the Biden administration was encouraging people to take vaccine boosters in order to decrease their vulnerability to the virus.
Fox’s rejection of the vaccines since they were first deployed in December 2020 betrayed the viewers who count on the network for information. The network defied its unique moral responsibility to try to persuade its audience to take the potentially life-saving shots, instead choosing to stoke fears that they were ineffective or dangerous and that their distribution was part of a sinister plot to control Americans. The results were deadly for Republicans, who were vaccinated against COVID-19 at lower rates and died from it at higher ones.
A filing from Dominion Voting Systems’ ongoing $1.6 billion lawsuit against Fox revealed that host Tucker Carlson once responded to election fraud claims from former President Donald Trump’s lawyers by saying, “Our viewers are good people and they believe it,” even though he knew the claims were false. The same principle applied to the network’s vaccine coverage – Fox’s viewers believed that the vaccines were dangerous, and its hosts were more than willing to affirm their beliefs to boost ratings, no matter the human toll.
- Seventy-eight percent of the 106 coronavirus vaccine segments that Fox aired during an eight-week period from January 1 through February 25 included claims undercutting immunization, up from 59% in the six-week period we previously analyzed from June 28 through August 8, 2021.
- Fox personalities and guests made a total of 193 claims undermining or downplaying the immunization effort.
- Forty-six percent of vaccine segments included claims suggesting that immunization efforts were coercive, represented government overreach, or violated personal freedom or choice. That figure was roughly the same, at 47% in the 2021 study.
- Sixty-three percent of segments included claims suggesting that vaccination was unnecessary or dangerous, an increase from 33% in the 2021 study.
- Nine percent of segments included claims politicizing immunization efforts as a cynical ploy by Democrats to win elections or to take undue credit for the vaccine rollout, similar to the 10% we found in 2021.
- Fox & Friends, including its early morning and weekend editions, had the most vaccine segments with 31. Of those, 81% included claims undermining vaccinations, up from 58% in 2021.
- Fox’s weekday evening opinion programming, airing from 7 p.m. through 11 p.m., accounted for 38 segments; of those, 95% included claims undermining vaccination. (The Ingraham Angle aired negative claims in 17 of its 18 vaccine segments, Tucker Carlson Tonight in 13 of its 14 segments, Hannity in all 5 of its segments, and Jesse Watters Primetime in its only vaccine segment in the study period.)
- Fox host Laura Ingraham’s 23 claims undercutting vaccines were the most of anyone during the period. Fox & Friends Weekend host Rachel Campos-Duffy (14 claims), primetime host Tucker Carlson (13), frequent Fox guest Dr. Marty Makary (11), and prime-time host Sean Hannity (10) rounded out the top five.
Over an eight-week period, 78% of Fox vaccine segments included claims undermining immunization efforts
Seventy-eight percent of Fox’s vaccine segments over the first eight weeks of 2023 – nearly four out of five – contained claims undermining the push for immunization. That’s an increase of nearly 20 points from the 59% we found in reviewing six consecutive weeks from the summer of 2021.
At least 70% of vaccine segments included claims undermining vaccines in seven of the eight weeks of the study, and in two of the weeks from the study period, the figure was 100%. In contrast, none of the six weeks we studied in 2021 included such claims in more than 68% of segments.
Media Matters identified claims by network personalities or guests undermining the vaccination effort in 83 of the 106 vaccine segments during the studied period.
In all, Fox personalities and guests voiced 193 negative claims in coronavirus vaccine segments in the period studied. They argued that immunization efforts were coercive or violated freedom or choice 83 times (43% of all undermining claims), that vaccines were dangerous or unnecessary 147 times (76%), and that Democratic efforts to vaccinate the populace were a cynical political ploy 9 times (5%). (Some claims were coded for multiple categories.)
Fox’s promotion of claims that vaccination is unnecessary or dangerous has soared
While Fox’s personalities and guests previously focused their efforts on attacking the immunization effort as government overreach, they are now more likely to target the vaccines themselves as unnecessary, ineffective, or even dangerous.
The percentage of Fox vaccine segments including claims that the immunization efforts were coercive or violated personal freedom was 46% during the 2023 study period, virtually the same as the 47% we found in the 2021 study. Segments featuring arguments politicizing immunization efforts as a partisan effort by Democrats likewise held steady; the figure was 9% in the latest study and 10% in 2021.
But 63% of Fox’s vaccination segments included claims suggesting that vaccination was unnecessary or dangerous, a dramatic increase from the 2021 study, when that figure was just 33%.
When Buffalo Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field in January following a cardiac arrest, for example, Carlson decried medical experts who debunked conspiracy theories that the vaccine was responsible for the injury as “witch doctors” who are “lying.” Carlson’s view was that “we can't say it was the shot. We can't say it wasn't the shot.” Carlson then brought on Dr. Peter McCullough, a frequent Fox guest and misinformation font, who attributed Hamlin’s collapse to “vaccine-induced myocarditis.”
Carlson’s prime-time colleague Laura Ingraham hosted a doctor who claimed that the vaccine was responsible for hundreds of deaths and injuries and asked him, “Should it even be available to people at this point?” The guest responded, “Absolutely not.”
Sean Hannity, meanwhile, decried the Food and Drug Administration for “sadly proposing COVID shots now annually despite more and more evidence that vaccines and boosters do not work as they have told us.”
Fox’s “news side” vaccine coverage has plummeted, while its opinion side coverage got worse
Fox’s vaccine coverage has fallen across the board. We counted 628 vaccine segments across the six weeks we studied in 2021, compared to just 106 over eight weeks this year.
But Fox’s “news” coverage of the vaccines has proportionally fallen by more than the “opinion” side. “News” shows accounted for 44% of Fox vaccine segments in the 2021 study, but only 25% this year. The percentage of “news” segments on vaccines featuring claims undermining vaccination efforts has increased slightly, from 39% in the 2021 study to 46% in the 2023 study.
Fox’s “opinion” shows, which aired 56% of vaccine segments in the 2021 study, accounted for 75% this year. And the percentage of those segments featuring anti-vaccination arguments jumped from 74% in the 2021 study to 89% in the 2023 study – nine in ten Fox “opinion” vaccine segments included at least one of these arguments. And their arguments are getting more extreme.
Here are Fox’s most anti-vaccine shows and personalities
Fox’s most prominent and popular programs are among its worst offenders.
Fox & Friends, including its early morning and weekend editions, aired the most vaccine segments during the eight weeks of our study, with 31. Those programs regularly promoted anti-vaccination messages, including such claims in 81% of vaccine segments. That represents a substantial increase from our 2021 study, when 58% of Fox & Friends segments featured arguments undermining the immunization campaign.
Fox’s four-hour block of weekday evening opinion programming was even worse. Ninety-five percent of the combined 38 vaccine segments on those programs included claims undermining vaccination, up from 92% in our previous study.
The Ingraham Angle aired negative claims in 17 of its 18 vaccine segments, Tucker Carlson Tonight did so in 13 of its 14 segments, Hannity in all 5 of its segments, and Jesse Watters Primetime in its only vaccine segment in the study period.
Fox host Laura Ingraham had the most claims undercutting vaccines of any Fox personality or guest during the period we studied, with 23. Fox & Friends Weekend host Rachel Campos-Duffy (14 claims), Carlson (13), frequent Fox guest Dr. Marty Makary (11), and Hannity (10) rounded out the top five. Carlson, Makary, and Ingraham were all among the top five in our previous report.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on Fox News Channel for any of the terms “coronavirus,” “virus,” “COVID,” “COVID-19,” “COVID 19,” “corona,” “pandemic,” or “outbreak” within close proximity of any variation of either of the terms “vaccine” or “immunization” or either term “vaxx” or “vax” from January 1, 2023, through February 25, 2023.
We included segments, which we defined as instances when coronavirus vaccines were the stated topic of discussion or when we found “significant discussion” of coronavirus vaccines in multitopic segments. We defined significant discussion as two or more speakers discussing coronavirus vaccines with one another. We did not include passing mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker discussed coronavirus vaccines without another speaker engaging with the comment. We also did not include teasers for coronavirus vaccine segments scheduled to air later in the broadcast.
Within coronavirus vaccine segments, we analyzed claims from all speakers. We defined a claim as an uninterrupted block of speech from a single speaker. For host monologues, we defined a claim as an uninterrupted block of speech between read quotes or played clips. We did not analyze claims within read quotes or played clips unless a speaker in the segment positively affirmed any speech within either directly before or after reading the quote or playing the clip.
We categorized claims into three broad categories:
- Vaccines are unnecessary or dangerous.
- Immunization efforts are coercive, represent government overreach, or violate personal freedom or choice.
- Vaccination efforts are a cynical political ploy by Democrats.
For the first category, we coded claims meeting any of the following criteria:
- Suggesting that vaccination is not necessary for persons with prior infections or persons who are at low risk of serious illness or complications due to COVID-19.
- Highlighting rare complications or death and at least implying that vaccination was the cause.
- Suggesting that any Americans who could be vaccinated do not need to be vaccinated.
- Suggesting that the pandemic is over, and therefore, vaccinations are unnecessary or superfluous.
- Suggesting that risk of complications from vaccination outweigh protections from vaccination.
- Suggesting that vaccines do not offer sufficient protection or that vaccine manufacturers have manipulated efficacy data.
- Describing the vaccines as “experimental.”
- Suggesting that vaccines may have caused “unexplained” deaths.
For the second category, we coded claims meeting any of the following criteria:
- Characterizing vaccination efforts as coercion or highlighting personal choice over public health or emphasizing “medical freedom.”
- Suggesting that parents’ rights should be prioritized over vaccination.
- Suggesting that vaccination efforts are akin to fearmongering.
- Suggesting that reimposing health measures would undermine health expert credibility -- and thus, vaccination efforts -- or confidence in the vaccines.
- Suggesting that health officials cannot be trusted on coronavirus and, thus, cannot be trusted when recommending vaccines.
- Suggesting that scientific studies on vaccinations are untrustworthy, manipulated, or otherwise false, or misrepresenting the conclusions of scientific studies.
- Suggesting that vaccine mandates contribute to vaccine hesitancy or don’t have supporting data for their effectiveness.
For the third category, we coded claims meeting any of the following criteria:
- Suggesting that the Biden administration or current government health officials are obscuring Operation Warp Speed or Trump administration contributions to vaccinations.
- Suggesting that advocating for vaccination is a political ploy by Democrats.
- Suggesting that certain demographics are less likely to get vaccinated because of personal politics or political considerations.
- Suggesting that public institutions used the pandemic for financial gain.
Percentages do not always add up to 100% because a single claim could include arguments that fit more than one category.
We split Fox programs into “news” and “opinion” sides. We defined “news” programs as those with anchors, such as Bret Baier or Shannon Bream, while we defined “opinion” programs as those with hosts, such as Tucker Carlson or Laura Ingraham, at the helm. We used the designations from each anchor or host’s author page on FoxNews.com. We also considered the format of the program; we defined those using a panel format, such as Outnumbered and The Five, as opinion programs.