A stylized graphic of two hypodermic needles in neon green breaking apart, flanked by partially translucent OAN logos on either side, all against a purple background.
Andrea Austria / Media Matters

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OAN keeps pushing bizarre and dangerous misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines

Right-wing cable network One America News is continuing its months-long campaign against public health by spreading dangerous and bizarre conspiracy theories about the coronavirus and vaccines.

Throughout August, OAN hosts doubled down on presenting their viewers with debunked misinformation in an unhinged attempt to discourage them from following mask mandates and getting vaccinated. With help from conservative pundits, conspiracy theorists, and members of the “Disinformation Dozen” -- 12 individuals who are reportedly responsible for the majority of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation spread online -- OAN hosts have warned viewers that the Biden administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and “high prophet of pharma” Dr. Anthony Fauci are hiding the truth about COVID-19 and its treatments to push vaccines and steal our freedoms.

OAN’s tune did not change after the FDA fully approved the Pfizer vaccine on August 23 -- instead, the channel immediately got to work trying to undermine its efficacy and safety. OAN’s hosts and guests suggested vaccine-avoidant viewers instead take ivermectin, a prescription medication for some human medical conditions (none of which are COVID-19) which is also available in a different formula for worms in livestock. (Humans should not take animal-grade ivermectin formulas.)

Historically, OAN viewers have listened to the channel’s misinformation: As FiveThirtyEight acknowledged in July, Republicans who received news from far-right sources like OAN are far less likely to get vaccinated than those who received their news from Fox. A similar April poll by PRRI found just 3 in 10 people who “most trust” OAN or its competitor Newsmax are “vaccine accepters.” And people who take horse dewormer instead of a COVID-19 vaccine are flooding TikTok, Facebook groups, subreddits, and poison control hotlines for advice or emergency assistance.

More recently, OAN hosts started pestering local school boards to implement policies based on many of these COVID-19 conspiracy theories. Some of OAN’s more irresponsible segments on these false claims have upwards of 40,000 views on the right-wing streaming site Rumble, and thousands more views across social media. A frequent medical guest on OAN, Dr. Brian Tyson, even made it to Fox host Sean Hannity’s radio show. And in a recent OAN interview, former President Donald Trump repeated the lie that the real COVID-19 death toll is “much less” than the official number -- in reality it's likely "a substantial undercount," but the pervasiveness of this early pandemic lie suggests that misinformation about the vaccines will be just as long-lasting. 

  • OAN segments comparing vaccine mandates and documentation requirements to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust

  • There’s simply no comparison between the Nazi regime’s industrialized genocide of millions of people and current government efforts to encourage COVID-19 vaccination. Arguments to the contrary are absurd -- and often aired on OAN.

    • On August 13, OAN guest Dale Saran ignorantly claimed that the Pentagon’s vaccine mandate is “a violation of the Nuremberg Code” because “you cannot forcibly give people medical treatment against their will. That's why the Nazi doctors went to trial and some of them were put to death." 
  • Video file

    Citation From the August 13, 2021, edition of OAN Evening News

    • Real America host Dan Ball compared vaccine regulations and accountability to “Nazi Germany” and the Holocaust on his August 11 program. Guest Reggie Littlejohn described such public health measures as a form of “fascism” and told Ball that “vilifying” those who refuse vaccines and “characterizing people as murderers or vermin ... is a first step. They did it to the Jews in the Holocaust.” “Reminds me of the word ‘deplorable,’” Ball replied. “Now they went from ‘deplorable’ to ‘murderer.’”
    • After playing a clip of protesters comparing New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio to a Nazi over the city’s new business vaccine mandates, Ball showed footage of similar events in Europe and praised “thousands upon thousands of Italians” for appearing to burn their vaccine paperwork -- quipping, “That’s right. Burn those passes. What is this, Nazi Germany?" 
  • OAN segments warning of “cataclysm” and divine “judgement” for vaccination efforts

  • Countless fraudsters throughout history have warned of imminent holy judgement upon the world, and so far we are still here. Now, similar warnings of divine retribution against vaccination efforts can unnecessarily raise tensions and even contribute to actual violence.

    • The Claremont Institute’s Spencer Klavan warned OAN viewers on August 6 that the left is trying to fill “a God-shaped hole in the human heart” with Dr. Anthony Fauci as “an idol,” potentially heralding “a dark night of the soul in the West” or “a cataclysm.”
    • OAN guest Aubrey Huff advised those supposedly “trying to force-feed a vaccine” to him or his family, “If you keep pushing real, strong, patriotic Americans -- alpha males, if you will -- into a corner, eventually they come out and they start tearing stuff up out in the jungle. … You're not going to like the results.”
  • Video file

    Citation From the August 4, 2021, edition of In Focus with Stephanie Hamill

    • A Canadian OAN guest who was arrested for violating COVID-19 mandates reassured viewers that those supporting these rules would “have only a short time” before “the judgement will come, they will face my God, and they will be accountable for everything they said and everything they did. … The time for reckoning is coming, and I’m excited.”
  • OAN segments promoting vitamins, ivermectin, or hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 treatment

  • None of these options presented are recognized as an effective treatment or preventive measure for COVID-19. 

    • Real America guest Dr. Dan Stock encouraged viewers on August 12 to take ivermectin and vitamin D to protect against COVID-19 because they “certainly [have] greater safety than has been demonstrated with any of the vaccines to date.” Stock claimed that “augmented non-vaccine options, for the vast majority of patients I see, we have much better research that these actually work better” than vaccines. 
    • OAN guest Devan Lapresi, a Rochester, New York, health care worker, praised “vitamin C, ivermectin, [and] hydroxychloroquine” as therapeutic treatments for COVID-19. Lapresi, who is also an anti-vaccine mandate organizer, called promises of vaccine safety “a bold-faced lie,” pointing to “people in the hospitals that we’re seeing with terrible adverse reactions.”
    • OAN host Kara McKinney and her guest, TheBlaze’s Daniel Horowitz, agreed on August 23 that the FDA warning against taking ivermectin for COVID-19 is “an indefensible genocide.” 
  • Video file

    Citation From the August 23, 2021 edition of OAN's Tipping Point

    • Real America’s Dan Ball has repeatedly declared that he will not get a COVID-19 vaccine, explaining on August 13 that he would refuse because they lack “decades and decades of data behind them proving that they were safe,” and suggested that viewers could take their chances with “a virus that has a 99% survivability rate.” Other times, Ball suggested that healthy people should “fight it naturally with therapeutics, like ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine,” two pharmaceutical products which are not natural.
    • Appearing on the August 19 edition of The Real Story with Natalie Harp, former Trump Cabinet member Dr. Ben Carson downplayed the delta variant as “not very lethal” and falsely claimed that “hydroxychloroquine [and] ivermectin have worked extremely well” as treatments. Carson also discouraged viewers from receiving the “highly experimental” vaccine, baselessly speculating that “10 or 15 years from now,” everyone may regret being vaccinated.
  • OAN segments arguing that FDA approval of Pfizer’s vaccine was rushed

  • The ongoing devastation and daily disruptions caused by the pandemic present a strong argument for seeking faster full approval of COVID-19 vaccines, a goal that is further supported by an overwhelming number of vaccinated people enjoying protection from the virus with few or no side effects. But in a break from Trump-era enthusiasm for vaccines developed under Operation Warp Speed, some conservative voices now choose to instead fearmonger about their supposedly “rushed” approval under President Joe Biden.

    • An OAN medical guest used legitimate questions about the FDA’s recent controversial approval of an Alzheimer’s drug to undermine the agency’s approval of the Pfizer vaccine, arguing that people shouldn’t “pretend that the FDA’s stamp of approval means that it’s automatically safe and effective for every single person.” Host Stephanie Hamill called it “a fair question” whether the vaccine was too “rushed,” though she claimed she was not arguing that but only repeating “what some people are worried about.”
    • Ball said on August 25 that the “Pfizer vaccine barely inched in an FDA approval,” and sarcastically added that “of course now you’d better rush out and get it.” Pushing “freedom of choice,” Ball suggested that “so many questions about the vaccine,” including the FDA’s “history of major downfalls when approving medications,” meant that vaccination isn’t worth the risk.
    • Referencing a 2017 CNN article about a study of FDA approvals, Ball later asked, “If the mainstream media was saying there was problems with rushing things to market just four years ago, why should we as Americans trust that this [COVID-19 vaccine] is totally safe and OK for us, because we know -- it was right in front of our eyes -- it was rushed to market.” 
  • OAN segments promoting anti-vaccination grifters and frauds

  • Any news cycle carries the potential to become a misinformation feeding frenzy for liars trying to sell something or simply gain attention. OAN has hosted plenty of them, including arguably the most well-known anti-vaccination conspiracy theorist in the United States -- who was, of course, selling a book.

    • Ball hosted anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist and “Disinformation Dozen” member Robert F. Kennedy Jr. for a long, friendly interview, encouraging the infamous misinformer as he defended his false claims against “vaccine orthodoxy” and falsely accused the White House and pharmaceutical companies of developing COVID-19 vaccines purely for profit. During the interview, OAN promoted Kennedy’s anti-vaccination book and website, and Ball ended the interview with a standing invite for him to return.
    • Ball followed up by interviewing another one of the “Disinformation Dozen,” cancer conspiracy theorist Charlene Bollinger. Ball began the interview by plugging Bollinger’s upcoming anti-vaccine, alternative medicine conference. Ball promised that “we will chat with you, I’m sure, in October about the event, either before, during, or after,” suggesting that he may attend the conference.
    • OAN aired an interview with Thomas Renz, a lawyer promising to “put [the FDA] on notice” because of "the danger that's coming out about these injections.” Renz promised to go after the CDC personally “if they do try to approve this and people die from it,” as “there has to be some sort of nefarious reasons” for approving vaccines that “don't work.”
    • On August 12, Ball interviewed a California woman who claimed the Pfizer vaccine made her magnetic. Despite acknowledging that this was repeatedly debunked in March, Ball claimed that he didn’t “know what to believe, because you hear me say all the time, I don't believe in listening to the mainstream media, because they lie to us a lot or they spew a narrative.”
  • OAN segments claiming or suggesting that vaccines don’t work

  • One linchpin of OAN’s anti-vaccination campaign is simply stating or suggesting that the vaccines do not work. While it is true that they do not provide 100% protection against infection or transmission, especially with the delta variant, the proven fact is still that vaccination drastically reduces the risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19. 

    • Interviewing Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) on August 6, OAN fill-in host Jezzamine Wolk argued that “if the vaccine is so great then I feel like you shouldn’t have to push it so hard. There is a reason why Lamborghini doesn't advertise. They're confident in their product. … Wouldn’t the truth come out on its own instead?” (Lamborghini does advertise, just not with typical TV commercials.)
  • Video file

    Citation From the August 6, 2021, edition of OAN's Real America with Dan Ball

    • OAN host Stephanie Hamill suggested to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) that vaccinated people overestimate the impact of their shot: “People that have the breakthrough cases are like, 'Oh well, if I didn't have the vaccine it would’ve been so much worse.' How do you know? Everyone reacts to flus and colds and COVID differently. ... When people say that I think it's kind of silly and misleading, because you don’t really know." 
    • OAN correspondent Pearson Sharp fearmongered about vaccine mandates, focused on financial incentives for Pfizer and Moderna to produce “their wonder drug,” and stressed that “even the high prophet of pharma, the good doctor Anthony Fauci himself, admitted that vaccinated people are as likely to catch the delta variant as” the unvaccinated -- which was actually a qualified statement from the CDC, noting that vaccinated people are still less likely to be symptomatic, which Sharp did not report -- instead calling the vaccines “apparently useless.” 
    • In another segment, Sharp interviewed Dr. Brian Tyson to back his claims that “the vaccine isn't nearly as effective as the mainstream media and medical establishment insist.” Tyson claimed that vaccines are “not preventing people from getting sick” or “preventing the severity of symptoms that we’ve all been told.” Tyson said that “I think it’s giving people, again, a false sense of security, later adding that “clearly, it’s not effective.” 
    • After the FDA fully authorized the Pfizer vaccine, TheBlaze editor Daniel Horowitz told OAN viewers that “it doesn’t meet the definition of the vaccine” because people may need additional doses, a common trait of vaccines, hence the commonly known term “booster shot.” Horowitz speculated that vaccines could be “making the virus more durable” and suggested ivermectin as an alternative. 
    • Horowitz also complained that “I actually don’t think it’s a right-wing conspiracy” to claim the vaccines are dangerous, “it’s worse than that” because he “did not see they would create something with this amount of side effects and this degree of failure on efficacy.”
    • Ball did not correct Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) after he claimed the recently approved Pfizer vaccine was “the least effective” of all the vaccines.
    • Hydroxychloroquine proponent Dr. Vladimir Zelenko told OAN viewers that he’s “not concerned about the delta variant at all” and thinks “giving a third shot of the same substance that doesn’t work … doesn’t make sense.” He also claimed that COVID-19 survivors “should not be getting the vaccine.” (The August 4 segment has over 23,000 views on Rumble.) 
    • On August 17, Ball and guest Dr. Peter McCullough agreed that the vaccine could be creating new variants. McCullough asserted that vaccines caused “a non-lethal evolutionary pressure,” and the delta variant “sprung out of using the Sinovac vaccine in parts of India.” When Ball conducted this interview, only about 13% of Indian adults were fully vaccinated.
  • OAN segments arguing inflated death tolls from COVID-19

  • Right-wing commentators have long argued that official sources are inflating coronavirus death tolls and hospitalization numbers, and these old lies still churn around to undermine the medical need for vaccination. 

    • On August 10, Ball accused the CDC of inflating coronavirus death toll data, arguing that “they're combining the number of those who died with the disease and those who “died from COVID. … It’s not 611 [thousand], folks, it’s a lot less.” 
    • A week later, these on-screen lies bled into reality when Ball falsely told his daughter’s school board that “615,000 Americans did not die from COVID.”
    • After retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg mentioned that only 26 service members have died from COVID-19, Ball spread conspiracy theories about the death toll: “How do we even know those 26 died of COVID? They could have died of a motorcycle accident, had COVID in their system, but we get the number, ‘26 troops have died.’”
    • Appearing on OAN, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) claimed that “this virus doesn’t kill as many people as they lead us to all believe.”