A glance at what didn’t happen this week

A round-up of some of the week’s most popular but completely false stories and visuals. None of them are legal even though they have been widely shared on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the facts:


A combination of a COVID and flu test does not prove they are the same virus

Claim: A home rapid test that can detect both coronavirus and influenza A and B is proof that COVID-19 and flu are the same disease.

FACTS: Influenza and coronavirus are separate viruses, and the product in the photo circulating on social media tests separately for each. The number of COVID-19 cases in the US has increased again in tandem with the flu. But in recent days, some social media users have pointed to a picture of a home test kit that can detect influenza A and B and COVID-19, wrongly suggesting it shows the coronavirus pandemic is just another wave of seasonal flu. But the kit in the photo tests each virus separately, and medical experts have confirmed that they are separate viruses that are detected differently. The test instructions show that it comes with a cartridge containing two “sample wells”, one for COVID-19 and one for flu. Users are instructed to swab the nostrils, dip the swab into the test fluid, and then drop a drop of the fluid into each well. Different lines will appear on the test strip in each well, depending on what the user tested positive for. The test, marketed as Fanttest, has been approved by the medical therapies regulatory agency for use in Australia but is not available in the US Thomas Denny, Professor of Medicine and Chief Operating Officer of Duke University’s Human Vaccine Institute, said rapid antigen tests are being developed using “recombinant protein that mimics a specific virus. Denny said that before such tests are approved for use, they are measured for sensitivity and specificity. Specificity refers to ensuring that tests give positive results for a given virus and not for samples from people who are uninfected or infected with another virus. Antigen tests often check many things at once, said Dr. Benjamin Neuman, chief virologist at Texas A&M’s global research complex. Proteins typically targeted for COVID-19 and flu testing “have nothing to do with each other,” making a two-in-one antigen test possible. In May, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a triple test kit for COVID-19, influenza A and B, and RSV, but these results must still be processed in a lab. It is possible to be infected with COVID-19 and the flu at the same time.

— Press associate Graph Massara of San Francisco contributed additional information to this report from Angelo Fichera of Philadelphia.


No, COVID-19 vaccines are not gene therapy

Claim: COVID-19 vaccines “are gene therapy, NOT a vaccine.”

FACTS: According to experts, COVID-19 vaccines do not alter human genes like gene therapy does. False claims that vaccines alter human DNA have been circulating even before their debut in late 2020. In recent days, claims have been made on social media that vaccines are “gene therapy” – which involves modifying a person’s genes to treat or cure a disease. The posts point to a clip of Dr. Robert Malone – a vocal critic of the COVID-19 vaccines who conducted early research into mRNA technology – talking about shots at an event in early December. In the clip, Malone is asked if vaccines are actually a form of gene therapy. “As I have said many times, it came out of the gene therapy research program,” replies Malone. “These and adenoviral vectors are absolutely gene therapy technology used to induce an immune response.” The tweet sharing the clip read: “Injections are gene therapy, NOT a vaccine.” But Dr. Louis Picker, professor and associate director of the Institute of Vaccines and Gene Therapy at Oregon Health & Science University, said there are significant differences between vaccines and gene therapy. “The goal of gene therapy is to enter and change the actual code in the DNA of a person’s cells.” Picker said that gene therapy is “very different from injecting RNA into a carrier that is designed to be taken up, expressed and elicit an immune response.” The Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses a modified adenovirus, the common cold virus, to trigger an immune response. But none of the vaccines can alter human DNA. Michael Barry, a Mayo Clinic researcher who studies gene therapy and vaccines, said in an e-mail -email that the tools used for these vaccines have to do with gene therapy technology – but that doesn’t mean the vaccines are actually gene therapy. Specifically, the lipid nanoparticles used to transport mRNA in vaccines come from a tool originally developed for gene therapy, he said. The adenoviral vectors used in the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine have also been previously studied for gene therapy. “Gene therapy is designed to provide long-term protein expression to repair the damaged gene and its damaged protein,” added Barry. “Vaccines aim at a short burst of protein expression to stimulate the immune system.” Malone did not respond to a request for comment.

— Angelo Ficher


The EU does not impose a “personal carbon credit” system.

Claim: The European Union is working to create a “personal carbon credit” system where individuals pay directly for the greenhouse gases they produce.

THE FACTS: Spokespersons for the EU’s legislative and executive offices claim that no such system has been considered. Social media users are spreading false claims about new developments announced this month in relation to the EU’s climate change efforts. Many users are sharing a conservative article on the website claiming that the regional trading bloc has taken “first steps” towards imposing a “personal carbon credit system” where every citizen will have to pay for their carbon emissions. However, according to officials and experts, European leaders have not proposed such requirements for individual citizens, nor are they considering them. “No decision has been made to establish a personal carbon credit scheme,” Thomas Haahr, a spokesman for the European Parliament, the 27-member union’s legislative arm, wrote in an email. Ana Crespo Parrondo, a spokesperson for the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, agreed with this statement, presenting a list of around seven points agreed by the two sides as part of the “Fit For 55” legislative package, which aims to help the region meet its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 55 % by 2030. Among them is the agreement reached this month on the revision of the regulations for the energy and industrial sectors. The deal would speed up the phasing out of free allowances under the ETS for industry to encourage companies to aggressively reduce the pollutants they release into the atmosphere. It would also extend the emissions regime to the transport and construction sectors, which would likely drive up the price of petrol, natural gas and other fossil fuels. In addition, the two sides agreed to develop a tax on foreign companies seeking to import products that do not meet regional climate protection standards. Sanjay Patnaik, an expert on EU climate change policy at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank, said the trade bloc’s focus is on these kinds of industry regulations, rather than directly imposed on individuals. Michael Pahle, a researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, agreed, adding that the likelihood of companies passing on higher fuel costs to consumers as a result of planned emissions regulations is not the same as implementing a personal carbon credit scheme.

— Co-author of this report, Phil Marcelo, Press Associate, New York City.


Hooters says it’s not closing in on millennial-friendly rebranding

CLAIM: Hooters is closing down and rebranding.

THE FACTS: The posts misrepresent a 2017 article that discussed the closure of some US locations from 2012-2016, as well as changes the company made to the menu and decor more than a decade ago. A misleading claim circulated on social media on Wednesday that Hooters, a restaurant famous for its scantily clad waitresses, was closing and rebranding due to the changing tastes of the millennium. But Hooters spokesman Stephen Brown told The Associated Press that the casual dining chain has no plans to change its image. “This story has no substantiation,” he wrote in an email, adding: “Our concept is to remain.” The company too rejected the claim via one of the Twitter accounts. In a follow-up post, the Twitter account that first spread the false claim quoted an Article from Complex August 2017who discussed closing some locations and changing menus in previous years, but didn’t say the entire chain is closing or rebranding as the posts suggest. The Complex article discussed a report that there was a 7 percent drop in Hooters locations between 2012 and 2016. It was also noted that the chain updated its menu and décor in 2012 “in an attempt to attract younger patrons and female customers”, and earlier this year it opened a new chain called Hoots, which offers the popular Hooters chicken wings without the tight-fitting waitresses. The article also discusses a new Pornhub study that found its millennial users were less likely to search for breast-related terms. But while the article connected the two, the study had nothing to do with the restoration or changes made prior to its release.

“A related press writer, Melissa Goldin of New York, wrote this report.


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