ICAN SENDS TWELVE UNITED STATES ATTORNEYS GENERAL A “FACT CHECK” LETTER CALLING OUT THEIR VACCINE MISINFORMATION

Twelve Attorneys General sent a letter to Twitter and Facebook in March regarding “Vaccine Disinformation.”  That letter, ironically, both praised and contained vaccine misinformation which ICAN’s attorneys pointed out in a letter of their own.  ICAN requested that the Attorneys General issue the necessary corrections immediately.

On March 24, 2021, the Attorneys General (AGs) from twelve states, led by Connecticut, sent a letter to the CEOs of Twitter and Facebook regarding “Vaccine Disinformation.”  The letter alleges that “misinformation disseminated via [Twitter and Facebook’s] platforms has increased vaccine hesitancy” and that Twitter and Facebook “are uniquely positioned to prevent the spread of misinformation about coronavirus vaccines” and to “effectively root[] out fraudulent information about coronavirus vaccines.”

The intention and goal of the letter is clear: the AGs are promoting the COVID-19 vaccines and “the widespread acceptance of these vaccines as safe and effective” and the social media platforms had better take active and immediate steps to play along.

ICAN, through its attorneys, wrote to the AGs in response to their letter explaining that ICAN is also deeply concerned about vaccine misinformation.  To that end, ICAN pointed out that their letter praised Facebook for its updated community guidelines “established to prevent the spread of vaccine misfunction.”  But these very guidelines promote vaccine misinformation.

For example, Facebook’s new community guidelines assert that its users may not state “that COVID-19 vaccines do not exist or have not been approved.”  However, it is accurate to state that there is no approved COVID-19 vaccine.  The FDA’s emergency use authorizations (EUA) for the COVID-19 vaccines could not be any clearer in stating that: “This product has not been approved or licensed by FDA, but has been authorized for emergency use by FDA.”  It is, in fact, a violation of federal law to claim that any COVID-19 vaccine is approved, yet Facebook’s guidelines would permit claiming it is approved (which is false) and prohibit claiming it is not approved (which is true).  As such, the AG letter is praising Facebook for spreading vaccine misinformation.

Worse yet, the letter itself contains vaccine misinformation.  It states that ending the pandemic “depends on the widespread acceptance of these vaccines as safe and effective.”  However, claiming that COVID-19 vaccines are “safe and effective” is vaccine misinformation.  “Safe and effective” is the standard for being granted approval and licensure by the FDA.  However, even the FDA admits that the data is not yet available to prove that these vaccines are “safe and effective,” and therefore, these products have not yet been licensed or approved.

The EUAs for the COVID-19 vaccines expressly provide that each is “an investigational vaccine not licensed for any indication” and require that “[a]ll promotional material relating to the COVID-19 Vaccine clearly and conspicuously … state that this product has not been approved or licensed by the FDA, but has been authorized for emergency use by FDA.”

At best, what the FDA was able to conclude when granting emergency use authorization for these vaccines is that “it is reasonable to believe that [] COVID‑19 Vaccine may be effective” and that it is “reasonable to conclude … that the known and potential benefits of [] COVID‑19 Vaccine outweigh the known and potential risks of the vaccine.”  While the FDA clearly has not yet concluded these vaccines are safe and effective, as can be seen from the recent CDC and FDA pause of J&J’s COVID-19 vaccine, the AGs letter demands that Facebook and Twitter enforce policies that promote “widespread acceptance of these vaccines as safe and effective.”  Demanding that these social media companies promote a conclusion about these vaccines not yet supported by the data is quintessential vaccine misinformation.  ICAN demanded a correction to the letter.

Given its intent to promote the COVID-19 vaccines, ICAN pointed out that the AGs letter should include a disclaimer required by federal law and the EUAs for these vaccines, which provide:

All descriptive printed matter, advertising, and promotional material relating to the use of the [] COVID‑19 Vaccine clearly and conspicuously shall state that: This product has not been approved or licensed by FDA, but has been authorized for emergency use by FDA, under an EUA to prevent Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) for use in individuals 18 years of age and older.

Therefore, the AGs letter should include the above disclaimer since it is plainly intended to promote the use of the COVID-19 vaccines.  That is manifestly the core reason it was signed by a dozen AGs and disseminated widely to the public.

ICAN agreed with the AGs that vaccine misinformation is a real issue that needs to be addressed and that is why ICAN requested that the AGs confirm that the issues within the letter have been corrected.