“Plandemic” vignette featuring anti-vaccination activist Judy Mikovits contains numerous false and unsupported claims about COVID-19


This video is the first in a series of vignettes preceding a movie titled “Plandemic”. First published on 5 May 2020, it quickly went viral on Facebook, with more than 2.2 million views on the platform to date. Produced by Mikki Willis, it features an interview with Judy Mikovits, former research director of the Whittemore Peterson Institute (WPI), a medical research institute at the University of Nevada, who was terminated in 2011 over questions about the integrity of her work. In the video, Mikovits makes numerous inaccurate and unsupported claims about the origins of the 2019 novel coronavirus, vaccines, and the treatment and prevention of COVID-19.

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Claim 1:

Willis: “At the height of her career, Dr. Mikovits published a blockbuster article in the journal Science. The controversial article sent shockwaves through the scientific community as it revealed that the common use of animal and human fetal tissues were unleashing devastating plagues of chronic diseases.”

This description of Mikovits’ article is inaccurate. Mikovits did publish an article in Science in 2009, but it was unrelated to research using animal or human fetal tissue. Instead, the article, which was later retracted, claimed to have found an association between the xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV) and a poorly understood medical condition called chronic fatigue syndrome, also called myalgic encephalitis.

When several groups attempted to replicate the findings of Mikovits’ study and failed, the journal published an Expression of Concern in 2011 regarding the validity of the findings by Mikovits et al:

Since then, at least 10 studies conducted by other investigators and published elsewhere have reported a failure to detect XMRV in independent populations of CFS patients. In this issue, we are publishing two Reports that strongly support the growing view that the association between XMRV and CFS described by Lombardi et al. likely reflects contamination of laboratories and research reagents with the virus.

Mikovits’ article was finally retracted in December 2011. Apart from the non-reproducibility of the results, the journal also noted that “the authors acknowledged to Science that they omitted important information” from the results, indicating potential scientific misconduct in the study. Mikovits was fired from the Whittemore Peterson Institute (WPI), where she worked as research director, in September 2012 for insubordination, as reported by Science.

Claim 2:

Mikovits: “I was held in jail with no charges, I was called a fugitive from justice. No warrant, literally drug me out of the house. […] It was intended to appear as if I took confidential material, names, and intellectual property from the laboratory. And I could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that I didn’t. Heads of our entire [Department of Health and Human Services] colluded and destroyed my reputation and the Department of Justice and the FBI sat on it and kept that case under seal.”

This is false. After Mikovits was fired from the WPI, she was later arrested on an “out of county warrant” for taking lab notebooks, a computer, and other material belonging to the institute, although the charges against her were later dropped. WPI is a private research institute that is not related to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as Mikovits suggested. Her claim that she was jailed for discovering a link between “the common use of animal and human fetal tissues” and chronic diseases, and that the U.S. HHS was somehow involved in this, is inaccurate and unsupported. Snopes debunked a similar claim in this 2018 article.

Claim 3:

Mikovits: “There is no vaccine currently on the schedule for any RNA virus that works.”

This is false. There are effective vaccines for numerous diseases caused by RNA viruses on the U.S. childhood and adolescent vaccination schedule, such as measles, mumps, rubella, and polio.

Claim 4:

Willis: “So I have to ask you: are you anti-vaccine?”

Mikovits: “Oh absolutely not I’m – in fact, vaccine is immune therapy, just like interferon-alpha is immune therapy, so I’m not anti-vaccine. My job is to develop immune therapies, that’s what vaccines are.”

The phrase “immune therapy”, or rather “immunotherapy”, is generally used to refer to methods of modulating the body’s immune response to treat disease, such as cancer. Some vaccines, called treatment vaccines, are indeed part of immunotherapy. However, it is also clear that Willis is referring to vaccines for immunization, that is, for preventing disease, as his use of the term “anti-vaccine” indicates. Anti-vaccine movements are primarily associated with opposition to vaccines that prevent diseases, such as childhood vaccines. These are not considered “treatment vaccines” or immunotherapy as they are not used for treating diseases.

It is entirely possible that Mikovits personally holds a definition of “immune therapy” that differs from the scientific community at large, but without providing clarification, her use of the term in this context is imprecise and can be misleading for viewers.

Claim 5:

Mikovits: “So it’s very clear this virus was manipulated. […] Somebody didn’t go to a market, get a bat, the virus didn’t jump directly to humans, that’s not how it works, that’s accelerated viral evolution.

Although exactly where SARS-CoV-2 came from is still a matter of debate for some, most experts agree that the virus is of natural origin and does not show any sign of genetic modification. A group of scientists published findings from a genomic analysis of the novel coronavirus in Nature Medicine[1], which established that SARS-CoV-2 is of natural origin, likely originating in pangolins or bats (or both) and later developing the ability to infect humans.

In a statement published on 19 February in The Lancet, 27 eminent public health scientists in the U.S., Europe, the U.K., Australia, and Asia cited numerous studies from multiple countries which “overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife[2-9] as have so many other emerging pathogens.”

An announcement by the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, published on 30 April 2020, echoes the conclusions of these scientists, stating that “The Intelligence Community also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified.

The idea that the virus artificially went through “accelerated viral evolution” is also not supported by the evidence. Christian Stevens from the Benhur Lee lab at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine explained in this article that currently available experimental tools could not have given rise to the combination of genetic features found in SARS-CoV-2, and that natural selection is the most likely explanation.

Furthermore, the virus does not show any sign of having recently undergone selection. Stevens highlighted in his article that the Ka/Ks ratio of the virus strongly indicates that the virus did not come from lab-simulated evolution. The Ka/Ks ratio calculates the level of synonymous mutations (which do not produce any functional change in proteins) and non-synonymous mutations (which produce functional changes in proteins). Non-synonymous mutations are more likely to occur in the presence of selective pressure, such as a need to adapt to a new environment:

Because synonymous mutations should have no effect, we expect them to happen at a relatively consistent rate. That makes them a good baseline that we can compare the number of non-synonymous mutations to. By calculating the ratio between these two numbers we can differentiate between three different types of selection:

Purifying selection: This virus is already a great fit where it is and cannot afford to change because every change makes it worse. You should see very few non-synonymous changes here.
Darwinian selection: This virus is not a good fit where it is and has to change and get better or it’s going to die out. You should see many non-synonymous changes.

Neutral selection: There is no pressure on this virus either way. Non-synonymous changes and synonymous changes should come at about the same rate.
We would expect a virus that is learning to exist in a new context would be undergoing Darwinian selection and we would see a high rate of non-synonymous changes in some part of the genome. This would be the case if the virus were being designed via simulated natural selection, we would expect at least some part of the genome to show Darwinian selection.

An analysis by Trevor Bedford, virologist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and professor at the University of Washington, demonstrates that the level of non-synonymous mutations between SARS-CoV-2 and the naturally occurring RaTG13 are highly similar, standing at 14.3% and 14.2%, respectively.

“Both of these numbers indicate a purifying selection, with very few non-synonymous changes. This holds true across the entire genome with no part of it showing Darwinian selection. This is a very strong indicator that SARS-CoV-2 was not designed using forced selection in a lab,” Stevens concluded.

Claim 6:

Willis: “Do you have any ideas of where this occurred?”

Mikovits: “Oh yeah, I’m sure it occurred between the North Carolina laboratories, Fort Detrick U.S. Army Research Institute of Infectious Disease and the Wuhan laboratory.”

There is no evidence showing that the coronavirus had emerged from any laboratory, and this scenario has been considered as extremely unlikely by scientists. Based on the available evidence, experts think that the virus naturally evolved and then later made the jump to humans (zoonotic infection).

Claim 7:

Narrator from unknown video: “3.7 million dollars flowed from the National Institutes of Health here in the U.S. to the Wuhan lab in China, the same lab where many people have said that this coronavirus infection first originated.”

The claim that the U.S. NIH provided 3.7 million dollars to “the Wuhan lab”, presumably the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), is inaccurate and misleading. As PolitiFact reported in this fact-check, this funding was not awarded directly to the WIV as suggested in the claim, but to the non-profit organization EcoHealth Alliance, which monitors emerging diseases throughout the world—the WIV lab was selected to conduct the genome analyses of viruses isolated in the wild and was approved by the U.S. State Department and NIH. In the end, the amount provided to the WIV from the $3.4 million award was just under $600,000, about 85% less than stated in the claim.

Claim 8:

Jensen: “Right now Medicare has determined that if you have a COVID-19 admission to the hospital, you’ll get paid 13,000, if that COVID-19 patient goes on a ventilator you get 39,000, three times as much.”

This claim came from physician Scott Jensen during a Fox News interview, as noted by several other fact-checkers, who have found this claim to be partially true. According to PolitiFact, Jensen claimed that “Medicare has determined that a hospital gets paid $13,000 if a COVID-19 patient on Medicare is admitted and $39,000 if the patient goes on a ventilator.”

While it is true that Medicare is providing a greater payout for COVID-19 patients, as a result of a federal stimulus bill, and that it is plausible that payouts for some patients may fall within the numbers that Jensen cited, as Snopes explained, there is no evidence that indicates fixed-price Medicare payments for COVID-19 patients on ventilators, as Jensen claimed.

The claim also implies that hospitals are intentionally overreporting COVID-19 patients for financial gain. This is also unsupported by evidence, and as FactCheck.org highlighted, “hospitals have profound disincentives” for doing so, as it “can result in criminal or civil liabilities, such as being susceptible to being kicked out of the Medicare program.”

Claim 9:

Willis: “My next question is about Italy. I want to know why Italy was hit so hard.”

Mikovits: “Italy has a very old population, um, they’re very sick with inflammatory disorders, they got at the beginning of 2019, an untested new form of influenza vaccine that had four different strains of influenza, including the highly pathogenic H1N1. That vaccine was grown in a cell line, a dog cell line, dogs have lots of coronaviruses, and that’s why they’re not testing there.”

It is correct that Italy has one of the highest COVID-19 death tolls in the world at the time of this review’s publication. However, public health experts interviewed in this LiveScience article attributed this primarily to the fact that Italy has the largest elderly population in all of Europe. An analysis published in JAMA in April 2020 reported that about 23% of Italy’s population is 65 years old or older[10]. COVID-19 is known to be particularly deadly for the elderly.

It is unclear exactly which flu vaccine Mikovits is referring to. The European Commission did approve a cell-based quadrivalent flu vaccine in January 2019 for use in the European Union. “Quadrivalent” indicates the use of four different strains of flu viruses in the vaccine. Although influenza viruses used in vaccines are typically cultured in chicken eggs, some new vaccines are cell-based, meaning that animal cells, rather than eggs, are used to culture the flu viruses, specifically Madin-Darby Canine Kidney cells. The chief advantage of using a cell-based system over using eggs to grow viruses is that it enables a much more rapid start to the vaccine manufacturing process.

However, this quadrivalent flu vaccine was not deployed in the beginning of 2019, as Mikovits claimed, but before the start of the 2019/2020 flu season, which would be around September 2019. More importantly, Italy is not the only country to have deployed this vaccine as it is also being used in other EU countries, and the cell-based Flucelvax Quadrivalent vaccine is also used in the U.S. In short, Italy’s death toll cannot be attributed to the use of this vaccine.

While there are strains of coronavirus that infect dogs, SARS-CoV-2 has been shown through phylogenetic analysis to most strongly resemble a bat coronavirus named RaTG13, with 96% genome sequence identity[2], so it is not clear why Mikovits draws a causal relationship between canine coronavirus and COVID-19. Neither does Mikovits provide any evidence that cell cultures used in making the vaccine are contaminated with coronavirus of bat or dog origin.

Claim 10:

Mikovits: [referring to studies of hydroxychloroquine efficacy] Dr. Fauci calls that anecdotal data. It’s not storytelling if we have thousands of pages of data saying it’s effective against these families of viruses.”

The efficacy of hydroxychloroquine against COVID-19 is still a matter of debate, despite Mikovits’ claim suggesting that this question has been settled[11,12]. Although some preliminary studies have suggested a beneficial effect, the validity of these studies has been called into question by other scientists, who note problems in the way these studies were designed and conducted. Health Feedback previously examined the claim that the hydroxychloroquine-azithromycin combination is beneficial for COVID-19 recovery, based primarily on studies led by French researcher Didier Raoult, and found it to be misleading.

Claim 11:

Mikovits: “The game is to prevent the therapies till everyone is infected and push the vaccines, knowing that the flu vaccines increase the odds by 36 percent of getting COVID-19.”

Willis: “Where does that data come from?”

Mikovits: “A publication last year where the military who had been vaccinated with influenza were more susceptible to coronaviruses. Coronaviruses are in every animal, so if you’ve ever had a flu vaccine, you were injected with coronaviruses.”

Mikovits is likely referring to a study by Gregg Wolff of the U.S. Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch, published in early January 2020[13], which has commonly been cited, especially among groups opposing vaccines, as evidence that the flu vaccine increases the risk of COVID-19 by 36%. Health Feedback showed in a previous review that this is inaccurate and misleading. Scientists who reviewed this claim pointed out that although the study did report a higher probability of coronavirus infection in individuals that received the flu vaccine, it examined only seasonal coronaviruses that cause the common cold, but not SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus causing COVID-19. As such, these results cannot be extrapolated to SARS-CoV-2. Furthermore, the study itself stated that “Vaccinated personnel did not have significant odds of respiratory illnesses.”

Mikovits’ claim that “Coronaviruses are in every animal, so if you’ve ever had a flu vaccine, you were injected with coronaviruses” is unclear in its logic. Furthermore, the flu shot contains inactivated (dead) influenza virus; it does not contain coronaviruses.

Claim 12:

Erickson: “We want strong immune systems, our immune system is used to touching. We share bacteria, staphylococcal, streptococcal bacteria, viruses, we develop an immune response daily to this stuff. When you take that away from me, my immune system drops. As I shelter in place my immune system drops.”

This segment was taken from a 22 April 2020 video interview with two physicians in Bakersfield, California, Drs. Daniel Erickson and Artin Massihi, which also went viral recently. While it is correct that exposure to microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses and fungi, is important for healthy immune development, sheltering in place would not minimize exposure to microorganisms to the extent of causing immune dysfunction. The air we breathe and our home environments already contain trillions of microbes. Health Feedback previously reviewed this video and found it to be inaccurate.

Claim 13:

Mikovits: “Wearing the mask literally activates your own virus, you’re getting sick from your own reactivated coronavirus expressions”

This claim is unsupported. While the World Health Organization recommends changing one’s mask as soon as it becomes damp, as moisture greatly impedes its effectiveness as a physical barrier against infectious aerosols, the mechanism proposed by Mikovits that wearing a face mask “activates your own virus” and causes a person to become sick from “reactivated coronavirus expressions” is unsupported by evidence, and the term “reactivated coronavirus expressions” is not a known medical or scientific concept.

Claim 14:

Willis: “You’re not the first virologist who has told me that we’re doing the exact opposite of what we should be doing to contain and to create immunity from this virus.”

Mikovits: “Why would you close the beach? You’ve got sequences in the soil, in the sand, you’ve got healing microbes in the ocean, in the salt water.”

Several beaches in the U.S. have been closed in order to promote social distancing and prevent gathering of crowds, so as to curb the spread of COVID-19. While it is true that outdoor environments harbour many microorganisms, and that some of them may be beneficial to humans, it is not clear exactly what are “sequences” in the soil and sand that Mikovits refers to, or why these would be beneficial for our response against COVID-19. Again, Mikovits provides no evidence to support her statement.

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This video has been fact-checked by scientists such as David Gorski, who has debunked the claims in his article on Respectful Insolence, the journal Science, as well as fact-checking organizations such as PolitiFact, which found it to be “full of false conspiracy theories about the coronavirus” and FactCheck.org, which concluded that the video “weaves a grand conspiracy theory by using a host of false and misleading claims about the novel coronavirus pandemic and its origins, vaccines, treatments for COVID-19, and more.”

UPDATE (11 May 2020):

Added details regarding the U.S. NIH award to further clarify that it was provided to the EcoHealth Alliance, and not the Wuhan Institute of Virology as claimed (Claim 7). Updated to correct the attribution of the quote under Claim 8. It was originally made by Jensen and not Mikovits.

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Published on: 08 May 2020 | Editor: