Plandemic is a pseudo-documentary produced by American filmmaker Mikki Willis, whose first instalment was published in May 2020. Featuring an interview with anti-vaccination activist and former scientist Judy Mikovits, the video peddled numerous false claims and conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccines (see Health Feedback’s review of that video). It achieved immense virality and racked up millions of views in days, culminating in the removal of the video from social media platforms for spreading medical misinformation, although copies can still be found online.
The second instalment titled “Plandemic: Indoctrination” was released on 18 August 2020. Its main suggestion is that the COVID-19 pandemic was a large conspiracy planned by a few individuals and organizations seeking to profit from it. Like its predecessor, it contains several false and misleading claims about the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccines, many of which have already been debunked by fact-checkers. These claims were made by Willis, along with internal medicine specialist Meryl Nass, virologist and Nobel laureate Luc Montagnier, and the vice chair and general counsel of the anti-vaccination group Children’s Health Defense Mary Holland.
Nass: “I feel quite convinced that this was a laboratory designed organism […] I was particularly interested in a paper that came out in Nature Medicine, by five scientists, claiming it was definitely a natural occurrence than a lab construct. But the arguments they used did not hold water, they didn’t make a lot of scientific sense.”
Montagnier: “No, [SARS-CoV-2 is] not natural, it was the work of professionals, of molecular biologists. It’s a very meticulous job, we can say of precision, if you look at the sequences.”
The claim that the virus was manmade has been repeated ever since the beginning of the pandemic but remains unsupported by evidence. Although scientists are still working to find out exactly where the virus SARS-CoV-2 came from, the prevailing scientific consensus is that it originated in wildlife and later managed to make a leap to humans (zoonotic infection).
Indeed, zoonotic infections are not only plausible but common throughout the world, and have also caused outbreaks in the past. For example, the SARS outbreak, which began in 2002, was linked to civet cats. Outbreaks of Middle East respiratory syndrome have been linked to contact with camels, while mosquitoes transmit viruses such as Zika, dengue, and chikungunya. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, about 60% of emerging diseases are zoonotic infections.
Scientists have considered the hypothesis that the virus is a laboratory construct, but genetic analysis of the virus has failed to provide any evidence that the virus was engineered. Health Feedback previously published an Insight article examining the evidence for various hypotheses explaining the origin of SARS-CoV-2, which found that the weight of the scientific evidence indicates that the virus has a natural origin.
Nass refers to a Nature Medicine study published by Anderson et al. in March 2020. Their investigation focused mainly on the so-called spike (S) protein, which is located on the surface of the enveloping membrane of SARS-CoV-2. The S protein allows the virus to bind to and infect animal cells. After the 2003-2005 SARS outbreak, researchers identified a set of key amino acids within the S protein which give SARS-CoV-1 a super-affinity for the ACE2 target receptor located on the surface of human cells[2,3].
Surprisingly, the S protein of SARS-CoV-2 does not contain this optimal set of amino acids, yet is nonetheless able to bind ACE2 with a greater affinity than SARS-CoV-1. Taken together, these findings strongly suggest that SARS-CoV-2 evolved independently of human intervention and undermine the claim that it was manmade. This is because if scientists had attempted to engineer improved ACE2 binding in a coronavirus, the best strategy would have been to harness the already-known and efficient amino acid sequences described in SARS-CoV-1 in order to produce a more optimal molecular design for SARS-CoV-2. The authors of the Nature Medicine study concluded that “Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus.”
Nass claims that “the arguments they used did not hold water, they didn’t make a lot of scientific sense,” but at no point does she explain why Anderson et al. did not “make a lot of scientific sense”. Given the lack of supporting evidence for her claim, Nass’ statement is a baseless assertion which is misleadingly presented as fact.
Montagnier’s statements were made during an April 2020 news broadcast in France, which has been fact-checked by Health Feedback. His claim is based on the now-retracted preprint which was uploaded to bioRxiv on 2 February 2020. A preprint is a study in progress that has not been peer-reviewed by other scientists. The authors of the preprint claimed to have found unique “HIV insertions” in SARS-CoV-2.
Experts later pointed out that the authors only compared very short protein regions of the coronavirus with HIV and that these protein sequences can also be found in many other organisms, including Cryptosporidium and Plasmodium malariae, which cause cryptosporidiosis and malaria. In other words, the presence of these sequences do not indicate that the coronavirus was genetically engineered and published studies have now shown that SARS-CoV-2 does not carry inserts from HIV[6,7].
Scientists have repeatedly explained that there is no evidence to support the claim that the virus was human engineered. 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 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.”
Willis: “Anthony Fauci knew early as January of 2017 that we would see an outbreak before the end of 2020. Even Bill Gates, a man with no medical training, knew it was coming.”
Willis references Event 201, a pandemic preparedness exercise, and misleadingly claims that public health officials and Bill Gates had foreknowledge of the pandemic. The association between the outbreak and Event 201 has been debunked by several fact-checkers, including PolitiFact, Full Fact, FactCheck.org, and Health Feedback. The claim that preparedness exercises would be a proof that people were planning the pandemic is illogical. By this reasoning, preparedness exercises for hurricanes would be evidence that those leading them are creating hurricanes.
Event 201 was held jointly by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the World Economic Forum. The goal of the exercise was to “illustrate areas where public/private partnerships will be necessary during the response to a severe pandemic in order to diminish large-scale economic and societal consequences.” Due to the occurrence of the event only a few months before the global COVID-19 outbreak started, many have speculated that the exercise had already predicted the pandemic. The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security has clarified that no predictions were made during the exercise and that the parameters used in modeling their hypothetical virus did not resemble the characteristics of SARS-CoV-2:
“For the scenario, we modeled a fictional coronavirus pandemic, but we explicitly stated that it was not a prediction. Instead, the exercise served to highlight preparedness and response challenges that would likely arise in a very severe pandemic. We are not now predicting that the [SARS-CoV-2] outbreak will kill 65 million people. Although our tabletop exercise included a mock novel coronavirus, the inputs we used for modeling the potential impact of that fictional virus are not similar to [SARS-CoV-2].”
Holland: “In 2009, tribal children were administered the HPV vaccine. Over 24,000 girls were told they were being given wellness shots, in many cases without the informed consent of their parent or guardian. […] And these girls became severely injured. Some of them developed seizures, some of them developed cancer. And 7 girls died. […] And it was so bad, that the Parliament in India created a task force, they studied it, and they kicked out the Gates Foundation.”
Holland parrots a false claim that has already been debunked by other fact-checkers at PolitiFact, Reuters, and Snopes. Clinical trials have shown that the HPV vaccine has an excellent safety profile and no association with autoimmune and neurological diseases has been found, as Health Feedback reported in this review. Furthermore, the HPV vaccine has been found to reduce the transmission of HPV and the incidence of cervical pre-cancer[8-10].
The Indian government opened an investigation into the seven deaths that occurred after the HPV vaccination campaign and concluded that none of the deaths were causally related to the vaccine. In 2013, Science reported:
“State investigations absolved the trial’s managers—PATH and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in New Delhi—of responsibility in the deaths. Five were evidently unrelated to the vaccine: One girl drowned in a quarry; another died from a snake bite; two committed suicide by ingesting pesticides; and one died from complications of malaria. The causes of death for the other two girls were less certain: one possibly from pyrexia, or high fever, and a second from a suspected cerebral hemorrhage. Government investigators concluded that pyrexia was “very unlikely” to be related to the vaccine, and likewise they considered a link between stroke and the vaccine as ‘unlikely.’”
And contrary to Holland’s claim, the Gates Foundation continues to work in India. The Indian government also made a public statement in 2017 (archived) confirming that the “[Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation] continues to collaborate and support the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.”
Willis: “A 2018 scientific study released in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health concluded that over 490,000 children in India developed paralysis as a result of the Gates-supported oral polio vaccine, that was administered between the years of 2000 and 2017.”
Willis bases his claim on a study titled “Correlation between Non-Polio Acute Flaccid Paralysis Rates and Pulse Polio Frequency in India” by Dhiman et al. His claim echoes another that has been traced back to anti-vaccination activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and found to be false by PolitiFact and AFP Fact Check.
The title of the study alone contradicts Willis’ claim, as the term “non-polio acute flaccid paralysis” (NFAFP) means that the paralysis was not caused by polio. Cases of non-polio acute flaccid paralysis have been traced back to other viruses such as enteroviruses. In the study, the authors noted a correlation between the number of doses of the oral polio vaccine and the incidence of NPAFP. This led them to hypothesize that “the frequency of pulse polio administration is directly or indirectly related to the incidence of NPAFP.”
However, the study is purely correlative and does not provide conclusive evidence of a causal association as Willis claims. The authors themselves state that “It is crucial to note that a mere association with regression analyses does not prove a causal relationship. Aggregated variables examining cross-sectional data which have no bearing on what happens to individuals can result in ecological fallacies, and necessitates more in-depth analyses.”
It is important to note that the oral polio vaccine uses a weakened strain of poliovirus that can regain its ability to cause disease (see Health Feedback’s previous review of a news report about vaccine-derived polio). This occurs when the weakened strain circulates within a population with low rates of immunization for a prolonged period of time. According to the World Health Organization:
“On rare occasions, if a population is seriously under-immunized, an excreted vaccine-virus can continue to circulate for an extended period of time. The longer it is allowed to survive, the more genetic changes it undergoes. In very rare instances, the vaccine-virus can genetically change into a form that can paralyse – this is what is known as a circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus (cVDPV).”
It takes a long time for a cVDPV to occur. Generally, the strain will have been allowed to circulate in an un- or under-immunized population for a period of at least 12 months. Circulating VDPVs occur when routine or supplementary immunization activities (SIAs) are poorly conducted and a population is left susceptible to poliovirus, whether from vaccine-derived or wild poliovirus. Hence, the problem is not with the vaccine itself, but low vaccination coverage. If a population is fully immunized, they will be protected against both vaccine-derived and wild polioviruses.”
Data from the World Health Organization show that between 2000 and 2017, there were 17 cases of VDPV.
Willis: “In partnership with MIT, Bill Gates has developed a new technology that allows vaccines to be injected under your skin, along with all your medical records. The quantum dot tattoo will implant an invisible certificate that can be scanned by authorities using a cellphone app and infrared light.”
This is a reference to a study by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which explored a potential technology for delivering vaccines together with biocompatible microparticles. This would theoretically enable accurate vaccination records to be maintained in regions with low levels of healthcare resources.
However, this technology does not involve the implanting of medical records or an “invisible certificate”, as claimed. This study has also been cited in the unfounded conspiracy theory that vaccines would be used to microchip and surveil people, also covered by fact-checks from the BBC, Reuters, and Snopes.
Willis: “According to the NIH website, programs are being developed to allow human immunization via mosquito bites. It was Science magazine that coined the phrase ‘flying syringes’.”
Willis references a news article by Science published more than a decade ago in March 2010, which reported a proof-of-concept study in Japan by Yamamoto et al. that examined the use of mosquitoes to deliver vaccines in animal models.
His claim is inaccurate and clearly contradicted by the report, since the researchers behind the study acknowledged that this method cannot be used for human immunization. According to the Science article:
“There’s a huge variation in the number of mosquito bites one person received compared with the next, so people exposed to the transgenic mosquitoes would get vastly different doses of the vaccine; it would be a bit like giving some people one measles jab and others 500 of them. No regulatory agency would sign off on that, says molecular biologist Robert Sinden of Imperial College London. Releasing the mosquitoes would also mean vaccinating people without their informed consent, an ethical no-no. Yoshida concedes that the mosquito would be ‘unacceptable’ as a human vaccine-delivery mechanism.”
- 1 – Anderson et al. (2020) The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2. Nature Medicine.
- 2 – Wan et al. (2020) Receptor Recognition by the Novel Coronavirus from Wuhan: an Analysis Based on Decade-Long Structural Studies of SARS Coronavirus. Journal of Virology.
- 3 – Wu et al. (2012) Mechanisms of Host Receptor Adaptation by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus. Journal of Biological Chemistry.
- 4 – Wrapp et al. (2020) Cryo-EM structure of the 2019-nCoV spike in the prefusion conformation. Science.
- 5 – Liu et al. (2020) No Credible Evidence Supporting Claims of the Laboratory Engineering of SARS-CoV-2. Emerging Microbes and Infections.
- 6 – Xiao et al. (2020) HIV-1 did not contribute to the 2019-nCoV genome. Emerging Microbes and Infections.
- 7 – Zhang et al. (2020) Protein Structure and Sequence Reanalysis of 2019-nCoV Genome Refutes Snakes as Its Intermediate Host and the Unique Similarity between Its Spike Protein Insertions and HIV-1. Journal of Proteome Research.
- 8 – Drolet et al. (2019) Population-level impact and herd effects following the introduction of human papillomavirus vaccination programmes: updated systematic review and meta-analysis. The Lancet.
- 9 – Spinner et al. (2019) Human Papillomavirus Vaccine Effectiveness and Herd Protection in Young Women. Pediatrics.
- 10 – Berenson et al. (2019) Change in Human Papillomavirus Prevalence Among U.S. Women Aged 18–59 Years, 2009–2014. Obstetrics and Gynecology.
- 11 – Dhiman et al. (2018) Correlation between Non-Polio Acute Flaccid Paralysis Rates with Pulse Polio Frequency in India. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
- 12 – Morens et al. (2019) Acute Flaccid Myelitis: Something Old and Something New. mBio.
- 13 – McHugh et al. (2019) Biocompatible near-infrared quantum dots delivered to the skin by microneedle patches record vaccination. Science.
- 14 – Yamamoto et al. (2010) Flying vaccinator; a transgenic mosquito delivers a Leishmania vaccine via blood feeding. Insect Molecular Biology.