The post has prompted local officials to issue a denial, calling it fake news.
At least four posts circulating among Filipino Facebook (FB) users, published on Jan. 1 and 2, are carrying a fabricated screenshot of a CNN report saying doctors “encourage” the administration of COVID-19 vaccines via the penis. Not true.
The fake report stated that the claim is based on “findings from a University of California study” conducted on 1,500 men. But a keyword search on Google, and a search through the University of California’s website, did not yield any such scientific research.
No news report with the title “Doctors encourage covid-19 vaccine injections in penis” turned up in a search through CNN’s website either.
The only legitimate reports in the search results were fact check articles by International Fact-Checking Network signatories BOOM, The Quint, and Alt News debunking the claim. All are based in India, where the fabrication also went viral.
A comparison with a screenshot of a legitimate CNN article also shows telling signs that the circulating screenshot is a fake. The hoax used serif fonts (with decorative strokes at the end of letters) and aligned its text to the center of the image. However, CNN uses sans serif fonts, and left alignment on its text.
Real CNN reports also carry a byline (or the name of the author) and publishing date below the headline. The hoax has neither.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are five routes of vaccine administration: the oral route (through the mouth), subcutaneous route (into a fatty, connective tissue), intramuscular route (into a muscle tissue), intradermal route (into the skin’s layers), and intranasal route (into the nose).
The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, the two vaccines so far given emergency use authorization by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “for the prevention of COVID-19” among people 18 years old and above, are both administered intramuscularly through the deltoid muscle, located at the uppermost part of the arm.
The two photos used in the hoax CNN report were also aggregated from unrelated sources.
The male doctor in one of the images is Mohitkumar Ardeshana, an internal medicine specialist who works at the Claremont Medical Center in California. Ardeshana’s photo could be found on the website of BioTE Medical, a company that promotes hormone optimization, which lists Claremont Medical Center as one of its providers.
Ardeshana was quoted in BOOM’s fact check article saying the viral screenshot “is completely fake.”
Meanwhile, a reverse image search of the illustration in the fake post showing a “safe area for injection” in the penis led to a website entry about penile self-injection procedure for erectile dysfunction treatment. It was published by the Kansas City-based Saint Luke’s Health System.
The posts carrying the fabricated CNN report made rounds among Filipino social media users shortly after Presidential Security Group (PSG) Commander Jesus P. Durante III confirmed that a “handful” of PSG members were injected with a COVID-19 vaccine “as early as September 2020.”
The Philippine FDA has not yet authorized the use of any COVID-19 vaccine in the country.
Of the four posts carrying the fake report flagged by VERA Files, two were shared in public FB groups: Memes For All and WOW~, one was published by the page Jem YT, while the other was posted by a private FB user.
They accumulated a total of over 3,400 reactions, 500 comments, and 1,700 shares. While many readers understood the posts to be satirical, there were a number who took the hoax CNN report as true and expressed violent reactions against vaccination.
Social media tool CrowdTangle also detected the circulation of the fabricated screenshot in several countries around the world, including Myanmar, Hong Kong, Nigeria, and the United States.