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Debunk: No, the first UK volunteer in a Covid-19 vaccine trial has not died

Elisa Granato was one of the first volunteers in a Covid-19 vaccine trial in the UK – and she’s alive and well.

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A FALSE CLAIM that a patient in a UK trial for a Covid-19 vaccine died after being injected has resurfaced in Ireland in recent days, months after it was originally shared and debunked.

Postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oxford Elisa Granato was one of the first two people injected with a potential Covid-19 vaccine in a trial in the UK in April.

Within days of participating in the trial, false claims spread on social media that said Granato had died as a result of the vaccine trial.

The false claim suggests that “Elisa had complications a few hours after taking the vaccine and died while on admission”.

One post sharing the false claim has been viewed over 24,000 times on Facebook since it was shared on 4 August.

Another variation, which has been copied, pasted, and shared by multiple social media users, tells readers to “get rolling up your sleeve for that killer shot”.

Elisa Granato False Claim

One post sharing a screenshot of an article announcing her ‘death’ was originally captioned “Everyone ready? #kungflu”, with a vaccine emoji and skull emoji. It was edited shortly after it was posted to also include “#billgates”, despite no apparent link between the article and Bill Gates.

Bill Gates has been the subject of a significant number of false claims and conspiracy theories surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic that TheJournal.ie has already debunked, such as this onethis one, and this one.    

False rumours

In fact, Granato is still alive.

Granato made a statement on Twitter shortly after the rumour first circulated to say that she was doing well and that an article claiming she had died was fake.

She spoke to the BBC in a video on 26 April, when she said that was “very much alive”.

The UK Department of Health and Social Care also stated that the claim the first volunteer in a UK Covid-19 vaccine trial had died was untrue.

The claim’s resurgence

The false claim was originally shared widely at the end of April, but it has recently picked up speed again in August – particularly in Ireland.

The claim originally circulated in late April, with worldwide Google searches for Elisa Granato spiking between 26 April and 2 May and picking up some traction again in August.

Google Trends worldwide A Google Trends chart showing interest in the search term Elisa Granato worldwide over the last 12 months. Source: Google Trends

In Ireland, Google searches for Elisa Granato were also high during that period in late April, and fell in May, June, and July – but they have since peaked between 2 August and 8 August.

Google Trends Ireland A Google Trends chart showing interest in the search term Elisa Granato in Ireland over the last 12 months. Source: Google Trends

The 100 figure on the Google Trends chart does not indicate the number of searches for the term, but rather, points to the most popular time period for searches of that term in a particular location.

Other spikes in the chart are assigned a number that represents the search interest at that time relative to the highest point on the chart.

In Ireland, searches for Elisa Granato have been scored a 100 between 2 August and 8 August, and a 98 between 26 April and 2 May – meaning it is a more popular search term in Ireland now than when the false claim first circulated months ago.

The most popular related search topics worldwide were “death”, “vaccine”, and “United Kingdom”.

Staying alive

Although the claim has resurfaced, Granato remains alive and well.

Granato has been active on her Twitter account, including sharing photos of herself as recently as 9 August.

She is currently a postdoctoral researcher in the University of Oxford’s zoology department.

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On Wednesday, Granato delivered a presentation at a virtual conference on Microbial Ecology and Evolution.

She presented on the topic of the evolution of mass cell suicide in bacterial warfare.

The press office at the University of Oxford did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

The vaccine trial which Granato volunteered for was to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of a potential Covid-19 vaccine developed by a team in the University of Oxford.

In an initial trial of 800 people, half were given the Covid-19 vaccine, while half were given a control vaccine that protects against meningitis, not coronavirus.

The use of a control is a standard practice in scientific research to ensure the accuracy of results. 

Participants were aware they could receive either the Covid-19 vaccine or the control vaccine, but did not know which vaccine they specifically were given.

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There is a lot of false news and scaremongering being spread in Ireland at the moment about coronavirus. Here are some practical ways for you to assess whether the messages that you’re seeing – especially on WhatsApp – are true or not. 

STOP, THINK AND CHECK 

Look at where it’s coming from. Is it someone you know? Do they have a source for the information (e.g. the HSE website) or are they just saying that the information comes from someone they know? A lot of the false news being spread right now is from people claiming that messages from ‘a friend’ of theirs. Have a look yourself – do a quick Google search and see if the information is being reported elsewhere. 

Secondly, get the whole story, not just a headline. A lot of these messages have got vague information (“all the doctors at this hospital are panicking”) and don’t mention specific details. This is often – but not always a sign – that it may not be accurate. 

Finally, see how you feel after reading it. A lot of these false messages are designed to make people feel panicked. They’re deliberately manipulating your feelings to make you more likely to share it. If you feel panicked after reading something, check it out and see if it really is true.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here

Have you gotten a message on WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter about coronavirus that you’re not sure about and want us to check it out? Message or mail us and we’ll look into debunking it. WhatsApp: 085 221 4696 or Email: answers@thejournal.ie

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