June 5, 2023

In this April 26, 2021 file photo, a nursing student administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center at UNLV, in Las Vegas. On Friday, April 21, 2023, The Associated Press reported on stories circulating online incorrectly claiming the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are no longer authorized in the U.S. because of safety concerns. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)

A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the facts:


Root canals don’t cause heart attacks, experts say

CLAIM: The No. 1 cause of heart attacks is a tooth treated for a root canal.

THE FACTS: There’s no credible scientific evidence that having a root canal can cause a heart attack, according to endodontists and cardiologists. But social media posts claiming there’s a causal link between the two are perpetuating a century-old myth. The claims, which amassed thousands of likes on Facebook this week, were made in a video featuring a narrator who says “the No. 1 cause of heart attack is a root canal treated tooth, plain and simple, not correlation, not link, cause and effect.” The video references a highly criticized 2019 documentary. “There’s no scientific evidence to suggest that root canals are linked to heart attacks or other diseases such as cancer,” according to Dr. Michael Reddy, dean of the school of dentistry at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Stefan Zweig, president of the American Association of Endodontists, agreed, saying, “There is no credible evidence that having root canal therapy can cause a heart attack.” The false claim stems from 1920s research that “has since been disproved through controlled research studies,” Reddy said. A researcher at the time believed bacteria stuck in dentinal tubules during root canal treatment could “leak,” causing disease in other parts of the body, according to the American Association of Endodontists. As a result, he advocated for the infected teeth to be removed, rather than repaired and preserved with a root canal procedure. However, his research techniques were quickly criticized and were disproved by better-designed studies in the 1930s, according to the AAE. The Journal of the American Dental Association later reviewed and further discredited the 1920s research. Root canal treatments – which involve removing inflamed or infected tissue from inside the tooth, cleaning the space and filling it to prevent bacteria from re-entering – help the mouth get rid of an infection. These procedures are safe while allowing the patient to keep their tooth, Zweig said. Cardiologists confirmed there’s no link between root canal treatments and heart attacks. “That’s a myth, that’s a legend,” said Dr. Matthew Martinez, director of sports cardiology at Atlantic Health System in Morristown Medical Center in New Jersey. Instead, he said, heart attacks result from a blockage in a coronary artery. Coronary artery disease most often causes such a blockage. That frequently results from poor control of risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, obesity and sedentary lifestyle, he said.

— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in New York contributed this report.


Shift to updated COVID vaccine isn’t tied to safety concerns

CLAIM: The COVID-19 mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are no longer authorized in the U.S. because of safety concerns.

THE FACTS: Federal officials sidelined only the original formulation of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, in favor of those companies’ updated shots. The tweaked versions target the dominant omicron variant as well as an early strain of the coronavirus. The decision was not about safety. The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday announced that anyone getting a COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer or Moderna moving forward will receive the “bivalent” shot. The bivalent vaccines rolled out last fall as a booster dose and consist of half the original recipe and half protection against the BA.4 and BA.5 versions of omicron. But a flurry of social media posts have misrepresented the news to suggest that the vaccines are being pulled because of safety concerns. “WOW – The Moderna and Pfizer Covid 19 vaccines are NO LONGER AUTHORIZED for use in the United States,” reads one popular tweet. “They must be finding more and more side effects. Who else is thankful they stood strong and didn’t get the jab?” The shift has nothing to do with safety concerns about the vaccines, which have saved millions of lives since their debut in late 2020. And the FDA noted on Twitter that the original Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, while no longer authorized for emergency use, still retain their license. “The move to bivalent shots is to simplify the vaccination schedule, not because of any safety issues,” Daniel Salmon, a Johns Hopkins University professor and director of its Institute for Vaccine Safety, said in an email. Likewise, FDA spokeswoman Abby Capobianco said that such claims tying the discontinuation of the monovalent shots to safety “are entirely false and without basis in fact.” “The FDA continuously and rigorously monitors data regarding the use of the monovalent and bivalent COVID-19 vaccines and all the data shows that the vaccines are safe,” Capobianco said in a statement. While the evidence suggests that the original vaccines continue to protect against serious disease, Capobianco said, data from the use of the bivalent shots as boosters “have emerged indicating that the bivalent vaccine provides improved protection compared to the original monovalent mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.” The simplification of the vaccine regimen is also rooted in the fact that most people have now been vaccinated, infected or both, Capobianco added. In that vein, the agency said most people can now simply receive one dose of the bivalent vaccine, even if it’s their first shot.

— Associated Press writer Angelo Fichera in Philadelphia contributed this report.


Posts misrepresent film about Ukraine war

CLAIM: Video shows people “staging” Ukraine war footage.

THE FACTS: The video shows a behind-the-scenes look at the making of “Nadija,” or “Hope” in English, a feature film about a true story of a pregnant Ukrainian girl who was left alone after her family was killed in the ongoing war after Russia’s invasion. The film was shot in Latvia, not Ukraine, and the film’s director posted the clips on TikTok. Social media users are sharing a video that shows men in uniforms carrying weapons as they enter a building, while a camera crew films them. The video then cuts to clips of explosions going off inside the building and the crew continues to film. “It’s all staged propaganda,” states a video on Facebook featuring the clips. But the video shows clips from the making of “Hope” that were posted by director Artem Kocharian, who moved from Ukraine to Latvia in February 2022, at the start of the war. “The film was shot in Latvia about the tragic story of a girl who, in the first two months of a full-scale invasion, loses all her relatives and remains pregnant all by herself,” Kocharian told the AP in Ukrainian through direct messages on Instagram. “In the video used by the propagandists, the moment of filming the tragic scene of the loss of the beloved of the main character.” An Instagram page for “Hope” notes that Riga Municipal Police officers portrayed Ukrainian soldiers in the film. Further, one clip featured in the Facebook video, which shows a camera operator filming explosions was posted by the special effects agency on Instagram last month. The scene was filmed at a former military base in Sigulda, a town in Latvia, which now serves as a venue for laser tag.

— Associated Press writer Arijeta Lajka in New York contributed this report.


UN report did not call for decriminalizing sex between adults and minors

CLAIM: A new United Nations report calls for decriminalizing sexual activity between adults and minors.

THE FACTS: A report published in March by the International Commission of Jurists in collaboration with the U.N’s AIDS agency called for enforcing minimum age of consent laws in a non-discriminatory manner. It did not call for decriminalizing all sexual activity between minors and adults, spokespersons for the U.N. and the commission confirmed. The claim began with an April 14 blog post titled “UN report calls for decriminalization of all sexual activity, including between adults and children,” which cited specific passages of a document issued by the International Commission of Jurists in March. The claim quickly circulated across social media platforms. But the posts misrepresent the document. The report, titled “The 8 March Principles for a Human Rights-Based Approach to Criminal Law Proscribing Conduct Associated with Sex, Reproduction, Drug Use, HIV, Homelessness and Poverty,” is a set of legal principles. “The 8 March Principles do not call for the decriminalization of sex with children, nor do they call for the abolition of a domestically prescribed minimum age of consent to sex,” the International Commission of Jurists said in a statement Thursday. “Indeed, the ICJ stresses that States have a clear obligation under international law to protect children from all forms of abuses, such as child sexual abuse, including through the criminalization of such conduct.” Erin Murphy, a law professor at New York University, concurred that the document is actually a “strong statement in favor of enforcing these laws against sex with minors.” In the passages being misrepresented, the document calls for enforcing criminal law related to minimum age of consent in a non-discriminatory way, and that enforcement not be “linked to the sex/gender of participants or age of consent to marriage.” Murphy said that the document isn’t “making a judgment about the precise age of consent a jurisdiction should set.” “It’s a statement that says: if you set a minimum age of consent, you shouldn’t allow people to evade it by getting married,” she said, noting that some U.S. states don’t have a minimum age for marriage, which can serve as a legal loophole to age of consent laws. The report goes on to say that sexual activity involving people below a minimum age of consent “may be consensual in fact, if not in law.” “In this context, the enforcement of criminal law should reflect the rights and capacity of persons under 18 years of age to make decisions about engaging in consensual sexual conduct and their right to be heard in matters concerning them,” the document states. But this is not suggesting that children can consent to sex with older adults, as the blog post falsely claims. Murphy said that this refers to situations where laws “set a minimum age of consent that don’t necessarily reflect the actual practice of sexual intimacy among young people.” “If the age of consent in a jurisdiction is set at 18, say, or 17, but in that jurisdiction, you know, it’s not uncommon for high school juniors to have sexually intimate relationships with high school freshmen, then you can run into real opportunities for enforcement bias or just to turn what are really on their face consensual sexual relationships into acts of illegality,” she said. Likewise, Christine Stegling, UNAIDS deputy executive director for policy, advocacy and knowledge, said in a statement to the AP: “In the application of law, it is recognized that criminal sanctions are not appropriate against adolescents of similar ages for consensual non-exploitative sexual activity.” U.N. spokesman Stéphane Dujarric also addressed the false claims at a press briefing on Tuesday, calling them “malicious misreporting on a recent report on the age of legal consent.”

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