Just one day in the misinformation world of Andrew Bridgen

Andrew Bridgen MP; Wikimedia Commons

Andrew Bridgen may have apologised for breaching lobbying rules and breaking the MPs’ code of conduct, but he’s not letting up on his anti-vax campaign. Emma Monk analyses just one day of misinformation.

In the process of writing an article about former Conservative MP, Andrew Bridgen, having the whip removed for comparing the vaccine roll-out to the holocaust, I was simply overwhelmed by the sheer volume of misinformation he, and others, were tweeting about, and the misdirection that is used by prominent anti-vaxxers to spread their message.

So, I thought I would focus on just one day’s worth of Bridgen’s tweets, and will attempt to show how and why they are lies/misinformation/misdirection.

9:50am 23 Jan 2023

Bridgen’s morning of misinformation begins with:

Here, he tweets a picture of a box of blue surgical masks with a warning on the side saying the mask will not protect the user from catching Covid-19. Apparently, this is proof of “Another lie exposed, that the wearing of surgical masks offered any protection against viruses”.

A warning on the side of the flimsy, blue surgical masks, stating that that type of mask won’t protect the wearer (in this case, medical staff) is far from proof that masks offered no protection. There was a reason why staff on Covid-19 wards used much more sturdy masks and PPE than that – the blue masks could never offer the kind of protection medical staff needed.

However, as a means of lowering your chance of catching Covid-19 in day-to-day life and, more importantly, lowering your chance of passing it on if you are infected, they certainly help.

That warning on the box correctly states that those masks won’t prevent you from catching Covid-19. That’s a far cry from saying surgical masks offer no protection against viruses.

For more information on masks here is a fantastic, evidence based twitter thread by Professor of Primary Health Care, Trisha Greenhalgh.

09.52am, two minutes after posting the mask picture, Bridgen tweets:

This is a link to a Substack ‘article’ by Steve Kirsch, a very well known spreader of Covid-19 vaccine misinformation (he has previously claimed vaccines kill twice as many people as they save), entitled “UK ONS admits their data is flawed; the vaccines may not be beneficial after all. Sorry about that.”

The Substack ‘article’ was a series of claims that have been made by other prominent anti-vaccine proponents, including a letter they sent to the ONS. While they claim “the regulator agreed they were right” and it looks like there is a hyperlink to back this up, the sentence is actually just underlined, so no means of seeing if that’s true.

Having dug around, I have found what appears to be a copy of the regulator’s response and it absolutely does NOT agree with the points they made in the letter! It explains succinctly why each claim Kirsch and others have made is either incorrect, or that they have misinterpreted data, or used data out of context in a way that it shouldn’t be used.

I’m not going to cover it point by point, we’d be here all day! But my hyperlinks do work, and I’ve linked the article and the regulator’s response above. Have a read for yourself if you like.

10am. So presumably a quick sip of his coffee, and 8 minutes later, Bridgen tweets:

This is a link to a petition set up calling for “Justice for Andrew Bridgen”. The petition doesn’t really specify what that means, but the content is shown below:

I thought I’d take a quick look at the claims made in the petition.

Claim #1 Andrew Bridgen has had the whip removed for questioning the safety of the Covid mRNA vaccines.

Andrew Bridgen had the whip removed for tweeting that the vaccines were “the biggest crime against humanity since the Holocaust”. Chief Whip Simon Hart’s statement made it very clear, that while the months of anti-vax propaganda Bridgen has been spreading was causing harm and costing lives, it was the holocaust comparison that was the trigger, saying “Andrew Bridgen has crossed a line, causing great offence in the process.”

Claim #2 Concerns about the Vaccines have also been raised by a number of highly qualified Doctors 

This is less of a lie and more a case of misdirection. A very, very small number of doctors have been raising concerns about the safety of the vaccines. These are individuals who have found fame and platforms they never had before, in spreading antivax misinformation. Some of them are the same doctors who claimed the pandemic was no big deal in early 2020, claimed the pandemic was over in mid 2020, late 2020, early 2021, mid 2021 (you get the picture), claimed children couldn’t catch Covid-19, then claimed they couldn’t spread Covid-19, and claimed locking up the elderly and vulnerable, while everyone else went about their lives was a sound Pandemic response. They do exist, some are indeed highly qualified doctors, but their stance (which has given them a huge following) has been very wrong throughout the last three years.

The overwhelming majority of doctors are happy that the vaccines are incredibly safe in the vast majority of people. As with any vaccine, or medical treatment, there are risks associated with it, and those risks are clear and explained in every patient leaflet given out in the vaccine centres. Major side effects are extremely rare.

Claim #3 The official channel for reporting vaccine damage the YELLOW CARD has recorded 1,517 reports of death and 1,102,228 reports of severe adverse reactions.

Again, misdirection. The Yellow Card system is the official channel for reporting suspected vaccine deaths and side effects. Anyone can use it to report their own experience. There is no way to tell from those numbers alone how many were caused by the vaccine and how many happened by pure chance. When someone suffers a health problem it is completely natural to look for the reason why. And if you’ve had a vaccination in the days, weeks or months prior to the incident, it is really tempting to assume that was the cause, but it often isn’t. This is especially important when you consider we have been vaccinating the very elderly and frail, many of whom have a high likelihood of suffering a severe health issue on any given day whether they receive a vaccine or not.

That said, every single death reported via the Yellow Card system is fully investigated.

The ONS publish the number of deaths where the Covid-19 vaccine is a factor, and where it is the direct cause.

Between March 2020 and December 2022 in England, there have been 59 deaths where one of the vaccines was involved, of which 51 had the vaccine as the direct cause.

Those 59 deaths are utterly tragic for the family and friends of the deceased, but put in context of the 144,311,232 vaccine doses that have been administered in that same time period, you can see how incredibly rare they are.

It is also worth adding the comparison of the 182,883 deaths involving Covid-19 itself in England over the same time period.

And one final piece of context, the number of deaths caused by Paracetamol poisoning in England and Wales has averaged out at 211 per year since 2010. That’s a rate seven times higher than the Covid-19 vaccine.

Now, Andrew Bridgen didn’t necessarily write that petition himself, but he wholeheartedly supports it, retweeting it, asking to get the petition to 25,000 signatures.

So, on we go. There’s an 18-minute gap until his next tweet at 10.18am:

Bridgen claims the data release from the US shows that vaccines can no longer be described as safe and effective. He shared a three month old clip from Fox News where various claims were made about the safety of the vaccines in the US.

I took a look at the video and the claims being made by the presenter and his guest. But before I delve into those, a quick bit of background information on the V-Safe app they are discussing.

V-Safe is a US app that lets you register your vaccine and report any side effects. Of the nearly 269 million people who have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine (with a total of 667,815,331 doses administered in total), only 10 million people have downloaded the app. I think it is safe to assume that it is more likely to be used by those who suffered side effects than those who didn’t. Having said that, 6.7 million users reported no health impacts at all.

Strangely, of those who did report an impact, White people were over-represented (77 per cent compared to 62 per cent of the population), Black people under-represented (6.2 per cent compared to 12.6 per cent of the population) and in each race category, women made up the majority of the reports (72 per cent amongst White respondents, and 7 7per cent amongst Black respondents). This highlights that the V-safe data is not representative of the whole population and therefore the data cannot be used to draw conclusions on the frequency of events in the whole population. There are lots of reasons why people may choose to take part in the app and report or not report their data.

ICAN, one of the main anti-vaccination groups in the US, took the US government to court to demand the raw data from V-Safe be made publicly available. They have created a dashboard allowing users to search the V-Safe data. It is that data that the claims are extracted from. Fortunately, I can also use that data to refute them!

Claim #1 – Of the 10 million users of the app ‘V-Safe’, 7.7 per cent had to seek medical care after vaccination. The commentator said “we’re talking emergency rooms, hospitalizations”

Yes, 7.7 per cent reported seeking medical care after the vaccination, but no, that didn’t automatically mean emergency rooms and hospitalizations.

As you can see for yourself, fewer than 10 per cent of the 7.7 per cent who required medical care needed hospitalization. Fifteen per cent of anyone over the age of three in the group reporting needing medical care visited the emergency room. The vast majority either used Telehealth (video call consultations with a doctor), or visited an Urgent Care centre, a drop-in clinic that deals with minor injuries and illnesses without needing an appointment.

As with the Yellow Card data above, these were self-reported incidents, some up to 12 months after vaccination, and we have no way of knowing how many incidents were caused by the vaccine.

In summary, of the 10 million self-selecting users of the V-Safe app, only 0.7 per cent reported being hospitalized, and this could have been for something non-vaccine related up to 12 months after the vaccination. I have no doubt that some of these cases will have been linked to the vaccine, but with this raw data it is impossible to tell.

Claim #2 – Another 25 per cent missed work or school. The attorney being interviewed by Fox News said “this is incredibly significant. They pushed the Covid vaccine by saying ‘look, not everyone will get seriously ill through Covid-19 but the vaccine will prevent you missing work and school’. ”

Firstly, to reach 25 per cent, they have lumped together those who said they missed school or work with those who said they were unable to do normal activities.

Secondly, this is completely normal! Almost every vaccination I have ever received has made me feel rubbish the next day and if I could take a day off, or my kids needed a day off, we took one.

This is very different to the amount of time off people often need to take following a Covid-19 infection.

Claim #3 – Four million of the 10 million reported joint pain. The attorney stated “Joint pain is an immune reaction. That’s something to be concerned about after vaccinations. Making their joints swell, potentially causing long term issues, that’s not a good idea.”

Yes, four million did report join pain, 1.7 million being classed as mild. Again, that’s really common after any vaccination. The fact that it is caused by an immune reaction, isn’t something to be concerned about, it is exactly what you would expect after triggering your immune system with a vaccination!

Nothing in the data says anything about joints swelling or there being long term issues.

You can have a look at the data yourself on the link above, but pain, fatigue, headache, muscle aches and swelling around the vaccination site, are incredibly common and are expected with most vaccinations. There doesn’t seem to me to be anything in that data that suggests the Covid-19 vaccines aren’t ‘safe or effective’ as Bridgen tweets.

So, those were his morning tweets. Going back through his account he follows this sort of pattern, tweeting three or four pieces of misinformation in quick succession first thing and then nothing else.

He tweeted out a Malcom X quote in the afternoon about media control that I’m pretty sure Malcom didn’t intend to be used by conspiracy theorists!

I have no intention of doing a regular daily debunk, but I think it’s important to show how misinformation gets put out there through both outright lies and by twisting data or ignoring context.