PolitiFact: Fact-checking ‘Plandemic,’ a documentary full of false conspiracy theories on the coronavirus

Before YouTube and Facebook removed it, a 26-minute video called “Plandemic: The Hidden Agenda Behind Covid-19” was viewed tens of millions of times on social media.
"Plandemic" is a video that makes unfounded assertions about the coronavirus.
"Plandemic" is a video that makes unfounded assertions about the coronavirus. [ YouTube ]
Published May 11, 2020|Updated July 28, 2020

If you’ve been on social media, there’s a good chance you’ve seen someone share Plandemic: The Hidden Agenda Behind COVID-19, a 26-minute video about the coronavirus pandemic.

The video is a deep dive into conspiracy theories about COVID-19, public health and the pharmaceutical industry. It discusses Dr. Anthony Fauci’s efforts to combat the AIDS epidemic during the 1980s and Bill Gates’ support of vaccination efforts around the world.

The film was produced by Elevate, a California production company run by Mikki Willis, who has more than 30,000 subscribers on YouTube. The video is billed as part one of an upcoming documentary.

Many of Willis’ videos highlight conspiracy theories. In one clip, Willis’ young son says Jeffrey Epstein didn’t kill himself. In another, Willis floats a debunked conspiracy that the coronavirus was "intentionally released."

In Plandemic, Willis interviews Dr. Judy Mikovits, a former scientist at the National Cancer Institute. Mikovits, before her work was discredited, was lauded in the late 2000s for her research on chronic fatigue syndrome. Mikovits makes several claims that are either unsupported or outright false.

Several readers asked us to look into Willis’ documentary. Copies of the film have been removed from YouTube and Facebook for violating the platforms’ community guidelines, but they still received tens of millions of views.

We fact-checked eight of Mikovits’ most misleading claims in the film.

‘I was held in jail with no charges’

This is inaccurate spin about Mikovits’ past legal problems. She was charged in 2011 with stealing computer data and related property from her former employer.

The Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Disease in Reno, Nevada, fired Mikovits in September 2011 as research director after her study linking a mouse retrovirus to chronic fatigue syndrome was discredited and retracted by Science, a prestigious peer-reviewed journal. In November 2011, the district attorney in Washoe County, Nevada, filed a criminal complaint against Mikovits for allegedly stealing computer data, notebooks and other property from the institute.

Mikovits was briefly jailed in California on criminal charges. On June 11, 2012, the district attorney’s office filed a petition to dismiss the charges without prejudice.

Mikovits says in Plandemic that the notebooks were “planted” in her house. She also alleged that the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases “paid off” investigators at the direction of Fauci, the director of the agency.

There is no evidence to support either claim. We reached out to the National Institutes of Health, which houses the NIAID, for a comment.

"The National Institutes of Health and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases are focused on critical research aimed at ending the COVID-19 pandemic and preventing further deaths," a spokesperson said in a statement. "We are not engaging in tactics by some seeking to derail our efforts."

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‘It’s very clear this virus was manipulated’

Scientists say it’s not. The genetic structure of the novel coronavirus rules out laboratory manipulation.

A Nature article published March 17 says the genetic makeup of the coronavirus, documented by researchers from several public health organizations, does not indicate it was altered. Instead, scientists have two plausible explanations for the origin of the virus: natural selection in an animal host, or natural selection in humans after the virus jumped from animals.

RELATED: What we know about the source of the coronavirus pandemic

"Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus," the article reads.

That finding does not rule out the possibility that Chinese researchers were studying the virus in a lab when it managed to spread outside the lab, although the government there has denied that.

‘This occurred from SARS 1 within a decade — that’s not naturally occurring’

This is a wrong explanation for the source of the novel coronavirus. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a new disease — it’s not derived from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

The novel coronavirus is similar to SARS in some respects. Both are human coronaviruses that originated in bats, cause respiratory illness and spread through coughs and sneezes.

But the viruses only have a 79 percent genetic similarity, according to researchers. The novel coronavirus is more genetically similar to other bat-derived coronaviruses than SARS.

Hospitals get ‘$13,000 from Medicare if you call it COVID-19’ when a patient dies

This is misleading. We rated a similar claim Half True.

The federal government is giving more money to hospitals that treat coronavirus patients. But there is no indication that hospitals are over-identifying patients as having COVID-19 — if anything, evidence suggests the illness is being underdiagnosed.

Medicare pays hospitals a set amount of money for the treatment of certain diagnoses, regardless of what the treatment actually costs. Medicare has determined that a hospital gets $13,000 if a COVID-19 patient on Medicare is admitted and $39,000 if the patient goes on a ventilator.

RELATED: Fact-check: Hospitals and COVID-19 payments

In addition, Medicare will pay hospitals a 20 percent “add-on” for COVID-19 patients. That’s a result of the CARES Act, the largest of the three federal stimulus laws enacted in response to the coronavirus, which was signed into law March 27.

Experts previously told PolitiFact that Congress included the add-on in the CARES Act because hospitals have lost revenue from routine care and elective surgeries. It is unlikely that physicians would falsify the data, as there are strict policies for reporting.

Hydroxychloroquine is ‘effective against these families of viruses’

This is unproven. There is no cure or vaccine for SARS or the novel coronavirus.

While some studies have found that hydroxychloroquine could mitigate some of the symptoms associated with COVID-19, other research has found no such effect. With more than 50 studies in the works, as well as an NIH clinical trial, it’s too soon to say whether the drug is a viable treatment for the coronavirus. (The most recent study, a large-scale study of nearly 1,400 New York-area patients with moderate to severe COVID-19, found that patients fared no better by taking hydroxychloroquine.)

RELATED: Hydroxychloroquine and coronavirus: what you need to know

Fauci tempered expectations for hydroxychloroquine during a March press conference after Trump touted the drug. And several states have restricted access to it given how little scientists know about how it affects the coronavirus.

‘The flu vaccines increase the odds by 36% of getting COVID-19’

This is inaccurate. Other fact-checkers have debunked similar claims.

In Plandemic, Mikovits points to a study published in January in the peer-reviewed journal Vaccine. The study found that, among personnel in the U.S. Defense Department between 2017 and 2018, the odds of getting coronaviruses were greater for vaccinated officials than unvaccinated officials.

But that doesn’t support Mikovits’ claim.

First of all, the study was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic. And scientists have noted flaws in its experimental design; for example, the number of vaccinated subjects was more than twice as large as the number of unvaccinated subjects.

Finally, nowhere in the study do the authors say flu vaccines increased subjects’ odds of getting a coronavirus by 36 percent. That bogus claim was added to the study in a March 11 story from

‘If you’ve ever had a flu vaccine, you were injected with coronaviruses’

This is inaccurate. Similar claims have also been debunked by other fact-checkers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most flu vaccines in the United States protect against four different kinds of viruses: influenza A (H1N1), influenza A (H3N2), and two influenza B viruses. Others protect against three kinds of flu viruses.

There are no coronaviruses in the flu shot. And there are no human coronavirus vaccines.

‘Wearing the mask literally activates your own virus. You’re getting sick from your own reactivated coronavirus expressions.’

There is no evidence to support this. We’re not sure what a "coronavirus expression" even is.

The CDC advises anyone who goes out in public to wear a mask. Since it can take up to 14 days for an infected person to exhibit symptoms, the goal is to prevent unwittingly spreading the coronavirus through coughs and sneezes.

RELATED: To fight COVID-19, CDC now says wear masks in public

Wearing a face mask prevents the spread of the coronavirus — it does not make people more susceptible to it.

"There is nothing about wearing a mask that would have any biologically relevant impact on viral activity," said Richard Peltier, an assistant professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, in an email. "Wearing a mask simply catches the droplets before they reach our mouth or nose. It isn’t rocket science, and Dr. Mikovits should know that."

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