Social media posts are peddling the baseless claim that the first recipient of a COVID-19 vaccine in the United Kingdom was actually a “crisis actor.” There is no evidence for that conspiracy theory.
But falsehoods attempting to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the moment, and on her identity, quickly followed.
Such nonsense claims of “actors” being used in high-profile events aren’t new: We’ve debunked similar claims that followed the death of George Floyd and the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, for example.
There is absolutely no evidence the women seen in the different photos are the same person, and the posts don’t offer any. Instead, they simply string photos of women together and present it as supposed proof for the wild conspiracy theory. There are noticeable differences between the women in the photos.
A reverse image search shows the last picture is of a woman falling during a September protest — which was against pandemic-related restrictions — in London. The photo is on Getty Images, and the caption does not identify the woman. Readers can compare that image to a photo of Keenan without a mask and to the actor’s photos.
Keenan received the shot at the University Hospital, Coventry in England and was discharged on Dec. 9. Multiple news outlets identified her as a grandmother nearing 91 and a former jewelry shop assistant. The National Health Service in England said Keenan was originally from Ireland and has lived in Coventry for more than 60 years.
Some posts, including a tweet from a well-followed conservative activist, also falsely suggested that the footage of Keenan receiving the shot had been used by CNN in October.
“Excuse me, but how is the exact same person who’s the ‘first to get vaccinated’ today…also in a CNN photo wearing the exact same clothes, in the exact same chair, and getting a shot back in October?” the tweet said. “Which one of these lying stories did you want us to pretend is true?”
But CNN merely featured the video of Keenan receiving the shot, along with several other recent videos, at the top of an older story related to COVID-19. It’s not uncommon for news websites to feature newer videos on older pages.
Those who visit the Oct. 22 story — titled “Faulty US Covid-19 response meant 130,000 to 210,000 avoidable deaths, report finds” — can see the video including Keenan is in a carousel of several videos that were produced after the story in question. Archived versions of the same story — from Oct. 30, Nov. 1 and Nov. 3, for example — demonstrate that the videos featured at the top repeatedly change.
The claim doesn’t make sense for other reasons. The screenshot included in the tweet shows that the video of Keenan includes the headline “UK Patients Now First in World to Get Authorized COVID Vaccine.” So the video was clearly using the footage to depict the first vaccinations.
Also, the video of Keenan lists the number of U.S. deaths attributed to COVID-19 as being more than 285,000; that number was reached this week. The death toll now stands at more than 290,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University as of Dec. 10.
“A woman falls as police move in to disperse protesters in Trafalgar Square in London on September 26, 2020, at a ‘We Do Not Consent!’ mass rally against vaccination and government restrictions designed to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus, including the wearing of masks and taking tests for the virus.” Getty Images. 26 Sep 2020.
Booth, William and Karla Adam. “Britain launches the West’s first mass coronavirus vaccination — with a Maggie and a William Shakespeare first in line.” Washington Post. 8 Dec 2020.
Fox, Maggie. “Faulty US Covid-19 response meant 130,000 to 210,000 avoidable deaths, report finds.” CNN. 22 Oct 2020.
“Landmark moment as first NHS patient receives COVID-19 vaccination.” Press release, National Health Service in England. 8 Dec 2020.
“Liz Scott.” StarNow.com. Accessed 9 Dec 2020.
“Margaret Keenan Is the First Person to Get the COVID Vaccine.” YouTube. Good Morning Britain. 8 Dec 2020.
“Margaret Keenan receives guard of honour after getting first Covid vaccine.” YouTube. The Telegraph. 8 Dec 2020.
“World’s First Patient to Receive COVID-19 Vaccination Discharged from University Hospital, Coventry.” Press release, University Hospitals, Coventry & Warwickshire. 9 Dec 2020.