An image shared tens of thousands of times on social media purports to show an article from Global News that says the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine is only 12 percent effective. This is false; the Canadian news organization did not publish the article, and Pfizer's clinical trial data showed the vaccine to be 95 percent effective.

"Aaaaand finally some honesty," says a May 20, 2022 tweet from Olympic pairs figure skating champion Jamie Sale.

The tweet includes an image that looks like an article from the Global News website with the headline, "Pfizer clinical trial data reveals the company's COVID vaccine has a 12% efficacy rate."

AFP asked Sale for a link to the supposed article but she did not respond. She has posted a series of tweets opposing Canada's strict Covid-19 vaccine requirements for travel.

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Screenshot of a tweet taken on June 2, 2022

The same image can be found in Facebook posts, including here and here.

Contacted by AFP, a spokesperson for Global News said: "We can confirm that the headline and caption in question were never published on our site and they are falsely associated with the Global News brand."

A search for the headline on the Global News website did not find the article -- instead, it revealed a story from 2020 reporting the Pfizer vaccine to be 95 percent effective.

A Google search for the headline also did not find an article by Global News. Instead, it surfaced fact-checking articles from Full Fact and the Reuters news agency.

Canada's CTV News has also been the target of posts sharing altered images made to look like genuine news coverage.

12 percent efficacy

As AFP previously reported, 12 percent is not an accurate measure of the efficacy of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine, according to information released by the company and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Claims that the vaccine is only 12 percent effective can be traced to an April 3, 2022 Substack article published by Sonia Elijah, who writes for Trial Site News -- a website that has promoted unproven Covid-19 treatments.

In her blog post, Elijah claims the vaccine's efficacy should be calculated with figures on page 42 of a December 2020 document that includes data Pfizer shared with the FDA. It says: "Among 3,410 total cases of suspected but unconfirmed Covid-19 in the overall study population, 1,594 occurred in the vaccine group vs. 1,816 in the placebo group."

However, those individuals did not have Covid-19 cases confirmed by a PCR test.

Pfizer's clinical trial protocols make clear that participants were told to make an appointment for a PCR test if they experienced recognized symptoms, including fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat or loss of taste/smell.

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How the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine uses genetic information from SARS-CoV-2 to stimulate the body's immune response ( AFP / John SAEKI, Laurence CHU)

Jeffrey Morris, director of biostatistics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, explained on his website that the 3,410 "suspected but unconfirmed" cases were people who had "any symptom mentioned in the list, which of course could come from many causes, not just Covid-19 infections."

He said: "Since obviously the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine was not intended to prevent all coughs, fevers, chills, sore throats, muscle pain, shortness of breath, vomiting, etc., from any cause, it would be ridiculous to include all reports of such common symptoms as Covid-19 cases for the purpose of computing Vaccine Efficacy."

While these social media posts attribute the 12 percent figure to Pfizer's "clinical trial data," other posts have referenced a pre-print study from the New York State Department of Health that US media covered.

The study found the lowest dose of the Pfizer vaccine -- given to children aged 5-11 -- was only 12 percent effective against infection during the Omicron wave that hit the state in December 2021 and January 2022. Despite the finding, the researchers concluded: "Vaccination of children 5-11 years was protective against severe disease and is recommended."

More of AFP's reporting on inaccurate claims about vaccines can be found here.