Story at a glance

  • An unsubstantiated claim that the coronavirus may have emerged from a U.S. military lab in Maryland and not in Wuhan, China, is gaining traction in Chinese media.
  • Chinese state media has also recently questioned the safety of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine following the death of 23 elderly people who had just received the jab.
  • The Associated Press notes researchers from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute reported an increase in Chinese media disinformation questioning the safety and efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine after it was discovered a Chinese vaccine was less effective than initially reported.

Chinese state media and government officials are encouraging COVID-19 conspiracy theories aimed at the U.S. as a team of scientists from the World Health Organization is in the country investigating the virus’ origins, according to The Associated Press (AP)

An unsubstantiated claim that the coronavirus may have emerged from a U.S. military lab in Maryland and not in Wuhan, China, is gaining traction in Chinese media as the country’s handling of the virus is becoming increasingly scrutinized. 


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The social media hashtag “American’s Ft. Detrick,” which was started by the Community Youth League, began trending on the Chinese social media platform Weibo last week as a government official through state media called for the WHO to investigate the U.S. Army base. 

The hashtag was viewed at least 1.4 billion times on the popular Chinese website. State media has been calling on authorities to investigate Fort Detrick since May. 

“If America respects the truth, then please open up Ft. Detrick and make public more information about the 200 or more bio-labs outside of the U.S., and please allow the WHO expert group to go to the U.S. to investigate the origins,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told state media. 

Chinese state media has also recently questioned the safety of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine following the death of 23 elderly people who had just received the jab. State media argued the vaccine was unsafe and accused media outlets in the west of ignoring the issue.

The WHO last week said it sees no evidence the vaccine contributed to the deaths of those individuals and urged that the shot should still be used. 

“Reports are in line with the expected, all-cause mortality rates and causes of death in the sub-population of frail, elderly individuals, and the available information does not confirm a contributory role for the vaccine in the reported fatal events,” WHO officials said in a statement.

The state media coverage came after a report from Brazilian researchers who discovered the efficacy of a Chinese vaccine was lower than officials claimed. The vaccine was found to be only about 50 percent effective when including mild cases, down from the initial claim of 78 percent efficacy. 

The AP notes researchers from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute reported an increase in Chinese media disinformation questioning the safety and efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine. 

China has faced criticism since early in the pandemic regarding its handling of the outbreak — which is believed to have originated in the city of Wuhan — and its lack of transparency. The first cases were believed to be connected to a seafood market in the city. 

Former President Trump and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had also previously pushed the conspiracy theory that the virus was created in a lab in Wuhan and released, contrary to reports published in the scientific journal Nature Medicine that there was no evidence for that. 

Published on Jan 25, 2021