How the US anti-vaccine disinformation on COVID-19 is appropriated in China

COVID-19 2020-2021

Image from Globalvoices Civic Media Observatory Project

A heavily edited video commenting on US pharmaceutical corporation Pfizer’s research on the COVID vaccine and medicine produced by Project Veritas, a controversial far-right media outlet that spreads disinformation and conspiracy theories, has gone viral in mainland China with additional claims that the COVID-19 virus was mutated and spread by the multinational biotechnology giant, Pfizer. 

Without verifying the content, China propagandists and spokespeople cited the source and urged the US government to respond to the claim and reveal the “truth.”

The viral video is a production of a deceptive undercover operation which claimed that a research lead, allegedly Jordan Tristan Walker, at Pfizer revealed that the company is exploring mutating COVID-19 for new vaccines

In the video, a man casually talked in a bar after being asked if Pfizer is “ultimately thinking about mutating COVID”: 

…one of the things we are exploring is like why don’t we just mutate it ourselves, so we could focus on, create, preemptively develop new vaccines, right? So, we have to do that. If we are gonna do that though, there’s a risk of like — as you could imagine no one wants to be having a pharma company mutating fucking viruses. You have to be like very controlled to make sure that this virus that you mutate does not create something like you know, goes everywhere. Which, I suspect is the way that virus started in Wuhan, to be honest. Like, it makes no sense that this virus popped out of nowhere…

As the video is heavily edited, it is unclear if the man was speaking parenthetically or hypothetically about Pfizer's research.

In the English-speaking world, conspiracies attached to the video are typical of anti-vaxxers, slamming Pfizer for allegedly unethical practices and China for allegedly leaking the artificially made COVID-19 virus in Wuhan. 

Pfizer, in a statement on January 27, 2023, denied that the company mutated the virus in its development of the COVID-19 vaccine. But it added that it undertakes in-vitro work to identify potentially resistant mutations in the development of Paxlovid, an oral treatment for COVID-19:

[…] In a limited number of cases when a full virus does not contain any known gain of function mutations, such virus may be engineered to enable the assessment of antiviral activity in cells.

It also stressed:

these studies are required by US and global regulators for all antiviral products and are carried out by many companies and academic institutions in the US and around the world.

Major social media platforms, including YouTube, have taken down the video. Despite Pfizer’s clarification, China state-funded media outlets, including Daihe Daily, Global Times, and CGTN, continued distributing the video without verification or scrutiny on social media. 

While Global Times’ chief commentator Hu Xijin acknowledged that Pfizer had clarified its research and that the content of the interview was ambivalent and out of the context, he redirected the focus to the role of the US government on Weibo:


If there were a revelation like this in China, the government and the public would deal with it in a serious manner. All companies involved would have to explain and the government would form an investigation team to reveal the truth to the public. But the US has kept silent. Only very few media outlets and a few unimportant people have commented on this. Officials responsible for monitoring drugs and Congress members are playing dumb. Where’s the FBI? Where are the investigative reporters? Even if the video is fabricated, and Walker is indeed an actor, they have to clarify the picture and clear the guilt of Pfizer…

Hu’s comment resonated on Chinese social media. Zhou Chengyang, another commentator with more than 1.8 million followers on Weibo, for example, demanded the US government apologize to the world. Citing a large number of unverified claims, Zhou asserted that the COVID-19 virus originated from laboratory leakage in the US and that the US was responsible for the global outbreak.

Even China’s spokesperson Hua Chunying suggested on Twitter a probe into the US role in the global COVID-19 outbreak:

The viral video has induced a large number of anti-US comments among online patriots.

However, many Chinese social media users are also aware of the infamous track record of  Project Veritas and rebuked the selective appropriation of the conspiracy theory in the deceptive video. A well-circulated post on WeChat pointed out (via Digital Times):

如果你选择相信这篇报道,那你就不能仅仅相信辉瑞制作了新冠病毒,也得相信virus started in Wuhan.

If you believe in the claims, you can’t just believe that Pfizer plays its part in the COVID-19 virus mutation, but also the claim that the virus started in Wuhan.

@dbezuqun, a mainland Chinese citizen news outlet on Twitter, was outraged by the Chinese social media discourse:

Online CCP propagandists keep distributing video clips about  “Pfizer manufactures and spreads virus” on Douyin [Chinese version of Tiktok]. Such a disgusting act. Why don’t they just make such allegations officially on their own state media and have a good fight? Every time they make suggestions via social media influencers. They are just taking advantage of the fact that the Americans do not watch Douyan, Chinese people can’t read from outside the great firewall and the critical ones can’t speak out? A bunch of despicable scoundrels.

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.