Picture of Covid vaccine trial patient’s feet used to spread as anti-vax misinformation

'It's social media. You share it for one second and it can get picked up and go viral,' says Patricia Chandler

James Crump
Wednesday 09 December 2020 16:44
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A woman who took part in a coronavirus vaccine trial, had pictures of her skin condition used to spread misinformation about possible treatments.

Over the summer, Patricia Chandler, 30, who lives in Texas, took part in a trial for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which started being administered in the UK on Tuesday and is likely to be approved for use in the US by the Food and Drug Administration on Thursday.

Five days after her trial ended in October, Ms Chandler started feeling discomfort in her left foot, and discovered swelling and a large blister on its sole, according to the BBC.

When a blister also developed on the sole of her right foot, Ms Chandler saw her doctor, who said that one of the possible causes of the issue was a fixed drug eruption, which is a bad skin reaction to medication.

Concerned that the vaccine trial had caused the reactions on her feet, Ms Chandler spoke to one of her cousins, who set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for her medical bills.

Ms Chandler was already struggling to pay for medical costs because of treatment needed for a bad back, and she had to take time off work to allow her feet to heal.

Although Ms Chandler’s doctor did not say that the vaccine trial was the cause of the blisters, her cousin wrote on the fundraising page: “Patricia... was a volunteer in a Covid-19 vaccine study recently and had a severe adverse reaction”.

The fundraising page was quickly spread online, and was picked up by multiple sites, including an evangelical Christian blog that promotes conspiracy theories about Covid-19, according to the BBC.

The site wrote about Ms Chandler’s feet and described them as having “crusting holes that look a whole lot like the 'grievous sores' described in [the book of] Revelation”.

The fundraiser was also spread in anti-vaccine groups on Facebook in multiple countries around the world.

As the post spread, Pfizer and Ms Chandler’s doctor looked into her participation in the trial, and discovered that she had received the salt water placebo instead of the vaccine.

Participants in trials are not normally told whether they were administered the vaccine or placebo, as it is kept a secret until the study is finished, but due to the spread of misinformation, Pfizer made an exception.

The BBC also confirmed independently that Ms Chandler had the placebo, and was told by several dermatologists that the salt water mixture could not have caused the blisters on her feet.

Ms Chandler told the BBC that after she found out that the trial was not the reason for the blisters, she had “to assume some culpability for putting my story out there”.

She continued: “It's social media. You share it for one second and it can get picked up and go viral,” and added: “My injury had nothing to do with the vaccine. My bad. People make mistakes.”

Ms Chandler’s GoFundMe page was briefly taken down by the site for promoting misinformation, but is now back online in an edited form.

“Patricia is still suffering from the painful skin condition on her feet; however, the cause has become unclear,” the fundraiser now reads.

Ms Chandler said that she still needs to raise money for her medical bills, but GoFundMe confirmed that it will pay back anyone who donated to the fundraiser under the false impression that the trial caused the blisters. The page has so far raised more than $5,000 (£3,714).

The 30-year-old is hopeful that her doctor can work out what really caused the blisters, and told the BBC that she just “wants this to all be over”.

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