WHO Members Did Not Criminalize Speech Opposing Vaccination

Yann Forget, Wikimedia Commons

Original article (in B/C/S) was published on 19/6/2024; Authors: Marija Ćosić

False claims that 194 members of the World Health Organization have “agreed” to criminalize opposition to bird flu vaccination have gone viral on social media.

On June 7, 2024, a video was posted on TikTok claiming that 194 countries have agreed to criminalise opposition to vaccination, that is, to “arrest” citizens who speak against vaccination. The man in the video says, among other things, the following:

Wow, 194 states have agreed to arrest citizens who oppose the bird flu vaccine. I don’t think it refers to people who refuse to be vaccinated, but to those who openly speak against vaccines.

The video shows a screenshot of an article published on The People’s Voice website.

The same allegations were published on June 12 on the InfoTeam Telegram channel. This announcement states, among other things:

194 WHO countries agree to arrest citizens who oppose bird flu vaccine –

(…)

The 194 member states of the World Health Organization (WHO) have agreed to start arresting and prosecuting citizens who speak out against bird flu vaccines, as part of tough new measures designed to crack down on so-called “disinformation”.

The post further claims that the World Health Assembly has adopted amendments to the “controversial international health regulations”, which will supposedly abolish the “national sovereignty of countries”. The amendments also reportedly give the WHO powers to legislate and “criminalize speech that the WHO says undermines the official narrative”. The same post also features a link to the aforementioned article from The People’s Voice web portal.

The same allegations were published on several Facebook profiles and pages (1, 2). 

What are the facts?

The People’s Voice is cited as the source for claims about the criminalization of anti-vaccination speech. The article with these claims on this page was published on June 6, 2024. The People’s Voice is an unreliable source, and Raskrinkavanje has repeatedly written about disinformation originating from this web portal (1, 2, 3). 

Bird flu is an infectious disease caused by the influenza virus. It is transmitted from birds to mammals, including humans. During 2021 and 2022, Europe was affected by an epidemic of this disease, which spread in animal populations, but also among people. According to WHO data, of the 889 reported cases of this disease from 2003 to April 2024, 463 of them had a fatal outcome.

In June 2024, cases of bird flu in animals were reported in the United States and Australia. Several people have been infected in India, and the first death from the new subtype of this flu has been confirmed in Mexico.

Health authorities state that flu vaccines can be adapted for this type of virus. Governments around the world have started the process of procuring doses of vaccines against this flu, which could be given to the most exposed individuals, such as farm workers.

Arrest of citizens

Allegations about the criminalization of opposition to vaccination against bird flu are unfounded. These claims have already been analyzed by the fact-checking platform Science Feedback, the fact-checking department of the Reuters agency, and our partner web portal Raskrikavanje.

The World Health Organization consists of 194 countries. The international health regulations, whose amendments allegedly enabled “arrests”, are a legal instrument adopted by the World Health Assembly (WHA). The World Health Assembly is the decision-making body within the World Health Organization.

The amendments to this document adopted by the WHA on June 1, 2024, do not criminalize speech against vaccination. This was confirmed by WHO representatives for Raskrikavanje.

“The amended health regulations cannot and do not prescribe the arrest or prosecution of individuals or groups on any basis. Neither the International Health Regulations nor the amendments adopted by the WHO Assembly on June 1, contemplate the arrest or prosecution of people for opposing any vaccine”, the WHO said in its response to Raskrikavanje.

“The World Health Organization did not and will never support or recommend the arrest of anyone for vaccine refusal because it is not within its jurisdiction. Neither the WHO, nor documents such as the International Health Regulations, can undertake actions such as arrest or prosecution”.

The adopted amendments refer, among other things, to the introduction of the definition of “pandemic state of emergency”, dedication to solidarity and fairness, and the establishment of national bodies dedicated to the implementation of International Health Regulations, according to the report from the meeting of the WHA from June 1.

A plan to finalize the negotiations on the pandemic agreement was agreed upon at the same meeting. The International Pandemic Agreement is a set of WHO guidelines, the adoption of which should improve the coordination of the global response to pandemics. This document represents a kind of supplement to the aforementioned regulations in the event of a pandemic.

The initiative for its adoption was followed by a series of disinformation, and Raskrinkavanje wrote about it on several occasions (1, 2, 3). Some of the most widespread ones are related to the fictitious “surrender” of sovereignty to the WHO. However, as explained in detail in the above-mentioned and other analyses conducted by Raskrinkavanje, this agreement does not foresee any abrogation of the sovereignty of the member states. The WHO will not gain any “power” over the signatories.

Therefore, we consider the first publication of the claim that 194 WHO members “agreed” to criminalise opposition to bird flu vaccination as fake news. The first publication claiming that the adopted amendments to international health regulations give the WHO the power to pass laws and “criminalize” speech against vaccination receives the same evaluation. Other publications are rated as distribution of fake news. The claim that these amendments abolish the sovereignty of the member states is rated as a conspiracy theory.

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