High rates of vaccine hesitancy are holding America back from herd immunity—and much of the blame lies with the "Disinformation Dozen," researchers say. A March study and a recent follow-up from the Center for Countering Digital Hate identify a dozen figures responsible for an estimated 65% of false information about COVID vaccines shared on social media, including claims that the vaccine contains microchip tracking devices, NPR reports. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who was banned from Instagram in February for spreading debunked vaccine information, is among the 12, but the researchers say too many of the others still have active accounts on Instagram, Facebook (Kennedy's profile remains active there), and Twitter. They say some of them dodge attempts to crack down on misinformation by referring to vaccines as "the thing" or making a "V" sign during a video.
At the top of the list is Joseph Vercola, described as a "successful anti-vaccine entrepreneur." His partner, Erin Elizabeth, is at No. 7. Two names on the list, Rizza Islam and Kevin Jenkins, have focused on spreading disinformation in the Black community. Many of the anti-vax "superspreaders" on the list were making money from anti-vax campaigns long before the pandemic. "It's almost like conspiracy theory Mad Libs. They just inserted the new claims," says John Gregory, deputy health editor at NewsGuard. Facebook says it doesn't agree with the 65% figure, but it has taken steps including banning some of the people on the list and limiting the reach of posts from others. (Read more anti-vaccination stories.)