Shortly after photographs and videos of U.S. President Joe Biden purportedly receiving a COVID-19 booster vaccination on Sept. 27, 2021 started circulating online, some corners of the internet believed the visual evidence pieced together a grand conspiracy on behalf of the president to fake the entire event.
The assertion primarily centered on the above-displayed photograph that what was taken by Brendan Smialowski for Getty Images and shows Biden on a stage near, what appeared to be, white windows supposedly providing sunny, outdoor views. Meanwhile, people including photojournalists, filled rows of chairs facing where the president supposedly received the injection.
“All staged. Fake window and trees. Fake booster. Fake nurse. Don’t be fooled,” read a post on Gab — the platform where dedicated fans of former President Donald Trump flocked in recent years to evade bans on misinformation, hate speech, and violent rhetoric on more mainstream sites.
Another account on Twitter, one that has promoted false claims about the 2020 election to its hundreds of thousands of followers, hosted a poll, “Do you believe Joe Biden was given a real booster vaccine today?”
Almost 93% of the survey’s roughly 29,000 respondents said “no.”
The rumor gained traction in the following days with the satirical website Real Raw News publishing the headline, “Fake Biden Receives Fake Booster on National Television,” and accounts framing the above-mentioned photograph as evidence to believe the entire event, including the shot and alleged nurse who gave it to him, was faked.
There was no evidence to substantiate that belief — nor any known reason for Biden to decline the Pfizer booster shot, have himself injected with something else, and pretend otherwise.
We asked the White House directly to comment on allegations that the event was “faked,” and it responded via email: “It was not.”
Additionally, the claim included these traits that are often indicative of misinformation.
- The rumor originated with accounts that have a history of spreading false information.
- Sources with greater credibility (who witnessed the Sept. 27 scene firsthand) provided evidence refuting the allegation that Biden didn’t actually receive the booster shot.
- Hypothetically speaking, if Biden didn’t actually get the booster shot, journalists of various levels of credibility would scramble to try to corroborate the hoax had taken place. In particular, an investigation into such allegations would seemingly fit within the scope of coverage for partisan media outlets. However, no such reporting had occurred.
But like most conspiracy theories, the claim included a kernel of truth: Biden indeed received the injection on a stage, in an auditorium on the White House’s campus, in front of artificial windows that displayed digital images of sunny outdoor views, according to verified photographic and visual evidence.
To form that conclusion, we first considered C-SPAN’s video of the Sept. 27 event.
That recording switched between multiple angles, including a front-facing view of a podium and flags in front of a projector screen that read “VACCINES.GOV,” and a right-corner view that captured the heads of a few photojournalists and the aforementioned windows.
As you can see via the screenshot of the C-SPAN video above, the footage included a caption where the scene was recorded: the south court auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is next to the West Wing. The presidential administration’s official transcript of Biden’s remarks during the event corroborated that location.
Next, we analyzed photographs of the auditorium to determine its structure. Most showed a windowless room with a stage in front of rows of chairs and multiple large screens. For instance, below is a December 2018 picture featuring Trump’s administration inside the auditorium, taken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Based on our review of Getty Images’ database of photojournalism, White House officials began using the set, including the artificial windows, in mid-September 2021 — when Biden and other officials met with world leaders virtually to discuss climate change. At least one picture from that event showed a window peaking into a sunny field with a solar panel.
Then, a few days later, photographers documenting the same type of meeting captured one of the windows displaying a yard, as well as what was actually behind the set of “windows”: a backstage area.
In other words, the set, which indeed included “fake windows,” was not specific to the booster shot event. Additionally, it is not unusual for politicians to make public appearances, including speeches, on stages including props.
That said, there was no indication that reputable sources, including C-SPAN, digitally edited the photographs or videos of Biden receiving his shot via computer-generated imagery (CGI), which is what movie or TV producers use to construct fictional scenes, to supposedly fake the scene.
Next, we considered the Gab post’s allegation that someone who wasn’t actually a nurse played along for the whole ordeal. At about the four-minute mark in the C-SPAN video, a person whom Biden introduced as “the Major” appeared on screen, put on surgical gloves, and helped the president roll up his sleeve.
The video showed that person cleaning Biden’s upper arm, pressing down on a syringe to a needle there, and then covering the alleged injection site with a bandage. Biden fielded questions from reporters simultaneously.
There was no evidence to indicate that person who delivered the injection was anything other than a nurse. In an email to Snopes, the White House declined to share the person’s name and title, though said, “They were a registered nurse with the White House Medical Unit.”
Lastly, we considered the allegation that the reported nurse didn’t actually inject Biden with anything or used a placebo formula instead of the Pfizer booster dose.
There was no evidence to corroborate those theories, and photographic evidence, such as the image by Smialowski for Getty Images below, showed a needle piercing the president’s skin.
In our inquiry to the White House, we asked for evidence to confirm the needle’s contents were indeed the Pfizer formula to provide a vaccination boost to Biden’s immune system to fight COVID-19, like the president claimed.
“Check pool reports and articles from that day,” the White House responded.
We considered numerous news stories about the event (see The Associated Press here; Reuters here; NBC here; BBC here; MSNBC here; New York Times here; CNN here; Fox News here; Washington Post here, etc.) — none of which cast doubt on the syringe’s contents, but rather stated as a fact that the president received the Pfizer booster shot.
As of this writing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone aged 65 and older who got their initial vaccine series at least six months ago — a group that includes the president — to get the booster to better protect themselves against the coronavirus’ highly contagious delta variant.
[See also from Snopes: Does This Chart Show When COVID-19 Variants Will Be ‘Released’?]
In sum, on Sept. 27, Biden was indeed photographed having a needle pierce his skin on a stage that included artificial windows and digital screens. Even Stephan Colbert, host of CBS’ “The Late Show,” called attention to the scene.
“I understand [Biden] was doing this on camera to encourage everyone to get the shot — and that’s a good thing,” Colbert said on his show. “But all I could see was what looked like incredibly fake windows behind the president — it’s a fake room.”
However, while that assertion was indisputable, there was no evidence to suggest, much less prove, anything else — such as the vaccine’s contents or the vaccination itself — was faked during the public event. For those reasons, we rate this claim a “Mixture” of truth and falsehoods.
The “fake booster” rumor wasn’t the first time conspiracy theorists attempted to ring the alarm on hoaxes involving Biden.
Before he took the presidential oath of office, for example, TikTok videos surfaced supposedly blowing the lid off a nefarious scheme by Biden’s administration to have someone who looks like him — a body double — occasionally fill in for the real Biden.
Then, in early 2021, we debunked rumors that he used a movie set designed to look like the Oval Office, not the real room at the White House, to discuss his administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
And, about a month after that, videos authentically showed Biden speaking to news reporters in Chester, Pennsylvania, as Snopes, Reuters and The Associated Press explained. Nonetheless, some corners of the Internet erroneously framed that footage as having “green screen effect” or being “doctored” with digital-editing technology.
“Fact Check-No Evidence That Biden Was Using CGI or Green Screens While Answering Questions from Reporters on March 16.” Reuters, 19 Mar. 2021. www.reuters.com, https://www.reuters.com/article/factcheck-biden-cgi-idUSL1N2LH199.
“Video of Biden with Reporters Was Not Digitally Altered.” AP NEWS, 20 Apr. 2021, https://apnews.com/article/fact-checking-9982884730.
Allyn, Bobby. “Social Media Site Gab Is Surging, Even As Critics Blame It For Capitol Violence.” NPR, 17 Jan. 2021. NPR, https://www.npr.org/2021/01/17/957512634/social-media-site-gab-is-surging-even-as-critics-blame-it-for-capitol-violence.
Jankowicz, Mia. “Trump Keeps Retweeting the Anonymous Account ‘Catturd2,’ Which Backs His Baseless Election-Fraud Claims. The Handle Is Now Trending.” Business Insider, https://www.businessinsider.com/catturd-trends-on-twitter-after-trump-shares-accounts-claims-2020-12. Accessed 29 Sept. 2021.
President Biden Receives COVID-19 Booster Shot | C-SPAN.Org. https://www.c-span.org/video/?514977-1/president-biden-receives-covid-19-booster-shot&live. Accessed 29 Sept. 2021.
“Remarks by President Biden While Receiving a COVID-19 Booster Shot.” The White House, 27 Sept. 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/09/27/remarks-by-president-biden-while-receiving-a-covid-19-booster-shot/.
CDC. “COVID-19 Vaccination.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 Feb. 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/booster-shot.html.
“Biden, McConnell Get COVID-19 Boosters, Encourage Vaccines.” AP NEWS, 27 Sept. 2021, https://apnews.com/article/coronavirus-pandemic-joe-biden-health-jill-biden-f8fb7ffbe139df8d4b94f1a46cc3cea0.
See how we’ve addressed similar conspiracies about the president: