Claim about Gavin Newsom’s reaction to COVID-19 recall is guesswork

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Tech millionaire has unsubstantiated theory that the governor of California suffered from a rare disease after receiving a COVID-19 booster.

Steve Kirsch posted an article on Substack on November 9 titled, “Gavin Newsom Likely Out of Sight Because He Has Guillain-Barre Syndrome From His Recall.” A few hours after its publication, Kirsch changed the title to remove the reference to Guillain-Barre and wrote instead that it was probably Bell’s palsy.

The post was reported as part of Facebook’s efforts to tackle fake news and disinformation on its news feed. (Learn more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The evidence does not support the claim that Governor Gavin Newsom has Guillain-Barre syndrome or Bell’s palsy. We did not find any credible media reporting on this, and the information Kirsch provided to support his theory is speculative and cites anonymous sources.

Additionally, Newsom’s spokesperson told a news outlet that the governor has not had an adverse reaction to the vaccine.

Guillain-Barre is a rare disease in which the immune system attacks the nerves in the body. The Johnson & Johnson single-injection COVID-19 vaccine was linked to a low risk – about 0.0008% – of being diagnosed with Guillain-Barre, according to the Cleveland Clinic. None of the other COVID-19 vaccines are associated with disease risk.

Newsom received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in April 2021 and a Moderna booster in October, his office reported.

During the drug trial for the Moderna vaccine, Bell’s palsy, a type of facial palsy, occurred in four of 30,000 participants. Subsequent analysis showed that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines “did not have a reported higher rate of facial paralysis than other viral vaccines,” according to MedPage Today.

Newsom received a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine on October 27. Days later, he canceled a planned trip to the United Nations climate change summit in Scotland, citing family obligations, and remained largely out of public view for more than a week. His lack of public appearances, unusual for him, has fueled speculation and disinformation.

Meanwhile, however, Newsom attended a high-profile wedding on November 6, and his staff also said he worked at the State Capitol. On November 9, he attended the California Economic Summit.

Kirsch’s writing cited a changing list of factors to support his theory of the governor’s health. When he posted his initial version of the article with the headline on Guillain-Barre, he said he was relying on information such as Twitter reports of facial paralysis, a “soft” confirmation from a friend who “absolutely” knows Newsom; and information from Alex Jones, who runs a website known to spread fake news and conspiracy theories.

Later, when Kirsch changed the title of the article to say that he believed Newsom had Bell’s palsy, he provided a different list of factors influencing his theory. These included an internal analysis of VAERS data that shows a high risk of Bell’s palsy after vaccination; his belief that Bell’s palsy is common after receiving the Moderna vaccine; and the confirmation he received from “someone who would be absolutely sure.” He also wrote that his anonymous good friend “knows people very close to the governor who have confirmed he was injured by a vaccine.”

We reached out to Kirsch for comment. In response, he provided two sets of Newsom screenshots, taken from videos of the governor’s public appearances. One set, which Kirsch called “Newsom Before,” shows the Governor June 16 as a guest on “The Late Late Show with James Corden.” The second set of photos, which Kirsch called “Newsom After,” are from the governor’s first public appearance after being out of public view on Nov. 9 at the California Economic Summit.

In his Substack article, Kirsch wrote that he showed the videos to an unidentified neurologist “who said” 100% “(Newsom) was recovering from Bell’s palsy due to persistent” telltale “signs.

Kirsch told PolitiFact in an email: “I don’t think anyone has come up with a hypothesis that fits all the data better.”

Kirsch founded a group called COVID-19 Early Treatment Fund, which began testing FDA-approved drugs for other diseases as treatments for COVID-19. But in the spring, the group’s entire science advisory board resigned, citing Kirsch’s “alarming dangerous claims and erratic behavior”, according to an MIT Technology Review report.

Our decision

A Substack article said: “Gavin Newsom is probably out of sight because he has Guillain-Barre syndrome from his recall.”

The article is based on speculation and conjecture and cites many anonymous sources, including doctors, making it impossible to reproduce or verify the claim. We found no reports on Newsom’s condition from credible media, and Newsom’s spokesperson told a news outlet that the governor had not had an adverse reaction to a COVID-19 recall.

We assess this claim as false.

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