False allegations that COVID-19 vaccines turn children gay or trans are spreading rapidly on Telegram, the messaging-based social-media app.
Ayatollah Abbas Tabrizian, an Iranian cleric who is known for spreading false medical claims, appeared to be the first to popularize the bogus claim in a post on Tuesday for his more than 210,000 Telegram followers, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Following Tabrizian's Telegram post, popular figures within the world of QAnon, the baseless far-right conspiracy theory alleging Donald Trump is fighting to destroy a cabal of pedophiles, began to discuss the baseless claim. Influential QAnon channels, including one with more than 182,000 subscribers, began circulating the idea, using convoluted and inaccurate logic to question whether vaccinations could impact the gender and sexuality of children. These posts have tens of thousands of views.
MelQ, a QAnon influencer with 57,000 Telegram subscribers, shared a news article that referenced Tabrizian's comments. The post, in which the influencer shared a conspiracy theory claiming that vaccines in general cause "Gender confusion," has 71,000 views as of Friday morning. A Telegram representative did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.
There is no link between vaccinations and queerness, medical experts told Insider. Still, these claims continue to spread on Telegram among QAnon conspiracy theorists who cited comments from Tabrizian, whose field of medical advice is considered a threat by Iranian health officials.
"There is certainly evidence that shows unvaccinated children are more likely to catch things like measles, but there is no relationship between vaccines or not being vaccinated and being queer or transgender," Dr. David Verhoeven, an expert in virology and professor of Vet Microbiology & Preventive Medicine at Iowa State University, told Insider.
Medical experts say there is no link between vaccinations and queerness
Some of the claims say that the COVID-19 vaccines turn children queer or trans by somehow activating a recessive "queer" or "trans" gene passed down by the parents.
According to Verhoeven, this theory is false for multiple reasons, the first being the vaccines don't integrate into human DNA at all and only activate the body's immune system against the coronavirus.
"The only thing within the body that the vaccine 'turns on' is the immune system," Verhoeven said. "Since there is no 'gay gene' anyways, there is no connection between getting vaccinated for COVID or any other pathogen and 'turning' queer or transgender."
While researchers have tried for decades to find a specific gene that makes a person queer or transgender, no such gene has ever been found.
The other portion of the theory asserts the combination of the vaccine coupled with soy products in our food supply would lead to more children being queer or trans.
Again, Verhoeven said there is no evidence to back these claims, as certain East Asian communities have historically eaten many soy products with no disproportionate rates of queer or trans people.
"If we can stop looking at being queer or gay as some defect or disease that needs to be cured or prevented and just be accepting of diversity, society would certainly benefit," Verhoeven told Insider.
The QAnon community has played a major role in spreading COVID-19 misinformation
QAnon influencers, like other far-right activists, have used their platforms to promote baseless conspiracy theories about COVID-19 throughout the pandemic.
Marc-André Argentino, a PhD candidate at Concordia University researching extremism, wrote in an August report in The Conversation that the online QAnon ecosystem applied its "conspiracy mentality to the coronavirus crisis," beginning with the movement's belief that the virus was a hoax created to damage Trump's reelection chances. Even "Q," the anonymous figure whose cryptic messages originated the conspiracy-theory movement, has made false claims about the virus in posts on 8kun, a message board known for misinformation that's popular on the far-right.
Throughout the spring of 2020, the QAnon community merged with other COVID-19 deniers, most of whom come from wellness and pseudoscience spheres, a September 2020 BBC News investigation found. Together, these groups have protested government-mandated lockdown orders in the US and Europe throughout the pandemic.
MelQ, one of the QAnon influencers who spread Tabrizian's claims on Telegram, was one of the major proponents of coronavirus disinformation.
Since the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were announced in December, conspiracy theories alleging these shots cause various health problems continue to go viral on social media.
Facebook has since cracked down on vaccine misinformation, after false claims that the COVID-19 shots caused infertility circulated widely on the company's flagship app and on Instagram.