Microsoft founder Bill Gates has been at the center of a conspiracy theory about a coronavirus vaccine, and even though it has been debunked, a number of Americans believe it. The theory claims Gates wants to use a potential COVID-19 vaccine to implant people with microchips to track their movements, even though millions of people already use smartphones that companies can use to track people's activities. The Gates theory is not true, but a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll found 44% of Republicans believe it.
The survey was conducted on May 20 and 21, sampling 1,640 American adults. Only 26% of the Republicans polled believe the theory is not true. The poll also found 19% of Democrats believe the theory is true. The poll looked at how conspiracy theories and misinformation has shaped Americans' understanding of the pandemic, with 56% "very" concerned about the "false or misleading information being communicated about coronavirus." This was one area where both 80% of Republicans and Democrats agree.
Democrats also blamed with Trump Administration as the top source for misinformation, with 56% putting it on Trump's shoulders. The number climbs to 69% among those who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. A 54% majority of Republicans blame the media for misinformaiton, as do 61% of Trump voters. Notably, 50% of those polled who watch mostly Fox News agree with the Gates theory, as do 44% of Trump voters, even though neither source has promoted the Gates theory.
Gates, who committed $300 million to helping the fight against the coronavirus, has been discussing his concerns about the global community being unprepared for a new pandemic since 2015, notes Snopes. Since he has also been a longtime supporter of vaccines, Gates has been an enemy to the anti-vaccine movement. However, Gates has not directly funded research into a COVID-19 vaccine. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation did back an MIT and Rice University pilot study into a device that could deliver a vaccine through an invisible mark detected by a smartphone. It was only a theoretical study, but it has been enough to lead conspiracy theorists to believe Gates is trying to develop a vaccine that would include microphips or nanobots to track people. While not true, if enough people believe in the theory, there is concern that some will not get vaccinated once one is developed.
The new Yahoo News/YouGov poll also asked a general question about vaccines. Although at least 80% of Democrats, Republicans and independents who responded all believe childhood vaccines are "somewhat" or "very" safe, only 44% of Trump voters said they would actually get vaccinated. Twenty-nine percent of Trump voters said they would skip getting a vaccine and 27% said they are not sure, even though Trump has repeatedly called for a vaccine to be developed as quickly as possible. Only half of those who responded said they would get vaccinated "if and when a coronavirus vaccine becomes available."
Lastly, the poll also asked voters about hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug that Trump once claimed he was taking. Almost half of Trump voters and 44% of Republicans think the drug treats against COVID-19, despite studies finding otherwise. One study of 96,000 coronavirus patients found those who used the drug had a higher risk of death than those not using it.