Fact Check: 'Zombie Deer Virus' Did NOT Spread After Mark Zuckerberg's Foundation Vaccinated Deer

Fact Check

  • by: Ed Payne
Fact Check: 'Zombie Deer Virus' Did NOT Spread After Mark Zuckerberg's Foundation Vaccinated Deer Not The Cause

Did the "zombie deer virus," officially known as chronic wasting disease, spread after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's foundation vaccinated deer across the country? No, that's not true: The foundation, better known as the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, told Lead Stories it doesn't "fund such a program." Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture clarified that its only "semi-widespread vaccination program" involving wildlife is for rabies, most commonly carried by raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes.

The claim appeared in a post and video (archived here) published on Instagram by cejimages on January 1, 2024. The post's caption includes four "confounded face" emojis:


This is what the post looked like on Instagram at the time of writing, with other emoji faces spread across the screen:


(Source: Instagram screenshot taken on Wed Jan 17 16:30:25 2024 UTC)

The video

In the 55-second clip, the narrator lays out his case, suggesting that Zuckerberg's foundation is responsible for the "zombie deer virus." Here's the transcript of the video:

The stories keep getting crazier and crazier, but I can tell you what I am about to share has already happened in 32 American states. It sounds like a script for an apocalypse movie, but it's going on right now.

Not too long ago, the Zuckerberg Charity Foundation funded the vaccination of over 100 million American wildlife. Some people asked why? We were told it was to protect them. Despite these vaccinations, we're now seeing something called zombie deer virus. And what's really alarming is the CDC is not ruling out that it can jump from deers to humans.

What is this virus? Walking around literally like a zombie with a nervous system completely being disrupted, drooling, lethargic, falling over, dragging on the ground and eventually dying. What started with one deer and then a few deer is now in hundreds of deers and now thousands of deers in 32 states across the country and also being found in other countries like Canada.

Why is this happening all of a sudden? You can be the judge of that but it's something to pay close attention to over the next few months.

Chan Zuckerberg Initiative

The official name for the foundation started by Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan is the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), not the Zuckerberg Charity Foundation as stated in the video. In a January 17, 2024, email, a CZI spokesperson said the organization was not involved in financing the "vaccination of over 100 million American wildlife" as the video suggested. They continued:

No, we don't fund such a program. This is outside of our focus areas, and our grantmaking is publicly disclosed on a database on our website.

Lead Stories reviewed the list of grants and none of them appeared to involve the vaccination of wildlife.

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for protecting animal health, animal welfare and plant health in the United States. Tanya Espinosa, a public affairs specialist for Wildlife Services, told Lead Stories in a January 17, 2024, email that the National Rabies Management Program is "the only semi-widespread vaccination program that USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service conducts."

The oral rabies vaccination program drops bait in 20 states, primarily in the eastern United States, and does not target the deer population.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Candice Hoffmann, a public affairs specialist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), provided the public health agency's response to the post on Instagram. The January 17, 2024, email said (emphasis ours):

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a prion disease that affects deer, elk, reindeer, sika deer, and moose. It has been found in 32 US states and parts of Canada, as well as in Europe (Norway, Finland, and Sweden) and South Korea. To date, there have been no reported cases of CWD infection in people.

CDC investigates unusual cases of human prion disease and actively looks for prion disease cases in people with known or potential exposure to CWD, as well as works with and supports the National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center. If CWD could spread to people, it would most likely be through eating of infected deer and elk.

The CDC has information on CWD prevention here.

Read more

Other Lead Stories fact checks of claims about vaccination can be found here.

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  Ed Payne

Ed Payne is a staff writer at Lead Stories. He is an Emmy Award-winning journalist as part of CNN’s coverage of 9/11. Ed worked at CNN for nearly 24 years with the CNN Radio Network and CNN Digital. Most recently, he was a Digital Senior Producer for Gray Television’s Digital Content Center, the company’s digital news hub for 100+ TV stations. Ed also worked as a writer and editor for WebMD. In addition to his journalistic endeavors, Ed is the author of two children’s book series: “The Daily Rounds of a Hound” and “Vail’s Tales.” 

Read more about or contact Ed Payne

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