Fact check: Conspiracy theory about Shinzo Abe assassination and COVID-19 policy not based in fact

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The claim: Shinzo Abe 'didn’t mandate vaccines, sent 1.6 million doses back and gave citizens ivermectin'

In line with previous conspiracy theories about world leaders who died during the COVID-19 pandemic, some social media posts are suggesting former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was assassinated for refusing to adhere to international recommendations on handling the disease.

"Assassinated Japanese P.M. didn't follow WEF (World Economic Forum) orders," reads the meme in an Instagram post from July 10. "Didn't mandate vaccines, sent 1.6 million doses back and gave citizens ivermectin. Make sense now?"

On Twitter, more than 17,000 users retweeted and 50,000 liked the meme. The claim has also appeared on Facebook.

The meme seems to refer to Japan's recall of 1.6 million vials of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in August 2021, and it mentions ivermectin, an anti-parasitic medication commonly used for horses that has been falsely touted as a cure for the illness.

The assertions it makes are almost entirely false, as PolitiFact and Reuters also reported. 

Abe resigned in August 2020, months before the World Health Organization gave emergency authorization to the first COVID-19 vaccines in December 2020. The former prime minister did not institute a vaccine mandate, as the meme states, but it is not accurate that he "sent back 1.6 million doses" of the COVID-19 vaccine.

There is also no evidence Abe "gave citizens ivermectin," a drug that is not approved as a COVID-19 treatment in Japan, according to the country's Pharmaceutical and Medical Devices Agency.

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USA TODAY reached out to several social media users who shared the claim for comment.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to reporters at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo, Feb. 21, 2020.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to reporters at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo, Feb. 21, 2020.

Meme's claims about Abe's vaccine policies misleading, inaccurate

The meme implies Abe went against guidelines by not mandating vaccines and "send(ing) back 1.6 million doses," likely in reference to COVID-19. These statements are misleading for several reasons.

First, the former prime minister couldn't have failed to "follow WEF orders" for national management of COVID-19 because the organization didn't issue any, unlike the World Health Organization. The WEF, which describes itself as "the international organization for public-private cooperation" and focused on facilitating business cooperation during the pandemic, does not have guidelines for national COVID-19 policy and response on its website.

Second, English-language newspapers don't mention a national mandate on COVID-19 vaccines during Abe's tenure as prime minister – but no COVID-19 vaccines had been approved or authorized for general use when he resigned.

Third, there is no evidence for the claim that Abe "sent 1.6 million doses back." The Japanese government recalled 1.6 million shots of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in August 2021, but Abe had been out of office for more than a year.

Neither Google searches nor users who shared the meme provided evidence that the former prime minister "sent back 1.6 million doses" of any other vaccine during his tenure.

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Around 81% of Japan's population is fully vaccinated, according to the most recent data from Johns Hopkins University.

An artists gives final tocuhes to a painting of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, in Mumbai on July 8, 2022, to pay tribute following his death after he was shot at a campaign event in the Japanese city of Nara. (Photo by Punit PARANJPE / AFP) (Photo by PUNIT PARANJPE/AFP via Getty Images) ORIG FILE ID: AFP_32E32GC.jpg
An artists gives final tocuhes to a painting of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, in Mumbai on July 8, 2022, to pay tribute following his death after he was shot at a campaign event in the Japanese city of Nara. (Photo by Punit PARANJPE / AFP) (Photo by PUNIT PARANJPE/AFP via Getty Images) ORIG FILE ID: AFP_32E32GC.jpg

Ivermectin not approved as COVID-19 treatment in Japan

There's no evidence the Japanese government distributed or promoted ivermectin either before or after the former prime minister left office, as other independent fact-checking outlets have reported.

The drug is not an approved treatment for COVID-19 in Japan, according to the country's Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency, which reviews and tests drugs and medical devices.

Fact check: Japan did not stop its COVID-19 vaccine rollout and switch to ivermectin to treat virus

The assertion in the meme may have roots in rumors about ivermectin in Japan that circulated after the chairman of the Tokyo Medical Association – an organization unaffiliated with the Japanese government – recommended the drug for COVID-19 patients in a press conference in August 2021.

The event was misrepresented in an article from the Hal Turner Radio Show to falsely claim that Japan was replacing COVID-19 vaccines with ivermectin, as USA TODAY reported.

Our rating: Partly False

Based on our research, we rate PARTLY FALSE the claim that Shinzo Abe “didn’t mandate vaccines, sent 1.6 million doses back and gave citizens ivermectin." It is true that Abe did not mandate vaccination against COVID-19, but the other parts of the claim are not. The assertion that Abe "sent 1.6 million doses back" likely refers to the country's August 2021 recall of 1.6 million contaminated Moderna shots, which occurred one year after Abe had resigned. In addition, there is no evidence Abe distributed or promoted ivermectin, which the national government has not approved for the treatment of COVID-19.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Shinzo Abe didn't promote ivermectin or send back vaccines