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Fact Check-Australia halted the development of a COVID-19 vaccine in December 2020

Social media users have reshared a news report from December 2020 as if it depicted recent events. The video, originally reporting an authentic COVID-19 vaccine trial in Australia that was halted after participants registered some false positive HIV test results, has also been shared out of context with false claims that the available COVID-19 vaccines infect recipients with HIV.

The 7News Australia report can be found ( here ) and dates back to Dec. 11, 2020. It starts with an announcement by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying that “the University of Queensland’s vaccine will not be able to proceed” (around timestamp 00:03). Reuters coverage about this trial can be seen ( here ).

While the report is more than a year-old some online have shared the clip as if it were recent, alongside misleading claims.

An iteration on Twitter ( here ) from Feb. 11 has garnered over 847,000 views. Another version was posted on TikTok on Feb. 10 ( bit.ly/3Bl1UT8 ), without indicating the content is not recent, has been viewed over 137,500 times.

Other iterations can be seen ( here ), ( here ).

Comments from users interpreting the event as recent include: “If you aren’t sure yet have a listen to new data that’s been coming out.” ( here ) and “It's all coming out. Good job they didn't just spend 2 years encouraging health and fitness and treating covid with already known safe medicines already on the market.” ( here )

Claims that this vaccine candidate gave trial participants HIV are inaccurate. As previously explained by Reuters on Dec. 17 ( here ) the vaccine, being developed by biotech company CSL and the University of Queensland, used a fragment of the HIV virus protein as a component to stabilise the candidate vaccine; it was found to interfere with HIV tests, but routine follow up tests confirmed there was no HIV virus present, according to CSL ( here ).

Moreover, this COVID-19 vaccine candidate was never distributed to the general public as also suggested by some users online ( here ) ( here ).

CSL had a contract to produce 51 million doses of the UQ vaccine, but the company and the Australian government decided to stop any further trials in 2020, Reuters reported ( here ).

There is no possibility that the COVID-19 vaccines currently in use can cause HIV or false positive HIV tests, experts previously told Reuters ( here ).

VERDICT

Misleading. This news report about a local COVID-19 vaccine being developed in Australia and which development was halted after it showed to produce false positive tests of HIV in trial participants traces back to December 2020. It was never distributed to the public, as claimed online.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here. 

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