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Fact Check-Vials found in Pennsylvania lab did not contain virus that causes smallpox

The discovery of frozen vials labelled “smallpox” in a Pennsylvania laboratory has prompted baseless suggestions online that the samples are linked to comments made by Bill Gates discussing possible bioterrorist attacks in the future.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed on Nov. 16 that several vials had been found by a laboratory worker and had been sent on for testing (here here).

Social media users later speculated a potential link with comments made by Bill Gates in early November about the smallpox illness.

Speaking in a Nov. 5 interview with Britain’s former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, the Microsoft co-founder had discussed the world’s readiness for future pandemics (youtu.be/CZplF4qdwII?t=1732 , timestamp 28.51). This included a suggestion that a pandemic taskforce takes part in “germ games” to practice responses to outbreak scenarios.

Gates created a specific example of a ‘germ game’ scenario: “What if a bioterrorist brought smallpox to ten airports? How would the world respond to that?

“There’s naturally-caused epidemics and bioterrorism-caused epidemics that could be way worse than what we’ve experienced today, and yet, the advances in medical science should give us tools that we could do dramatically better.”

Conflating Gates’ comments and the vial discovery in Pennsylvania, one Facebook user said: “Notice the dates. This is not cobbled together ‘old news’ – this is happening right now, as the world combats the fourth wave of this ‘couldn’t have come from a lab’ coronavirus… something isn’t right… you know it in your heart” (here).

Another Facebook user suggested people “live in a clown word where they tell you their evil plans if your [sic] paying attention (here).

On Linkedin, another user said: “I mean, seriously. Think about the timing of this. Is this not just a tad suspicious to anyone?” (here).

These suggestions are unfounded.

Firstly, the CDC ultimately found that the vials did not contain variola virus, the virus that causes smallpox.

The health agency told Reuters: “Laboratory testing at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today showed that recently discovered vials marked as ‘smallpox’ contain vaccinia, the virus used in smallpox vaccine.”

Moreover, Reuters has repeatedly addressed misinformation about Bill Gates (see here , here , here , here and here).

His comments referring to smallpox are also not out of the ordinary. See his mention of the illness in an address to the World Health Assembly in 2005 (here), a book review in 2011 (here), in his 2014 “annual letter” (here, and in another interview in February (here timestamp 3.50). Gates has also specifically mentioned the potential of small non-state groups developing smallpox as a weapon in a 2018 speech (here Timestamp 8.40)

VERDICT

Misleading. A suggested link between Bill Gates’ comments about smallpox and the discovery of smallpox-labelled vials in a Pennsylvania lab are unfounded. The CDC tested the vials and said there was no evidence that they contained the smallpox virus.

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

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