Social media users are making the baseless claim that the variants of SARS-CoV-2 have been scheduled or planned years into the future. As evidence, posts feature a document carrying the logos of multiple organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and allegedly showing a timetable of when the strains will be “released”. Except the document has been fabricated.
“Looks like all they have all the variants planned out for the next 2 yrs SMH”, a tweet with the image reads ( archive.ph/DadJr ). “These are the PLANNED COVID-19 VARIANTS – just look at the dates when they will be ‘released’ to the media. DON’T BE STUPID, YOU ARE BEING PLAYED AND MANIPULATED.” another iteration claims. ( here ).
The table, with information in Spanish, includes three columns indicating the name of the variant and its Greek symbol as well as a “release” date column, up until February 2023.
The document features the logos of the World Health Organization (WHO), John Hopkins University, the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, all of which have been targets of misinformation since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic ( here , here , here ).
Reuters could not definitely determine the origin of the image, but it has been circulating since at least July 7 ( archive.ph/z8W1T ) without attribution to a source.
The document was not issued by any of the bodies listed. Contacted by Reuters spokespeople for the WEF, the WHO and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation all confirmed this document is unrelated to their organizations.
“This is a fake document and has nothing to do with the World Economic Forum,” Peter Vanham, Head of Communications at the Chairman’s Office of the World Economic Forum, told Reuters via email.
“The claims are false. We don’t know anything about the table or its origins.” the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation told Reuters. A spokesperson for the WHO also confirmed: “it is not [a] WHO document.”
John Hopkins University did not immediately respond to Reuters for comment.
There is no evidence that COVID-19 variants are being scheduled, as posts claim.
In a May, 2021 article for The Conversation ( here ), Ed Feil Professor of Microbial Evolution at The Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath laid out the challenges of understanding how a virus can evolve.
“Predictions about the evolutionary course of the virus, and specifically changes in virulence, will always be riddled with uncertainty,” he wrote, also noting that “established evolutionary concepts, combined with a wealth of data from the virus itself, can at least provide some pointers.”
In an earlier article here , Reuters explained that all viruses naturally mutate over time, and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, is no exception ( here ). Changes in the genetic code of the virus are mostly so small that they have little impact, but sometimes the mutations can have concerning consequences: for instance, they are more transmissible.
A video by Nature magazine here that the more a virus is allowed to replicate, “the more chance it has to accumulate these rare beneficial mutations”, meaning that when a virus is spreading quickly among a population, it is more likely that a variant of concern can emerge.
In order to simplify discussion and avoid stigma, on May 31, the WHO assigned Variants of Concern (VOC) and Variants of Interest (VOI), previously identified with alphanumeric names and locations from which they are thought to have emerged, to letters of the Greek alphabet ( here ).
Variants are denominated of concern when there is clear evidence of changes to transmissibility, severity, or immunity; a variant is designated to be of interest when there is available evidence that could suggest a significant change on transmissibility, severity or immunity ( here ).
The latest information about the current VOCs and VICs can be found on the WHO website here .
According to the chart in the social media posts, the Delta variant would have emerged in June 2021. But this is demonstrably false: the Delta variant was first identified in India last December, although an earlier version was spotted in October 2020 ( here ).
As documented by the WHO here , the Delta variant was classified as a VOI on April 4, 2020 and then a VOC on May 11, 2021.
Further challenging the logic of the chart, the WHO already lists four other variants (Eta, Iota, Kappa and Lambda) as VOI, which were first documented in 2020 and designated in the first half of 2021. Lambda, for instance, was designated as a VOI on June 14, 2021.
Variants Epsilon, Zeta and Theta have already been identified and were former variants of interests; but have been reclassified by WHO as they have “conclusively demonstrated to no longer pose a major added risk to global public health compared to other circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants.”
False. A chart of unknown origin, misattributed to the WHO, WEF, the Gates Foundation and John Hopkins University with alleged “released dates” of COVID-19 variants is bogus and contains inaccurate information.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .
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