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Fact check: COVID-19 is not a seasonal flu

In a social media post, commentator Katie Hopkins claimed that Australia developed a COVID-19 vaccine using HIV for “a seasonal flu”. While scientists did develop a vaccine for COVID-19 using a fragment of a human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) protein, the disease is not the same as the seasonal flu.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

“In order to protect people against a seasonal flu with a 99.7% recovery rate, Australia made a vaccine using HIV. Welcome to 2020”, Hopkins wrote on Instagram (here).

The post refers to a COVID-19 vaccine developed by The University of Queensland which used a fragment of a HIV virus protein as a component to stabilise the vaccine (here).

Even though there were no safety concerns, the vaccine was halted after trials showed that antibodies could lead to false positives on some HIV tests (here).

The University of Queensland confirmed that there was no possibility the vaccine would have caused infection, and that routine follow up tests confirmed that the HIV virus was not present (here).

Department of Health Secretary Brendan Murphy said the development of the vaccine was cancelled over the fear it could undermine public confidence.

“All the evidence would suggest it was going to be an effective vaccine. But we cannot risk public confidence”, he said (here).

“It was important to keep that public confidence. But I emphasise it was excellent research, it was a good platform, and it was likely to be an effective vaccine at preventing coronavirus”.

The post also claims that COVID-19 is a “seasonal flu”.

While there are similarities between seasonal flu and COVID-19, they are not the same. The flu is caused by an influenza virus, while SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is a coronavirus (here).

Both can be transmitted through droplets or contact, and share symptoms such as coughing, fever and shortness of breath (here).

Some scientists have also suggested that COVID-19, like the flu, could become seasonal (here).

However, one key difference is the reproductive number - the number of secondary infections from one infected person - which is understood to be higher for COVID-19 than the flu (here).

It also usually takes a person longer to develop symptoms for COVID-19 than the flu (here).

A person with the flu typically develops symptoms between 1 to 4 days after infection, but for COVID-19 this can range from 2 to 14 days.

Perhaps the most important difference, however, is the mortality rate.

While the exact mortality rate for COVID-19 has not yet been calculated, data so far indicates that it is higher than the flu (here).

VERDICT

Partly false. While scientists did develop a vaccine for COVID-19 using a HIV virus protein, the disease is not the same as the seasonal flu.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here .

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