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Fact check: Picture of COVID-19 vaccine production in March 2020 followed development work that began in January

A photograph of a tube dated March 2020 and labelled as being the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine has been shared across social media, with some falsely claiming it is evidence that the coronavirus pandemic is a hoax.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

Posts sharing the image can be seen (here , here , here , here).

The photo, taken from a broadcast on the British news channel Sky News, shows a container labelled ‘ChAdOx1 nCoV-19’, which is the name of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for COVID-19. The tube is shown to be dated ‘15-Mar-2020’.

“Photo of the vaccine from sky news [sic] this morning, batch date 15-Mar-20, strange that??”, text above the photo reads. On social media, some have claimed that this is evidence the pandemic is a hoax.

“If not fake then it means Pharma were working on a vaccine BEFORE the virus” (here), one social media user who shared the image said. "We have the old question "what came first, the chicken or the egg?" Now we have a new 2020 question, "which came first, the vaccine or the virus", another wrote (here).

The date, however, can be easily explained. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the virus was identified by Chinese authorities on Jan. 7, 2020 (here). The team at Oxford started developing their vaccine just three days later (here).

A month later, the vaccine ‘seed stock’ was in production (here), and at the end of the March recruitment for the clinical trials opened (here).

Dr Sean Elias is a scientist at the Jenner Institute, University of Oxford and part of the COVID-19 vaccine team.

Elias told Reuters that he had taken the photograph in question during manufacturing to document the process for his team and the media.

The photo shows the early stage vaccine ‘seed stock’, Elias explained in an email.

“Remember this vaccine is based on a virus (ChAdOx1) so we need to grow the virus to get enough to use and this takes numerous repetitive steps and checks,” he said.

Elias said that the date on the tube indicates when the virus was being processed and is also the day the photo was taken.

This was a few weeks before the first batch of vaccine was completed, and the first volunteers were vaccinated in the Phase 1 clinical trial, he said.

VERDICT

Missing context. The image shows a tube that was used in part of the production process for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in March 2020. Researchers had begun work on the vaccine in January.

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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