June 29, 2021

Alarmist articles are circulating online claiming that newly revealed “secret documents” show that the U.S. government had coronavirus vaccine candidates from Moderna in development weeks before the COVID-19 outbreak, and thus proves that the pandemic was planned.

“DOCUMENTS: U.S. Gov’t Sent ‘mRNA Coronavirus Vaccine Candidates’ to University Researchers WEEKS BEFORE ‘COVID’ Outbreak in China! How did they know . . . Unless they caused it?” reads the headline of an article on HalTurnerRadioShow.com.

Another article on a website called GreatGameIndia.com claimed: “Secret Docs Reveal Moderna Sent Coronavirus Vaccine To North Carolina University Weeks Before Pandemic.”

The articles were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The documents show a researcher transfer agreement for Moderna vaccine candidates for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus, known as MERS-CoV, according to the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases. The agreement was executed on Dec. 16, 2019 —  roughly two weeks before the first SARS-CoV-2 case was detected in Wuhan, China. SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19.

These “secret documents” have been publicly available since at least June 2020. They do not indicate the U.S. government caused or created the ongoing pandemic.

Coronaviruses and vaccine agreement

Human coronaviruses were first identified in the mid-1960s and researchers have identified seven that can infect people.

For years, well before the identification of SARS-CoV-2, researchers have been studying ways to develop vaccines against coronaviruses, particularly because coronaviruses are known to have a high probability of causing pandemics.

As part of a larger confidentiality agreement between the U.S. National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and Moderna “mRNA coronavirus vaccines candidates” were transferred for animal testing to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Multiple researchers signed the agreement between Dec. 12-16, 2019.

The confidentiality agreement stipulated that mRNA coronavirus vaccine candidates would be developed and jointly owned by the two parties. The contract was not specific to the SARS-CoV-2, as it was signed before the new virus had been sequenced.

The agreement was amended in February 2020 to add mRNA vaccine candidates for other emerging viruses, including SARS-CoV-2.

“NIAID scientists selected MERS-CoV as a ‘prototype pathogen’ to study for vaccine development with the intention that the approach could be generalized for vaccines against viruses within the same virus family,” an NIAID spokesperson told PolitiFact.

Scientists and collaborators had already created stabilized coronavirus spike proteins (which the viruses use to enter cells and mRNA vaccines use to create antibody responses) before SARS-CoV-2 was identified. Once the virus’ sequence was publicly shared in early 2020, the same approach was then applied to developing vaccine candidates for COVID-19.

NIAID’s Vaccine Research Center and Moderna have collaborated on pandemic preparedness and vaccine research since 2017, the NIAID said, and entered into a formal research collaboration agreement in May 2019 for vaccine candidates for MERS-CoV and Nipah virus.

Our ruling

Articles suggest the U.S. government created the pandemic because its scientists sent mRNA coronavirus vaccine candidates to other researchers before the COVID-19 outbreak.

This is a misrepresentation of the facts and is not evidence that the government is responsible for the cause of the pandemic. The vaccine candidates were for a coronavirus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, not for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

NIAID researchers have been working on developing vaccines for coronaviruses, which consist of hundreds of viruses, for several years.

We rate this False.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact, which is part of the Poynter Institute. It is republished here with permission. See the sources for these fact checks here and more of their fact checks here.

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Samantha Putterman is a fact-checker for PolitiFact based in New York. Previously, she reported for the Bradenton Herald and the Tampa Bay Times. She is…
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