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Beginning of vaccine testing marked by false claims around participants

March 18, 2020 GMT

Beginning of vaccine testing marked by false claims around participants 

CLAIM: The first person to receive an experimental coronavirus vaccine during testing in Seattle is a crisis actor 

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. All participants who volunteered for the vaccine test being led by Kaiser Permanente Washington Research Institute in Seattle were screened and had to meet a set list of criteria. They were not hired as actors to simulate a role.

THE FACTS: After researchers began the first round of testing on an experimental vaccine, posts began circulating on social media claiming the first person tested was a crisis actor.


To support the claim, the posts falsely suggested that volunteers were injected with saline and that a needle not used for vaccines was used.

Both are false, according to reporting by The Associated Press, which was granted exclusive access to observe the first injections. No saline shots were given as part of the study and photos taken by the AP confirm that the vaccine was given by intramuscular injection. 

According to information published on the U.S. National Library of Medicine website, “Forty-five subjects will be enrolled into one of three cohorts and will receive an intramuscular (IM) injection of mRNA-1273 on Days 1 and 29 in the deltoid muscle.” 

The NIH and Massachusetts-based biotechnology company Moderna Inc. developed the vaccine candidate, code-named mRNA-1273. The shots do not contain coronavirus itself, so patients can’t get infected from it. 

To find participants Kaiser Permanente advertised for volunteers in the Seattle area. Subjects were screened by phone, and had to meet a set list of criteria. Those who met the criteria were then medically assessed in person at the Kaiser Permanente facility. 

Some posts making the false crisis actor claim featured photos of Jennifer Haller, the first person to receive the test vaccine. The AP observed Haller, an operations manager at a small tech company, as she received the injection in an exam room.

“We all feel so helpless. This is an amazing opportunity for me to do something,” Haller said before getting vaccinated.


She was followed by three other participants.

The testing that began Monday marked just the beginning of a series of studies in people needed to prove whether the shots are safe and could work. Even if the research goes well, a vaccine would not be available for widespread use for 12 to 18 months, said Dr. Anthony Fauci of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Research groups across the world are attempting to create a vaccine effective against COVID-19. Inovio Pharmaceuticals is developing another candidate, and is expected to begin developing its own safety study next month in the U.S.,  China and South Korea.


This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: