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COVID-19 vaccines didn’t cause monkeypox outbreak

May 24, 2022 GMT
A health worker prepares a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered at a vaccination center set up in Fiumicino, near Rome's international airport, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. As global health authorities investigate an outbreak of monkeypox in recent weeks, some social media users are spreading unfounded claims about the origin of the unprecedented outbreak, including the baseless theory that monkeypox emerged from certain COVID-19 vaccines. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
A health worker prepares a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered at a vaccination center set up in Fiumicino, near Rome's international airport, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. As global health authorities investigate an outbreak of monkeypox in recent weeks, some social media users are spreading unfounded claims about the origin of the unprecedented outbreak, including the baseless theory that monkeypox emerged from certain COVID-19 vaccines. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
A health worker prepares a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered at a vaccination center set up in Fiumicino, near Rome's international airport, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. As global health authorities investigate an outbreak of monkeypox in recent weeks, some social media users are spreading unfounded claims about the origin of the unprecedented outbreak, including the baseless theory that monkeypox emerged from certain COVID-19 vaccines. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
A health worker prepares a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered at a vaccination center set up in Fiumicino, near Rome's international airport, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. As global health authorities investigate an outbreak of monkeypox in recent weeks, some social media users are spreading unfounded claims about the origin of the unprecedented outbreak, including the baseless theory that monkeypox emerged from certain COVID-19 vaccines. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
A health worker prepares a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered at a vaccination center set up in Fiumicino, near Rome's international airport, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. As global health authorities investigate an outbreak of monkeypox in recent weeks, some social media users are spreading unfounded claims about the origin of the unprecedented outbreak, including the baseless theory that monkeypox emerged from certain COVID-19 vaccines. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

CLAIM: The chimpanzee adenovirus vector used in AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine is causing the monkeypox outbreak.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Adenoviruses and poxviruses are unrelated, and monkeys and chimpanzees are different species. Monkeypox is a poxvirus that originates in wild animals and occasionally jumps to people. The chimpanzee adenovirus causes the common cold in chimps. While the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine uses a harmless, weakened chimp adenovirus to trigger an immune response, the strain has been altered so it cannot infect humans with an adenovirus, nor could it cause monkeypox.

THE FACTS: As global health authorities investigate an outbreak of monkeypox in recent weeks, some social media users are spreading unfounded claims about the origin of the unprecedented outbreak, including the baseless theory that monkeypox emerged from certain COVID-19 vaccines.

“Oh, they put Monkey Pox in the vaccines,” suggested one Twitter user, sharing an image of an AstraZeneca vaccine pamphlet that listed “recombinant, replication-deficient chimpanzee adenovirus” as an ingredient. The post gained thousands of shares and likes.

“The Covid jabs contained Chimpanzee adenovirus, now we have Monkey Pox. It probably is that simple,” said another.

But experts say it is not possible for the chimpanzee adenovirus vector used in the AstraZeneca shot to cause monkeypox for a number of reasons, including that the two illnesses are unrelated, the viral vector vaccines cannot infect humans and chimpanzees and monkeys are different species.

“On three different levels there are issues with this theory,” said Dr. Mark Slifka, a microbiology and immunology expert and professor at the Oregon National Primate Research Center.

Dr. Andrea McCollum, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Poxvirus and Rabies Branch also told The Associated Press that “there is no data to support this claim.”

Adenoviruses are a common group of viruses that can cause cold-like symptoms, among other issues, in humans and animals. Viral vector vaccines, such as the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines, use dead, nonreplicable strains of such adenoviruses to generate an immune response that can in turn help fight the novel coronavirus, according to the CDC.

Monkeypox is a virus that belongs to the same virus family as smallpox, but causes milder symptoms. Most patients experience fever, body aches, chills and fatigue, and some more severe cases can cause rashes and lesions.

“Adenoviruses are adenoviruses, they are not poxviruses. They are completely different families and have no relationship whatsoever to each other,” Slifka said, adding, “there’s no cross-reactivity in terms of antibody responses between an adenovirus and a poxvirus.”

Dr. David Freedman, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, confirmed that the adenovirus used in the AstraZeneca vaccine, and other similar vaccines, is not capable of making humans sick with either illness.

“The adenovirus cannot multiply as that adenovirus has had the gene that would enable it to multiply and cause any infection in humans completely excised,” said Freedman, who is also the president-elect of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

Freedman and Slifka explained that the claims incorrectly compare chimpanzees and monkeys, and also clarified that even though the virus is named monkeypox, it is not specific to monkeys.

“One of the misnomers is that monkeypox is spread by monkeys,” Slifka said. “In reality, monkeypox is very rarely spread by monkeys, it’s spread by rodents. It was described as monkeypox because it was identified in a monkey once upon a time when they first named it, but it’s actually mainly spread by rodents.”

Freedman added that neither monkeys, nor chimps, are a natural host for monkeypox.

In an interview with the AP, Dr. David Heymann, a leading adviser to the World Health Organization who formerly headed the agency’s emergencies department, described the origins of the recent monkeypox outbreak as “a random event” that appears to have been caused by sexual activity at two recent raves in Europe.

To date, WHO has recorded more than 90 cases of monkeypox in a dozen countries including Canada, Spain, Israel, France, Switzerland, the U.S. and Australia. The cases so far have been mild, with no deaths reported.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.