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Articles misrepresent Fauci-linked research involving foster children

October 28, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: Dr. Anthony Fauci funded experiments on orphans with AIDS and 25 of them died.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: Missing context. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which Fauci runs, did fund clinical trials evaluating HIV and AIDS treatments that enrolled HIV-positive children both in and out of foster care. But the report that found that 25 children in foster care died during trials did not find that the trials were the cause of their deaths.

THE FACTS: A claim spreading on social media is targeting Dr. Anthony Fauci by misrepresenting the findings of a 2009 report focused on New York City foster children who were HIV-positive and participated in clinical trials related to treatments for their condition.

The website Unite America First published a headline: “Dr. Faucistein Funded Experimenting With AIDS Orphans…25 Died.”

The story claims that Fauci “funded a study in New York City, where they treated AIDS kids with experimental drugs, twenty-five of those kids died during the research.”

The 25 deaths figure comes from a 2009 report by the Vera Institute of Justice, later cited in the story.

But the story ignores a key finding in the Vera report: It explicitly says that “Vera medical staff did not find, however, that any child’s death was caused directly by clinical trial medication.”

The Vera report followed an investigation by the organization, prompted by concerns about the participation of New York City foster children in various clinical trials related to HIV and AIDS. The report identified 532 such children who participated in 88 clinical trials and observational studies between 1985 and 2005.

“Many children — inside and outside of foster care and clinical trials — died because of complications of HIV/AIDS during the late 1980s and 1990s,” the report reads. “Eighty of the 532 children who participated in clinical trials or observational studies died while in foster care; 25 of them died while enrolled in a medication trial.”

Tim Ross, a lead author of the Vera report, said in a phone interview that those suggesting the clinical trials were the cause of the 25 deaths were “completely misreading what we found.”

“Our report does not support that claim,” said Ross, now the managing partner of Action Research, a child welfare research group. He noted that children who participated in such trials were “incredibly sick” before the trials.

While Vera was not able to access state medical records, the group was able to find medical information through child welfare files, review other records and conduct interviews.

Of the 25 deaths of foster children who were in clinical trials, the report says that a “detailed review found that 22 of these 25 children had developed multiple AIDS related complications prior to their enrollment in a clinical trial.” Several had been enrolled in trials designed for those with multiple AIDS-related complications who had exhausted other treatment options.

While the Vera report was prompted by concerns surrounding the participation of New York City foster children in such trials, the clinical trials did not exclusively enroll foster children, Ross said.

Some trials were sponsored by pharmaceutical companies, but more than 80 percent of the children considered in the Vera review participated in trials sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, according to the report.

The report says that the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which Fauci has directed since 1984, and the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development both provided funding for trials.

The Vera report did identify some issues, such as some child welfare files missing consent forms for trials, and made various recommendations.

In a 2005 report preceding the Vera review, The Associated Press found that a significant number of foster children who participated in such government-funded trials were not provided an often-required independent advocate.

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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.