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Virulent HIV variant is decades old, has no link to COVID vaccine

February 7, 2022 GMT

CLAIM: The HIV variant recently found in the Netherlands is linked to the COVID-19 vaccines.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The previously unrecognized HIV variant had been circulating in the Netherlands for decades. Experts say there’s no connection between the vaccines and the variant, and vaccine trials have not shown that recipients are more susceptible to contracting HIV in general.

THE FACTS: After news broke last week that a more virulent variant of HIV has been documented in the Netherlands, social media users began spreading false claims attempting to link the variant to the COVID-19 vaccines.

“What will you do when it is found that HIV is in the vaccine via Spike protein?” wrote one Twitter user. “New HIV strain found in the Netherlands: Highly infectious variant makes people ill twice as quick. There are no coincidences!”

Multiple social media users also shared a post saying: “For those of you who have taken the third dose, go and take a test for AIDS. The result may surprise you. Then sue your government.”

The Associated Press has previously debunked similar claims trying to link the vaccines to HIV or AIDS, the most severe phase of HIV infection. Experts said the COVID-19 vaccines do not contain HIV, and clinical trials and data from the administration of shots around the world have not shown that it makes the body more vulnerable to contracting the virus.

Experts also confirm the vaccines have no connection to the newly identified HIV variant, which actually dates back to the 1990s.

The University of Oxford published a study last week saying that scientists had found 17 cases of the “VB variant” or virulent subtype B, which caused more immune damage and was more infectious than subtype B. Since most of the cases were from the Netherlands, researchers delved into Dutch records and found a cluster of 109 people infected with the VB variant.

But the variant has been around for years and has been virulent the entire time, according to Joel Wertheim, associate professor in the department of medicine at the University of California, San Diego.

“Sometime in the ’90s, a more virulent variant of HIV seems to have evolved and spread. And they’ve documented it through the early 2000s,” he told the AP.

The only thing that connects this cluster to the COVID-19 pandemic is that the researchers published it during the pandemic, yet all of this happened, decades ago,” Wertheim said. There’s no connection.”

Wertheim said claims that COVID-19 vaccines cause HIV are “completely bogus and ridiculous.”

He added that there have been fewer cases of HIV in the population reported throughout the pandemic. “There’s no data I know of to support the diagnoses to have shot up in recent time,” he said.

The AP reported that the spread of the VB variant has been declining since 2010, and HIV medicines worked just as well in people with this variant as everyone else.

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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: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536