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False claims tie patents to COVID-19 vaccines

July 13, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: People who received COVID-19 vaccines are now legally patented and no longer have human rights. This is because a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc. said that if a human genome is modified by mRNA vaccines then the genome can be patented.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The posts misrepresent the court ruling. Humans cannot be patented, regardless of whether they are vaccinated or unvaccinated. COVID-19 vaccines do not alter people’s DNA.

THE FACTS: An Instagram post circulating online falsely claims that mRNA vaccines against COVID-19 alter DNA, allowing humans to be patented and have their rights taken away.

But COVID-19 vaccines, including those made by Pfizer and Moderna that rely on mRNA technology, do not change a person’s genetic makeup.

The false post cites the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc. to back up its claim, but the ruling makes no mention of mRNA vaccines. Nor does the ruling say vaccinated humans can be patented.

In fact, it has been a longstanding rule that anything found in nature, including people, cannot be patented, said Lara Cartwright-Smith, associate professor in the department of health policy and management at George Washington University.

The case before the Supreme Court looked at whether Myriad Genetics, Inc. could patent the sequences of gene mutations that can lead to breast cancer. The company’s test created cDNA, which is a clone or copy of the DNA, to test for the mutations.

The Supreme Court ruled that the company could patent synthetically created cDNA because it was not natural, but could not patent the isolated human genes.

“Natural DNA is not patentable,” said Cartwright-Smith. “The copy that they made is patentable.”

Cartwright-Smith said the post online that cites the court ruling is nonsensical.

“The conclusion that it would somehow affect the status of the person is also completely false,” she said.

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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