Schedule of ‘planned COVID-19 variants’ is fake
CLAIM: A table shows a list of planned COVID-19 variants and when they will be “released” to the public.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. This schedule is fabricated. The table claims the delta variant was “launched” in June 2021, but it actually emerged several months earlier. It is impossible to predict with certainty when variants will emerge in the population, according to Dr. Christopher Murray, a public health researcher and director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
THE FACTS: As the highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus contributes to infection surges across the United States and the world, social media users are falsely claiming the emergence of new variants is a planned ploy by universities, nonprofits and global elites.
“These are the PLANNED COVID-19 VARIANTS - just look at the dates when they will be ‘released’ to the media,” read several posts shared on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok.
The posts included an image of a table in Spanish, which listed “launch” dates between 2021 and 2023 for 21 potential COVID-19 variants named after the Greek alphabet. Next to the table, the posts included logos of universities and organizations including Johns Hopkins University, the World Health Organization, the World Economic Forum and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The table doesn’t represent the work of these organizations, nor any legitimate scientific organization. The World Economic Forum and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation both responded to Associated Press queries to confirm the document wasn’t real.
The table also falsely claims the delta variant of the coronavirus emerged in June 2021. It was first detected in India in October 2020.
Finally, the posts ignore that variants occur in the population through random mutations and are not created by humans. It is very challenging to predict when another serious variant will emerge or how many will affect the population in the years ahead, Murray said.
So far, Murray said, researchers know about four serious variants circulating in the global population. That’s after about 2 billion cases of COVID-19 have been identified worldwide. Given that information, Murray said, his best guess is that a new serious variant will emerge once every 500 million infections. Still, he says, it’s “impossible” to know for certain.
“That’s a crazy wild guess but it’s what we’ve observed,” Murray said. “The goal of predicting the next evolutions is quite hard,” Murray said.
The AP has debunked other misinformation about COVID-19 variants, including the false claim that COVID-19 vaccines can create variants.
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