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Posts falsely claim COVID-19 virus has not yet been isolated

December 8, 2020 GMT

CLAIM: Scientists have not isolated the COVID-19 virus, so a vaccine is not possible.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The virus was first isolated by Chinese authorities on Jan. 7, according to the World Health Organization.

THE FACTS: Following news that test results showed COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna to be more than 90 percent effective, Facebook and Instagram users began sharing a post suggesting that the COVID-19 virus was never isolated, making it impossible to create a vaccine.

A virus is isolated when a specimen is collected from an infected patient to be grown and studied. Virus isolation is critical for diagnosis of diseases and in the development of vaccines.

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The posts say, “if no one has isolated the virus then what’s in the vaccine??” over a photo that appears to show a doctor holding a vial of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Maybe no one has isolated the virus because there is no CV-19 virus?,” one Facebook post stated. “Keep telling us the lie until we not only believe it but inject hazardous waste into our bloodstream to defend against a CV-19 pandemic that doesn’t even exist (to chip us)?”

According to WHO officials, its office in China was first informed about the virus in December of 2019. The virus was then isolated on Jan. 7 by Chinese authorities.

China later shared the genetic sequence of the virus on Jan. 11. The genetic sequence has allowed for diagnostic and vaccine development, said Glenn Randall, a professor in the department of microbiology at The University of Chicago.

Two vaccine makers, Pfizer and Moderna, use messenger RNA, or mRNA, technology which informs the body on how to make the spike protein and trains the immune system to identify the real virus.

A third vaccine, by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, was derived from a chimpanzee cold virus which was designed not to spread. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that none of the vaccines being developed in the U.S. use the live virus that causes COVID-19.

“The CDC isolated the virus from the first known infected US patient Jan. 20,” Randall said in an email. “It then was grown and distributed to qualified research laboratories.”

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The virus was declared a global emergency on Jan. 30.

Vincent Racaniello, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Columbia University, addressed the virus’s isolation in a blog post in May.

“The first virus isolate, taken from a Wuhan patient in December 2019, is the same strain as the most recent isolate taken anywhere else in the world in May 2020,” Racaniello said in his blog.

The Associated Press reported in June that China was delayed in releasing the genome sequence of the virus and sat on the genetic map for more than a week even after government labs had decoded it.

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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