False claims of links between vaccines and HIV spread online

12 July 2023
What was claimed

Dr Anthony Fauci was responsible for the AIDS epidemic in the US.

Our verdict

He was not. This is a fake front page.

What was claimed

The smallpox vaccine triggered the US AIDS epidemic.

Our verdict

This is a debunked theory from the 1980s. There is no scientific evidence to support this claim.

What was claimed

Covid-19 vaccines increase the risk of HIV.

Our verdict

Concerns were raised in 2020 about the use of a certain vaccine technology in Covid vaccines. Major Covid vaccines used the technology worldwide, and there is no data to suggest they have caused HIV.

An Instagram collage of images implies smallpox and Covid-19 vaccines cause HIV and AIDS, as well as falsely linking former US chief medical advisor Dr Anthony Fauci to the origins of the disease. The four images all show either debunked news stories, edited images, or outdated concerns.

Vaccine misinformation can harm health, as people may make decisions based on false claims. We have previously written about false links between the Covid vaccines and HIV/AIDS, as well as the smallpox vaccine claim we address below, and many other false claims about Covid and vaccines

The origin of AIDS

The top left image shows Dr Fauci under the headline “The man who gave us AIDS”. This claim is false.

Dr Fauci has been an advisor to several US governments on the disease as well as various other emerging infectious diseases, including playing a key role during the Covid pandemic.

The image is edited as both USA Today and The Associated Press have reported. The headline is from a 1987 edition of the New York Post, and did not carry a related image underneath it. 

Kenneth Moy, head librarian at the paper, previously shared the authentic article with The Associated Press, showing it to be about the alleged “patient zero” who brought HIV into the US. More recently the original story about a Canadian flight attendant thought to be patient zero has also been disproved.

The image of Dr Fauci used in the post is from a Time magazine feature in 2020. Dr Fauci obviously looked significantly younger in 1987.

Smallpox vaccines

The top right and bottom left images in the Instagram post are from a Times article written over three decades ago saying “Smallpox vaccine ‘triggered Aids virus’”. We have written before that there is no evidence for this theory. 

Published in May 1987, the article claimed the World Health Organisation (WHO) was studying whether the vaccine “awakened” dormant HIV. 

Historian of the AIDS epidemic Dr George Severs previously told Full Fact that when the theory was first posited in 1987 it may have received “some cultural currency”, but its spread was largely limited due in part to the quick response of the scientific community.  

“It’s literally the next day people like the WHO and very high profile international scientists are coming out to say there’s absolutely no truth in this theory whatsoever,” he said.   

Recent research also found no association between the vaccine and HIV or AIDS.

Covid vaccines

The final lower right image is a screenshot of a New York Post article from 2020. It reported on a letter published in the Lancet medical journal in which some scientists warned that the use of vaccines using adenovirus 5 (Ad5) was risky. 

Adenoviruses can cause infections, including the common cold in humans—although altered versions of adenoviruses, which have been used in research and production of vaccines and cancer gene therapies, do not cause these infections.

The concern raised in the Lancet in 2020 was that follow up of a trial of an HIV vaccine using the technology found increased rates of HIV infection in men who had been vaccinated during the study. They specifically raised concerns about Ad5 as this was what was used in this study. There has been debate in the journal about what caused the increased HIV rates.

But there is no sign that the use of Ad5 in Covid vaccines has caused a rise in HIV..

Adenovirus technology was used to produce some of the major Covid vaccines used worldwide. These included the Johnson & Johnson vaccine approved in the UK, which used Ad26, and a CanSino vaccine developed in China or Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, which both used Ad5 specifically.

WHO guidance says: “Despite limited data, available information from [studies of these vaccines] suggests that current WHO recommended COVID-19 vaccines are safe for PLHIV [people living with HIV].”

Featured image courtesy of NIAID

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