Covid vaccine project using fragments of HIV was cancelled in 2020

4 October 2023
What was claimed

A Covid vaccine was developed that used HIV as part of the delivery platform and may have caused HIV infections.

Our verdict

This vaccine was never rolled out. It did not cause any HIV infections in the trial.

A Facebook video uploaded on 19 September shows an interview about a potential Australian Covid-19 vaccine that was created using “a tiny fragment of HIV”. The clip has been shared now without the context that this vaccine was never rolled out and the project was stopped in late 2020.

The video is originally from a BBC Horizon documentary from June 2021. Similar clips of the show were shared on social media in February 2022, as we wrote about at the time.

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The vaccine and the documentary

The documentary features Professor Keith Chappell of the University of Queensland in Australia, who is describing research into a new Covid vaccine in the clip. The vaccine used Covid spike proteins, a part of the virus on the outer shell that our immune system can react to. The proposed vaccine used “a tiny fragment of HIV” as a “molecular clamp” to hold the spike protein in place.

The vaccine project was abandoned in 2020 after participants had false-positive HIV test results after having the vaccine—while they did not become infected with the virus from the vaccine, they had generated antibodies against HIV which led to the inaccurate test results.

As we’ve written before, this is described later in the Horizon episode, with Professor Chappell saying that funding had been removed and that the Australian government was no longer going to supply the vaccine as a result of the HIV diagnostics issue, but these parts of the documentary aren’t included in the Facebook video.

Did the vaccine cause HIV infections?

The clip on Facebook features someone saying “f*****g rubbish” after Professor Chappell says “there's nothing that makes HIV replicate” in the vaccine. Testing of participants in the trial did not find any evidence of the HIV virus present.

Full Fact spoke to Professor Chappell who confirmed that the participants in the trial were not infected with HIV but returned false positive results on some HIV tests, and that over time this has decreased, with a majority no longer having these false positive results.

He said: “It is disappointing to see this misrepresentation of our work in 2020 to develop a vaccine for covid-19.”

“The University of Queensland is fully committed to the well being of participants who took part in the phase I clinical trial conducted in 2020.”

Featured image courtesy of NIAID

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