The virus in this clinical study is not the coronavirus seen in China in 2019/2020

28 January 2020
What was claimed

A vaccine for the coronavirus was being trialled in January 2020 days before the outbreak.

Our verdict

Incorrect. The trial referenced was for a different type of coronavirus—Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

A Facebook post claiming that a vaccine trial for the Wuhan coronavirus started days before the recent outbreak has been shared hundreds of times on Facebook.

However, the post makes several incorrect claims.

Firstly, the vaccine trial referenced does not relate to the virus behind the recent outbreak, but a different one altogether. 

While the virus observed in Wuhan, China has commonly been referred to as simply “coronavirus”, this is actually a term for a family of viruses that can infect a range of species. The vaccine in the clinical trial linked to in the post is for a coronavirus called Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

The most recent virus, currently known simply as “2019 novel coronavirus” (2019-nCoV), is a different virus. Multiple efforts to develop a vaccine for 2019-nCoV are currently underway, but none are at trial stage yet.

Secondly, the vaccine in the trial referenced to was replication-deficient, meaning it was engineered by scientists to be unable to spread through the body and infect the host.

Additionally, the location of the vaccine trial is listed as Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which is 4,000 miles away from Wuhan, where the first 2019-nCoV outbreak was identified. And (as the name suggests) the 2019-nCoV outbreak was first observed at the end of 2019, before the date the MERS vaccine trial was due to start.

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