Fact Check: HIV Is NOT In COVID-19 Vaccines

Fact Check

  • by: Olivera Perkins
Fact Check: HIV Is NOT In COVID-19 Vaccines HIV Not Listed

Do COVID-19 vaccines contain the HIV virus? No, that's not true: The Food and Drug Administration briefing documents for the recently approved Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines do not list HIV as an ingredient in either product.

The claim appeared in a tweet (archived here) posted on Twitter on December 17, 2020, which began, "Why is HIV in the vaccine?" It continued:

That's it. That's the tweet.

Why in the f**k would that be in there? Ok, it went longer...

This is what the post looked like on Twitter at the time of writing:

Twitter screenshot

(Source: Twitter screenshot taken on Tue Dec 22 21:23:23 2020 UTC)

The brief tweet, which does not cite any source or documentation for making the claim, doesn't contain the phrase "COVID-19" nor does it specifically reference either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines. However, given the current context of the FDA approving both vaccines in December 2020, along with replies to the tweet referring to COVID-19 vaccines, the implication is that it is referring to coronavirus vaccines.

The FDA briefing document for the Pfizer-BioNTech product doesn't mention HIV in the vaccine composition:

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine is a white to off-white, sterile, preservative-free, frozen suspension for intramuscular injection. The vaccine contains a nucleoside-modified messenger RNA (modRNA) encoding the viral spike glycoprotein (S) of SARS-CoV-2. The vaccine also includes the following ingredients: lipids ((4-hydroxybutyl)azanediyl)bis(hexane-6,1-diyl)bis(2- hexyldecanoate), 2-[(polyethylene glycol)-2000]-N,N-ditetradecylacetamide, 1,2-distearoyl-snglycero-3-phosphocholine, and cholesterol), potassium chloride, monobasic potassium phosphate, sodium chloride, dibasic sodium phosphate dihydrate, and sucrose.

Likewise, the FDA briefing document for the Moderna product doesn't mention HIV in the vaccine composition:

The Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine is a white to off-white, sterile, preservative-free frozen suspension for intramuscular injection. The vaccine contains a synthetic messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) encoding the pre-fusion stabilized spike glycoprotein (S) of SARS-CoV-2 virus. The vaccine also contains the following ingredients: lipids (SM-102, 1,2-dimyristoyl-rac-glycero3-methoxypolyethylene glycol-2000 [PEG2000-DMG], cholesterol, and 1,2-distearoyl-snglycero-3-phosphocholine [DSPC]), tromethamine, tromethamine hydrochloride, acetic acid, sodium acetate, and sucrose.

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are what is known as messenger RNA, or mRNA, vaccines. "Ribonucleic acid (RNA) is a molecule similar to DNA," according to the website for the National Institutes of Health's National Human Genome Research Institute.

Both mRNA vaccines give instruction to cells to make "a harmless piece of what is called the 'spike protein'" found on the surface of the virus causing COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Once the instructions (mRNA) are inside the immune cells, the cells use them to make the protein piece. After the protein piece is made, the cell breaks down the instructions and gets rid of them.

Next, the cell displays the protein piece on its surface. Our immune systems recognize that the protein doesn't belong there and begin building an immune response and making antibodies, like what happens in natural infection against COVID-19.

Concerns about the FDA approved COVID-19 vaccines purportedly containing HIV may have stemmed from confusion about an Australian-developed vaccine, which is a different type of vaccine than those being used in the United States. That vaccine was scheduled for distribution in Australia, but the Australian government canceled order on it in early December 2020 after some volunteers in the trial study had false positives on HIV tests, according to a December 11, 2020, New York Times article. The false positive tests were caused by the "use of two fragments of a protein found in HIV" in the vaccine. The protein didn't put participants at risk of HIV infection, but "generated the production of antibodies recognized in HIV tests at higher levels than scientists had expected."

The Australian COVID-19 vaccine uses an Adenovirus. The University of Michigan Health Lab website explains such vaccines:

Adenoviruses are viruses that can cause the common cold. We as humans have them, monkeys have them, as do other animals. For years, people have been using these viruses to deliver DNA, which are instructions for proteins. For the COVID-19 vaccine, researchers swap in a gene from SARS-CoV-2 [COVID-19 virus]. When the vaccine is given to someone, the modified cold virus makes the SARS-CoV2 protein, which stimulates the immune response.

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Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.

  Olivera Perkins

Olivera Perkins is a veteran journalist and fact checker at Lead Stories, who has covered a variety of beats, including labor, employment and workforce issues for several years at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland. Olivera has received state and national awards for her coverage, including those from the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW). She was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University.

Read more about or contact Olivera Perkins

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