Fact Check: Merck Did NOT Say It Is 'Better' to Get COVID And Recover Than Take Its Vaccines

Fact Check

  • by: Arthur Brice
Fact Check: Merck Did NOT Say It Is 'Better' to Get COVID And Recover Than Take Its Vaccines Misrepresented

Did Merck say it is "better" to get COVID-19 and recover than to take its vaccines? No, that's not true: The pharmaceutical company said it was halting development of its vaccines because they were not as effective in providing immunity as contracting the virus and recovering, and not as effective as other vaccines currently in use.

Indeed, in a statement to Lead Stories, Merck said it was "encouraged" by progress of other vaccines, and the company and it said it's "important that we now collectively support authorized vaccination programs."

The claim appeared in an article published by Principia Scientific International on January 26, 2021, titled "Merck Scraps Vaccine, says better to catch COVID Virus & Recover" (archived here) which opened:

Vaccine manufacturer Merck has abandoned development of two coronavirus vaccines, saying that after extensive research it was concluded that the shots offered less protection than just contracting the virus itself and developing antibodies.

Users on social media only saw this title, description and thumbnail:

Merck Scraps Vaccine, says better to catch COVID Virus & Recover | Principia Scientific Intl.

One word can change the meaning of a statement, and precision is important. Pharmaceutical giant Merck announced January 25, 2021, that it was discontinuing development of two experimental COVID-19 vaccines -- V590 and V591 -- because they were not as effective as the body's own immune response to fighting the virus after an infection or as effective as other vaccines. The company said in a release:

This decision follows Merck's review of findings from Phase 1 clinical studies for the vaccines. In these studies, both V590 and V591 were generally well tolerated, but the immune responses were inferior to those seen following natural infection and those reported for other SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 vaccines.

Principia Scientific International wrongly reported in a headline on a January 26, 2021 article that:

Merck Scraps Vaccine, Says Better To Catch COVID Virus & Recover

At no time did the company say it would be "better" for a person to become infected with COVID-19 and build immunity that way.

Reached for comment by Lead Stories on January 27, 2021, Merck said in an email:

It is important that we now collectively support authorized vaccination programs to safeguard our communities from COVID-19. We are encouraged by the recent progress of other authorized and late-stage COVID-19 vaccine candidates that have set a high bar for efficacy and safety. This is good news for our industry and for society. We applaud the scientific ingenuity and dedication of the researchers as well as the commitment of the clinical trial participants who have made these vaccines a reality.

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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.


  Arthur Brice

Arthur Brice is a fact checker at Lead Stories. He has been a journalist for more than 40 years, nearly 30 of them in newspapers. Brice was a national desk editor and reporter at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for nearly 20 years. Previously, he was political editor at The Tampa Tribune and also worked for three other Florida newspapers. He spent 11 Years as an executive editor and executive producer at CNN. 

Read more about or contact Arthur Brice

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