Fact Check: There Is NO 'COVID-22' Virus -- Social Media Users Glommed Onto A Researcher's Shorthand For COVID-19 Infections In 2022

Fact Check

  • by: Dean Miller
Fact Check: There Is NO 'COVID-22' Virus -- Social Media Users Glommed Onto A Researcher's Shorthand For COVID-19 Infections In 2022 No Such Virus

Did a new, more-deadly virus arise in August 2021 called "COVID-22"? No, that's not true: social media users grabbed the phrase "COVID-22" from a German news site's interview with an immunologist, causing a worldwide health scare. He used the phrase as casual shorthand for his prediction that there will be more variants of SARS-CoV-2 beyond the delta variant that caused a summer 2021 surge in hospitalizations. The immunologist, Dr. Sai Reddy, of Zurich, told Lead Stories that in technical settings he uses the proper nomenclature (SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19) and only used "nicknames" to give uncomplicated answers in an interview with Blick, a German-language tabloid newspaper published in Switzerland.

Among the false descriptions of a new virus was this August 24, 2021, Instagram post (archived here) that appeared under the title "COVID-22 COULD BE MORE DEADLY THAN DELTA EXPERT CLAIMS". It opened:

An expert has warned that a new variant dubbed "Covid-22" could be more lethal than the world-dominating Delta.

Professor Doctor Sai Reddy of the federal technology institute ETH Zurich, an immunologist, believes that combination of existing strains could result in a new & more dangerous phase of the pandemic.

Social media users saw this at the time this fact check was written:

Lead Stories collected examples of Tweets about "COVID-22"

Some in jest, some in ignorance, posted about the coming infection of thousands with "COVID-22."

What follows is a montage of "COVID-22" posts on Twitter, collected by Lead Stories:

Covd22 Tweets.jpg

(Source: Twitter.com screenshots taken Mon Aug 30 24:00 2021 UTC)

There is no "COVID-22" on the World Health Organization's page that tracks SARS-CoV-2 variants Once a multi-continent pandemic is underway, the World Health Organization settles on a signle name for the disease so peer organizations that don't share languages can more easily communicate and coordinate their efforts. Lead Stories also searched the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and found no such illness or virus.

The National Library of Medicine, which draws on an index of more than 1 million titles, offered no links to science publications about "COVID-22" as the following screenshot shows.

nlm covid22.png

(Source: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov screenshot taken Tue Aug 31 23:04:50 2021 UTC)

Pangolin, a shareware app, takes virologists' samples and identifies the lineage, helping distinguish Beta variants of SARS-CoV-2 from delta, for instance. The Pangolin website contains no listing for COVID-22.


(Source: https://virological.org/t/pangolin-web-application-release screenshot taken Tue Aug 31 22:53:21 2021 UTC)

The only publicly available origin of the phrase is an interview in Blick, a Swiss tabloid, with Dr. Sai Reddy, a professor of Systems and Synthetic Immunology at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, a public university in Zürich, Switzerland.

In this August 22, 2021, article, he said (according to a rough Google translation of the original German) that the emergence of the highly contagious delta variant shows that the virus has ample opportunity to keep itself replicating because there are so many host bodies available, due to various nations' decisions to ease up on lockdowns and other pandemic-fighting measures.


(Blick.ch screenshot taken Tue Aug 31 at 14:19:23 2021 UTC)
In an August 31, 2021 email to Lead Stories, Dr. Reddy said that he did not announce the discovery of a new virus. He wrote:
I of course agree that Covid-19 is the proper and correct name for the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 (and it's variants). I used the nicknames of "Covid-21" and "Covid-22" to refer to Covid-19 in 2021 and Covid-19 in 2022, I was unaware at the time that these nicknames would lead to such a reaction with various media outlets and on social media. What I meant to convey was that as SARS-CoV-2 is literally evolving, so should our response to the pandemic also evolve.
Reddy wrote that he predicts COVID-19 cases will rise in the early months of 2022 due to the fact the delta variant is even more transmissible than earlier variants, may develop the ability to escape certain antibodies and there are so many unvaccinated people in Switzerland and other parts of the world. His baseline message is the same as in the Blick interview article: "I encourage everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated and, if and when public health guidelines advise, to also obtain booster vaccinations (a measure for which public health authorities in Israel and the USA have already advocated)."

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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.

  Dean Miller

Lead Stories Managing Editor Dean Miller has edited daily and weekly newspapers, worked as a reporter for more than a decade and is co-author of two non-fiction books. After a Harvard Nieman Fellowship, he served as Director of Stony Brook University's Center for News Literacy for six years, then as Senior Vice President/Content at Connecticut Public Broadcasting. Most recently, he wrote the twice-weekly "Save the Free Press" column for The Seattle Times. 

Read more about or contact Dean Miller

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