Fact check: Posts critical for the rapid development of the COVID-19 vaccine make a misleading comparison with HIV, cancer, colds

In the weeks after drug manufacturers Moderna, AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech announced successful clinical trials for their respective COVID-19 vaccine candidates, reports on social media implied that they were unsafe by making misleading comparisons with the speed of COV development. 19 and ongoing efforts to find drugs for HIV / Aids, cancer and colds.

FILE PHOTO: Vials with vaccination of AstraZeneca’s COVISHIELD, coronavirus disease (COVID-19), are seen before being packaged in a laboratory at Serum Institute of India, Pune, India, 30 November 2020. REUTERS / Francis Mascarenhas / File Photo

Such posts – who read: ’40 years of research … no vaccine for HIV / At least 100 years of research … no vaccine for cancer / Continued research … no vaccine for colds / Less than a year for a Covid -vaccine?’ – can be found here, here and here.

The Reuters Fact Check previously unraveled the claims comparing COVID-19 vaccination to flu, RSV (colds) and cancer (here the effectiveness of COVID-19 and flu vaccines is compared here).


As of 2017, half of all people living with HIV worldwide receive antiretroviral treatment, also known as ART (here). HIV.gov explains that when ‘people living with HIV achieve and maintain viral suppression by taking HIV medication daily as prescribed, they can stay healthy and actually have no risk of transmitting HIV sexually to their partner.’

According to the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the challenge is to find an HIV vaccine because the virus ‘mutates rapidly and has unique ways of evading the immune system’. While typical vaccines mimic the immune response of recovering patients, “there are no documented cases of a person living with HIV developing an immune response that removed the infection.”

While vaccines are usually inactivated or attenuated viruses, “inactivated HIV was not effective in eliciting immune responses in clinical trials” and “a living form of HIV is too dangerous to use” (here).

Using the same technique as the Pvizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, a new Moderna HIV research vaccine relies on messenger RNA (mRNA) to activate the immune system against the virus (here).


With the statement “At least 100 years of research … no vaccine for cancer”, social media falsely portrays cancer as a communicable disease. Unlike AIDS, caused by human immunodeficiency viruses, or COVID-19, caused by a new coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2, cancer is not usually caused by viruses or bacteria, it is against which vaccines protect the body (here).

“There is no single cause for cancer,” Stanford University Healthcare points out. Instead, scientists believe that it is the interaction between many factors that causes cancer. The factors involved can be genetic, environmental or constitutional characteristics of the individual ”(here).

However, there are several viruses that can increase the risk for certain cancers, such as Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), human herpes virus. 8 (HHV-8), Human papillomavirus (HPV), and Human T-cell leukemia virus type (HTLV-1) (here, here).

The HPV vaccine can help reduce the risk of cervical cancer and the hepatitis B vaccine can help reduce your risk of liver cancer (here). Regular check-ups, safe sex and sharing of syringes or needles are not recommended.

Regarding bacteria, the American Cancer Society says that long-term stomach infection with Helicobacter pylori (H pylori) bacteria can cause stomach ulcers that can cause cancer over time (here).

In addition, infection with Chlamydia trachomatis, a common type of bacteria that can be transmitted through sex and affect the female reproductive system, can increase a person’s risk of cervical cancer, according to some studies (here).

There are currently no vaccines on the market to prevent any bacterial infection, although scientists are developing it (here, here).


WebMD explains that it was difficult to find an effective vaccine for colds, especially since there are more than 200 different types of viruses that can cause colds’ (here).

As stated here by Scientific American, scientists have been searching for a cure for colds since the 1950s, when rhinoviruses were first identified as a major cause.

With at least 160 different rhinovirus strains alone, “the cold does not look so much for one solution to one problem as it tries to design a master key to open hundreds of different locks at once,” said Peter Barlow, an immunologist . at Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland, told Scientific American.


The COVID-19 vaccine is targeted at SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease (here). Initial research suggests that there are at least six strains of SARS-CoV-2, but that the mutation rate is low and that the virus is little variable, making it easier to develop a vaccine (here, here).

In November 2020, drug manufacturers AstraZeneca (here), Moderna (here) and Pfizer-BioNTech (here) announced successful final trial results for their respective COVID-19 vaccine candidates. Final vaccine trial data showed that the COVID-19 vaccines manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna were more than 90% effective without serious side effects (here, here).

The first round of vaccinations is expected to be administered in the United States once the COVID-19 vaccines are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which will review Pfizer’s trial data on December 10 and Moderna’s on December 17. (here).


Compared to HIV, cancer and colds, COVID-19’s infection rate and its immediate economic impact on the world economy have certainly contributed to the rapid development of the vaccine (here).

The speed has caused concern among the public and countries are watching Britain, the first country to launch the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for information on possible side effects (here, here).

Vaccines must go through a number of phases before being approved (here).

A major effort has been made worldwide to pool resources to accelerate the development and production of the COVID-19 vaccine (here).

In April 2020, the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator (here) was launched by the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners, bringing together governments, scientists, businesses, civil society, philanthropists and global health organizations to develop and distribution of tests, treatments and vaccines.

As the WHO explains, in the case of COVID-19, unprecedented financial investment and scientific cooperation have enabled some steps in research and development to take place “in parallel”. For example, some clinical trials evaluate multiple vaccines at the same time, although clinical and safety standards are maintained despite the acceleration (here).


Missing context. The reports make a false comparison by comparing the fast timeline of the COVID-19 vaccine with the lack of a vaccine for HIV / Aids, cancer and colds. It is difficult to find an effective HIV vaccine because the virus mutates rapidly. Cancer is not a communicable disease and is not usually caused by viruses, although a handful of viruses increase one’s risk for certain cancers. It is difficult to get a vaccine for colds because there are more than 200 different types of viruses that can cause colds.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to actually check social media posts.