False claims that COVID-19 vaccine trials were halted when animals died in preclinical studies are making the rounds on social media again, according to reports.
The misinformation gained traction in 2021 after Sen. Bob Hall (R-Texas) claimed at a hearing that the “American people are now guinea pigs.” A 1-minute clip of his remarks was recently re-upped on Twitter, including the false claim that early-phase studies for COVID vaccines were stopped due to safety issues.
“What I have read, they actually started the animal tests and because the animals were dying, they stopped the tests,” Hall claimed in 2021, according to Associated Press (AP). “They didn’t do the human testing and they stopped the animal tests because the animals were dying, and then they turned it out for the public,” Hall said.
None of the makers of COVID vaccines for the U.S. reported that preclinical testing was stopped due to animal safety concerns, AP noted. A spokesperson for Pfizer, maker of the Comirnaty vaccine, confirmed in an email to MedPage Today that, “Pfizer conducted and completed preclinical studies of our COVID-19 vaccine in 2020,” and pointed to a September 2020 press release with data from those preclinical studies. A peer-reviewed paper was published in Nature in 2021.
A spokesperson at Janssen, maker of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) viral vector-based COVID vaccine, also told MedPage Today in an email that “No vaccine-related deaths were observed in preclinical tests of our COVID-19 vaccine.”
And the FDA jumped in, telling the AP that the claim by Hall “is completely false. All authorized and approved COVID-19 vaccines underwent animal studies.”
Pfizer and Moderna used rats to test their mRNA vaccines, according to the AP, while J&J used rabbits, and “Other animal testing was also done for safety and efficacy. Research on monkeys for the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines was detailed in scientific journals. None of the studies reported prematurely ending because of animal deaths.”
Novavax, a protein-subunit COVID vaccine that gained FDA backing in June 2022, also did not end early trials abruptly because of animal deaths, although that shot was not yet available in the U.S. when Hall made his false statements.
Hall did not return a request for comment from MedPage Today as of press time. However, as late as November 2021, he hosted a Facebook Live session, falsely claiming that people are as likely to “die from the vaccine shot” as they are from COVID-19.