Human coronaviruses first identified in the 1960s cause common colds. But a viral video misrepresents early research on common coronaviruses and cites unrelated patents to falsely suggest U.S. scientists created the viruses that cause SARS and COVID-19. The video also is not footage of official testimony before the European Parliament.
Scientists have been studying coronaviruses, a family of viruses that infect animals and humans, for decades — the first was identified in chickens in the 1930s. In 1968, after the first human coronavirus was identified in 1965, virologists grouped them and named them coronaviruses for their crown-like surface, which also resembles the outermost layer of the sun called the corona (corona is the Latin word for crown).
Seven coronaviruses are known to infect humans — four of them, known as common human coronaviruses (229E, NL63, OC43 and HKU1), generally cause mild to moderate symptoms of a common cold. But coronaviruses got more attention in 2003, after the emergence of SARS-CoV-1, the first coronavirus known to cause a severe respiratory illness in humans, followed by MERS-CoV in 2012, and SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, in 2019.
Both SARS-CoV-1 and MERS-CoV originated in animals and jumped to humans. Although there is still no proof of how SARS-CoV-2 started, many scientists think the available evidence also points to a zoonotic spillover. If SARS-CoV-2 did escape from a lab in Wuhan, there is a general consensus that it was an accident. A U.S. Intelligence report released in 2021 showed that all agencies agreed that “the virus was not developed as a biological weapon” and “most” said the virus “probably was not genetically engineered,” as we reported.
Yet, in a widely shared video misleadingly presented as testimony to the European Parliament, David Martin, a financial analyst, cited unrelated patents and distorted early research on coronaviruses to falsely suggest that scientists in the U.S. created the viruses that cause SARS and COVID-19 as part of a plot to drive vaccine profits.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this was premeditated domestic terrorism,” he said of the COVID-19 pandemic (mark 19:22). “This is an act of biological and chemical warfare perpetrated on the human race. … [T]his was a financial heist and a financial fraud,” he added — a quote that was later shared in a Twitter post that has been retweeted more than 75,000 times.
Except Martin’s entire argument is bunk. Dr. Susan R. Weiss, a coronavirus researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, told us in a phone interview that his statements are full of inaccuracies and completely distort past coronavirus research.
“There is no basis for any of this,” she said. “It makes no scientific sense.”
Martin has pushed several conspiracy theories about the pandemic. In 2020, he was a central figure in the second “Plandemic” video, which also falsely claimed that the pandemic was planned, as we’ve written.
Not European Parliament Testimony
Part of the appeal of Martin’s video — and lending false legitimacy to his claims — is that at first glance, it appears he is speaking in front of the European Parliament and giving official testimony.
“[C]ant believe my ears, what is being said at the europian union,” a Facebook user said, sharing the video, which shows Martin next to a European Parliament flag in what might look to someone like the European Parliament Hemicycle.
“Must watch: This is the opening presentation by Dr David Martin on the origins of Covid in 1965 & Covid Vaccines in 1990!” a Twitter user wrote. “He speaks in front of the European Parliament International Covid Summit III in Brussels on May 3, 2023. Hear and be shocked..!”
In reality, only five of the 705 members of the European Parliament participated in the event, which took place in a room of the parliament’s building in Brussels, as part of a three-day meeting organized by COVID-19 skeptics and anti-vaccination activists. The five Parliament members have participated in actions opposing COVID-19 vaccines.
Natalie Kontoulis, a press officer for the European Parliament, told us in an email that the meeting “was not an official European Parliament event.” She added, “Members of the Parliament can exercise their mandate freely and bear responsibility for both their activities and their content.”
According to the event’s website, the speaker line-up included some prominent COVID-19 misinformation spreaders, including Dr. Robert Malone, Dr. Pierre Kory, and Dr. Ryan Cole. The event content was turned into a book called “ICS 3 – The Whole Truth” and commercialized — a paperback copy sells for $29.99.
SARS-CoV-2 is New, Not Engineered for 56 Years
During the almost 22-minute video, Martin spins a scientifically impossible story that suggests that SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses are the result of experimentation with common cold coronaviruses that were discovered in the 1960s.
“This is actually something that’s been long in the making,” he said of the COVID-19 pandemic (mark 5:31). “In 1967, the year I was born, we did the first human trials on inoculating people with modified coronavirus. Isn’t that amazing? 56 years ago — the overnight success of a pathogen that’s been 56 years in engineering.”
But Martin, who misleads throughout by implying all coronaviruses might be the same, is misrepresenting a study that involved infecting people with a coronavirus that causes a cold. The virus had not been modified. More important, the notion that a common coronavirus could have been manipulated or engineered to create SARS-CoV-2 is incorrect.
“They’re too different,” Weiss said. “We don’t have the ability to turn one into the other.”
About a minute later, he said, “Ironically, the common cold was turned into a chimera in the 1970s. And in 1975, 1976, and 1977 we started figuring out how to modify coronavirus by putting it into different animals, pigs and dogs.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Weiss told us.
First, as we said, there are multiple kinds of coronaviruses. Some infect animals and others infect humans — and a few can cross from one species to another one, Weiss told us. “It turns out, the human virus … at least the cold virus, as far as I know, only replicates in humans.” The viruses couldn’t be genetically modified at that time, either, she explained. “We couldn’t engineer viruses at that time,” she said of the 1970s, since the technology to do it, such as cloning, didn’t yet exist.
Martin continues to mislead by saying the inoculation of those supposedly modified common coronaviruses created a huge problem in the pig and dog industry, which led Pfizer to patent its “first spike protein vaccine” in 1990. “Isn’t that fascinating? Isn’t it fascinating that we were, we were told that, ‘Well, the spike protein is a new thing,’” he said (mark 7:44).
Except, that patent was for a canine coronavirus vaccine, which targets an entirely different virus from SARS-CoV-2. In 2020, we debunked related claims that also confused canine coronavirus with the virus that caused the pandemic.
Moreover, scientists have never said that coronavirus spike proteins are “new.” The specific SARS-CoV-2 spike was new, and the genetic sequence was needed to design the vaccines. But one reason why the COVID-19 vaccines could be made so rapidly is because scientists already knew the virus’s spike proteins would be good vaccine targets. The existence of that previous knowledge is not evidence that SARS-CoV-2 was created as a bioweapon or as part of a ploy to sell vaccines.
Martin also falsely claims that SARS-CoV-1 was created in an American lab.
“Are you suggesting that SARS … might have come from a laboratory in the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill? No, I’m not suggesting it. I’m telling you that’s the facts — we engineered SARS,” he said. “SARS is not a naturally occurring phenomenon. The naturally occurring phenomenon is called the common cold … SARS is the research developed by humans weaponizing a life system model to actually attack human beings.”
There is no evidence SARS-CoV-1 was engineered or came from any lab. The virus naturally appeared in 2002 in China, when it likely jumped from civets to humans, and its origins are linked to bats.
Martin pointed to a 2002 patent as supposed proof. But the patent, which is for a method for creating viral vectors, focuses on a pig coronavirus (viral vectors are used to deliver genetic information to cells). As before, the patent is not evidence that the SARS virus was engineered.
Martin also distorted the meaning of a line of the patent that says the method could help produce “an infectious, replication defective, coronavirus particle.”
“Listen to those words: infectious replication defective,” Martin said suggestively (mark 10:18). “What does that phrase actually mean for those of you not familiar with language? Let me unpack it for you. Infectious replication defective means a weapon. It means something meant to target an individual but not have collateral damage to other individuals.”
But he’s wrong again. Replication-defective simply means that a viral particle would be incapable of replicating itself.
Editor’s note: SciCheck’s articles providing accurate health information and correcting health misinformation are made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation has no control over FactCheck.org’s editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation.
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