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SciCheck’s COVID-19/Vaccination Project

RFK Jr.’s COVID-19 Deceptions

This article is available in both English and Español

Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s battle against vaccines — and against the institutions that promote them — goes back to at least the mid-2000s, as we explain in the first article of this series. But the arrival of COVID-19 gave the environmental attorney fresh grounds to intensify his attacks and a timely platform to gain new followers and revenue.

Kennedy’s organization, Children’s Health Defense, has published thousands of stories about COVID-19, many including misleading claims, some of which we’ve written about. During the pandemic, CHD increased its reach and doubled its funds, according to an investigation by the Associated Press. The extra money allowed the group to open new branches in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Australia; translate stories into Spanish, French, Italian and German; launch an internet TV channel; and start a movie studio. (Kennedy took a leave of absence starting on April 1 for his presidential campaign.)

In 2021, researchers identified Kennedy as one of the “Disinformation Dozen,” or the top 12 most prolific spreaders of COVID-19 misinformation online. That same year, Instagram took down Kennedy’s account for spreading false information, although it was reinstated in June because of his campaign. In 2022, Meta removed CHD’s Facebook and Instagram accounts for “repeatedly” violating its COVID-19 misinformation policies (the local chapters are still active on the platforms).  

COVID-19 has given Kennedy a new base that shares a mistrust in health and governmental institutions, and he has consistently associated himself with the anti-vaccine movement. In Kennedy’s 2021 book, “The Real Anthony Fauci,” he presents the former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases as the villain, carrying out a Machiavellian plan in partnership with pharmaceutical companies to profit from vaccines, while describing a list of prominent anti-vaccine figures to whom the book is dedicated as “heroic.”

In December 2021, Kennedy falsely called the COVID-19 vaccine “the deadliest vaccine ever made,” citing deaths reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, which is part of the nation’s vaccine safety monitoring systems. But as we have explained, the reports are unverified and, as the VAERS website warns, any report “to VAERS is not documentation that a vaccine caused the event.” Expanded reporting requirements and intense scrutiny of the widely given COVID-19 vaccines did increase reporting to VAERS, but this doesn’t mean the shots are unsafe.

This is one installment in a three-part series correcting RFK Jr.’s false and misleading health and science claims.

More recently, during his campaign, Kennedy hosted a virtual roundtable with some top COVID-19 misinformation spreaders, including Dr. Joseph Mercola, Del Bigtree and Dr. Pierre Kory. And in the first episode of his campaign YouTube series “Running on Truth,” the only three people featured are Dr. Christiane Northrup, Dr. Robert Malone and Kory — each of whom have pushed COVID-19 disinformation. 

Time and again, Kennedy has misrepresented or distorted the science about the pandemic or the COVID-19 vaccines. Here, in the final installment of this three-part series, we review some of his claims on those topics that he’s made so far during his campaign challenging President Joe Biden for the Democratic nomination.

We reached out to his campaign for this series, but we haven’t received a response. 

Deep Misrepresentation of Early Pandemic Genomic Study

One of Kennedy’s most notable recent comments is the false claim that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, may have been “targeted” to attack Caucasians and Black people — and that Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese people are the “most immune” to the disease.  

“In fact, COVID-19 — there is an argument that it is ethnically targeted. COVID-19 attacks certain races disproportionately,” Kennedy said while talking about bioweapons and “ethnically targeted microbes,” during a press dinner in New York, made public by the New York Post. “COVID-19 is targeted to attack Caucasians and Black people. The people who are most immune are Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese.” 

It is not known, he added, “whether it was deliberately targeted or not, but there are papers out there that show the … racial and ethnic differential and impact to that.” As we will explain, studies do not support his claims. 

A nurse supports a patient as they walk in the COVID-19 alternative care site, built into a parking garage, at Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, Nevada, on Dec. 16, 2020. Photo by Patrick T. Fallon / AFP via Getty Images.

His comments, published the morning of July 15, were widely and strongly criticized and condemned

Hours after publication, Kennedy took to Twitter, which is now known as X, to defend himself. He said the New York Post story was “mistaken,” since he had “never, ever suggested” that SARS-CoV-2 “was targeted to spare Jews,” referring to the Post’s headline.

But then he added that he had “accurately pointed out … that the U.S. and other governments are developing ethnically targeted bioweapons and that a 2021 study of the COVID-19 virus shows that COVID-19 appears to disproportionately affect certain races since the furin cleave docking site is most compatible with Blacks and Caucasians and least compatible with ethnic Chinese, Finns, and Ashkenazi Jews. In that sense, it serves as a kind of proof of concept for ethnically targeted bioweapons. I do not believe and never implied that the ethnic effect was deliberately engineered.” His post included a link to a study published in July 2020, not 2021. 

As we’ve written, all U.S. intelligence agencies agree that COVID-19 is not the result of a biological weapon.

In addition, the study’s findings “never supported” Kennedy’s claim, one of the authors told CBS News.

The study was done early in the pandemic, before any treatment was available, and the authors wanted to find out if genetic factors contributed to COVID-19 susceptibility, since that information could help in the development of personalized treatments.

But the study didn’t test whether certain gene variants actually make people more susceptible to the coronavirus — and it did not find that “COVID-19 appears to disproportionately affect certain races” because of genetic factors, as Kennedy claimed. 

Instead, the authors probed around 81,000 human genomes for mutations in two proteins that allow the coronavirus to enter cells, ACE2 and TMPRSS2. They then used computer programs to identify 124 mutations that might make COVID-19 worse, and looked to see how common those mutations were in different populations. 

The team found that certain groups, specifically African or African American and Non-Finnish Europeans, were more likely to have these possibly harmful variants than others — and that for ACE2, no mutations were identified in genomes from Ashkenazi Jewish or Amish populations (East Asian, along with Finnish, South Asian and Latino populations, were in between).

But as the authors acknowledged, the results only “suggested possible associations” between certain gene variants and COVID-19 susceptibility — and needed to be validated in COVID-19 patients. 

One genomics expert noted on X that it’s possible the paper’s findings simply reflect the bias in the genome sampling, since very few genomes were from Ashkenazi Jewish or Amish people, while far more were from African or African American or European people.

Moreover, most of the possibly harmful mutations are rare in the populations — often 0.01% or less — so they hardly represent a good way of creating an ethnically-targeted bioweapon, even if the findings were to be validated.

“Even if there are links to certain genetic makeups that MAY put you at higher or lower risk,” Florian Krammer, a virologist at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, told PolitiFact, “these influences have a low effect size.”

Another study, published in April 2021, which did perform some biochemical assays to try to confirm some results, found ACE2 variants that increase or decrease COVID-19 susceptibility “to be rare, which is consistent with the overall low number of ACE2 receptor population level polymorphisms.” The researchers also said they didn’t find any statistically significant difference in the frequency of ACE2 variants in different population groups.

Studies have found that racial disparities in COVID-19 cases and deaths are explained mostly by structural social and economic inequities, such as access to quality healthcare, not by genetic differences. Research has not suggested that Jewish or Chinese people have any kind of genetic “immunity” to COVID-19.

This is not the first time Kennedy has made controversial comments about Jewish people during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a rally against vaccine mandates in 2022, he said Jewish people were in a better situation in Nazi Germany than people in the U.S. under public health policies adopted to slow the spread of COVID-19. “Even in Hitler’s Germany, you could cross the Alps into Switzerland. You could hide in an attic like Anne Frank did,” he said

During a hearing convened by House Republicans in July, Kennedy denied accusations of racism and antisemitism, and in an exchange with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat from Florida, falsely claimed he had “never ever” compared public health measures during the pandemic with Hitler’s Germany.

Kennedy’s Misunderstanding of COVID-19 Vaccines and Transmission

During an interview with the New Yorker, published July 7, Kennedy said he knew early on that COVID-19 vaccines “should be dead in the water” because they “won’t prevent transmission.”

“[T]he scientists all, at one point, believed that the COVID vaccine prevented transmission,” he said. “I said, No, they don’t prevent transmission, because I read the monkey studies in May of 2020, and I saw that the amount of the concentration of the virus in the nasal pharynx of the vaccinated monkey was identical to the unvaccinated monkeys.”

First, as we’ve explained before, stopping disease transmission is not a requirement for a vaccine. While some vaccines do reduce the spread of disease, others do not — and an inability to do so doesn’t mean a vaccine has failed. Often, the main goal of a vaccine is to prevent disease or severe disease, which is the case for the COVID-19 vaccines.

The COVID-19 vaccines were authorized for emergency use based on their ability to prevent symptomatic disease in clinical trials, not for any effect on transmission. In December 2020, when the Food and Drug Administration authorized the first COVID-19 vaccine, the agency even warned that it wasn’t known whether the vaccine would prevent spread of the coronavirus.

That didn’t mean the COVID-19 vaccines would do nothing for transmission, though. In the following months, data showed that vaccination did reduce spread, either because vaccinated people were protected against infection in the first place or because they were less contagious if infected. 

With the emergence of the omicron variant, however, which is more transmissible and immune evasive, the vaccines were no longer as good at preventing infection or reducing onward spread of the virus. The vaccines likely do still reduce transmission, but only a little bit, and for a shorter period of time, research has shown. That doesn’t mean the shots don’t work. The vaccines still provide some protection against symptomatic disease and reduce the risk of severe disease and death.

Kennedy is also wrong to claim that studies of the then-candidate vaccines in monkeys showed no difference in viral concentration in the nasopharynx and indicated the vaccines would have no effect on transmission. In a study published in July 2020, animals vaccinated with the Moderna vaccine and then purposely infected with the virus showed much lower levels of virus in samples from the nose and lung than purposely infected unvaccinated animals.

The authors even wrote that their study “showed early prevention of viral replication in the upper and lower airways after a high-dose challenge,” noting that “the ability to limit viral replication in both the lower and the upper airways has important implications for vaccine-induced prevention of both SARS-CoV-2 disease and transmission.”

The results were similar for Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose adenoviral COVID-19 vaccine. In a study published in Nature in July 2020, only one of the six vaccinated monkeys had any detectable virus in its nose at any time point — in sharp contrast to the unvaccinated animals, which had much more virus for a longer time.

The monkey results were more ambiguous for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. One vaccine design, BNT162b1, showed a more clear reduction in the viral load in nasal samples, while another, BNT162b2 — the one that was ultimately used in the vaccine — did not. But it’s not true that the amount of virus in the unvaccinated and vaccinated animals was “identical.” One day after infection, the BNT162b2-vaccinated animals had higher amounts of virus in their noses than unvaccinated controls, but for all other tested subsequent days, starting on day 3, none of the BNT162b2-vaccinated animals had any detectable virus at all in their noses, unlike the unvaccinated animals. Swabs taken from the back of the throat also showed both vaccine designs reduced the amount of virus there. 

It’s possible Kennedy is thinking of the monkey test results for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Those results, released in May 2020, did not show any difference in the viral load in the nose among vaccinated and unvaccinated animals — something that the Moderna authors commented on and contrasted with their results. But the AstraZeneca vaccine uses a different design than the mRNA shots and was never used in the U.S. And despite the monkey results, subsequent research suggests the AstraZeneca vaccine did reduce transmission in people.

What the Cleveland Clinic Study Shows About Vaccine Effectiveness

In recent interviews, Kennedy also has cited a study by the Cleveland Clinic to bolster a false claim that the COVID-19 vaccines provide “no advantage.”

In a June 15 episode of the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast, he said, “What that study shows, the more vaccines you get, the more likely it is that you’re going to get sick and that the people who are most vaccinated have … 3.5 times the risk of illness that people who are unvaccinated. So, I mean, that’s not a good profile for, you know, a medical product.”

Kennedy relayed the same Cleveland Clinic study results in a June 25 episode of the podcast “Club Random with Bill Maher.” After Maher followed up with a question about the protection vaccines provide against severe COVID-19, Kennedy said, “My belief about that is there is no advantage to the vaccine.”

As we’ve said, there is clear evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines have prevented severe disease and death, and provided some protection against infection and more mild disease.

As with many of Kennedy’s statements, there is a grain of truth that has been misinterpreted.

As we explained in a prior article, observational studies like the Cleveland Clinic one can appear to show relationships between things that are not in fact directly related. The study of Cleveland Clinic workers showed that in the months after the bivalent omicron booster became available, employees who had received more doses of the original COVID-19 vaccines and boosters were statistically more likely to test positive for COVID-19. In one analysis, people who got more than three prior vaccine doses were around 3.5 times more likely to have a COVID-19 diagnosis than those who had no prior doses.

But the finding doesn’t show that the COVID-19 vaccines caused greater COVID-19 risk, experts told us, or that “the more vaccines you get, the more likely it is that you’re going to get sick,” as Kennedy claimed.

Study co-author Dr. Nabin Shrestha, an infectious disease physician at the Cleveland Clinic, told us that “a study like this, one study, is not going to prove any cause-effect relationship.” 

Experts told us about many factors that could make it appear that vaccines increased COVID-19 risk when in fact they did not. For instance, it’s possible that people who got more prior doses were more likely to seek out testing, to be older and less healthy, or to have more exposure to the virus — and less likely to have been recently infected. Any of these factors could increase COVID-19 risk.

Further, the Cleveland Clinic study’s main finding was that the bivalent omicron booster did provide some initial protection against testing positive for COVID-19, in keeping with results from other studies. Research has generally shown that additional COVID-19 shots broaden the immune response to the virus.

COVID-19 Vaccine Trial Result Claims

Kennedy also provides a misleading description of the trial results for the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine by focusing on the COVID-19 deaths in the vaccine and placebo groups — and doing some bad math.

“[D]uring that six-month period in the vaccine group, one person died of COVID, and in the placebo group, two people died from COVID. So that allows Pfizer to tell the public — and, you know, FDA to tell the public — Oh, this vaccine is 100% effective because two is 100% of one,” he told Rogan during his interview. 

First, neither Pfizer/BioNTech nor the FDA ever said the vaccine had an efficacy of 100% based on deaths from COVID-19, which wasn’t even an endpoint in the trial. And of course, that’s not how the math works anyway — there would have to be zero deaths in the vaccine group to get an efficacy of 100%.

An army specialist holds a vial of a COVID-19 vaccine.
An army specialist holds a vial of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 14, 2020. Defense Department photo by Lisa Ferdinando.

The main way the COVID-19 vaccines were evaluated for efficacy was their ability to prevent symptomatic COVID-19, which was the basis of the emergency use authorizations. Pfizer/BioNTech first reported the vaccine had 95% efficacy against symptomatic COVID-19 in November 2020, and the same number was used by the FDA for the authorization almost a month later. In 2021, the updated trial results showed an efficacy of 91%. Moderna’s final trial data showed an efficacy of 93%.

A secondary efficacy measurement was against severe COVID-19, which included death. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was either 95% or 100% effective, depending on the definition of severe COVID-19, according to the trial data. That figure was calculated comparing the number of severe cases starting seven days after the second dose, which was one in the vaccine group versus 21 in the placebo group (95%), or zero in the vaccine group versus 31 in the placebo group (100%).

The efficacy of the vaccine was not measured against COVID-19 deaths because they are much less common than the symptomatic disease. Maria Sundaram, a researcher at the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Population Health at Marshfield Clinic Research Institute, told us a much larger trial would have been required for that, which would have taken longer.

“[W]e were also worried about COVID-19 symptomatic illness,” she told us in an email. “For nearly all cases of severe COVID-19, including COVID-19 related deaths, a key component is a symptomatic COVID-19 illness. So an important logical step here is that a population reduction in symptomatic COVID-19 illness would also likely represent a population reduction in more severe COVID-19 outcomes.”

Subsequent observational studies, she noted, have shown the vaccines work to prevent COVID-19-related death.

During the same interview, Kennedy noted that 17 people died in the placebo group, while 21 died in the vaccine group. He proceeded to incorrectly claim that those data show that “if you take the vaccine, you’re … 21% more likely to die over six months.”

Kennedy is right in that, according to updated trial data available in an FDA document, there were a total of 38 deaths starting from when participants got their first dose of the vaccine or placebo up to March 13, 2021; 21 in the vaccine group and 17 in the placebo group. But these are deaths from all causes. “None of the deaths were considered related to vaccination,” the trial document adds. 

“The 17/21 figure does not mean that the vaccine causes harm,” Sundaram told us. “We hope that the randomization procedure has the result of making the treatment groups as similar as possible. Because life is random and there are many factors outside of our control, sometimes there is a small difference in a clinical trial that is due to random chance.”

“There has not been any suggestion of an increased risk of death associated with vaccine in any vaccine safety study of COVID-19 vaccines in the US,” she added.

Kennedy’s Attack on Pandemic Policies

During his campaign, Kennedy has repeatedly associated pre-vaccine public health measures to control the pandemic, such as business closures and stay-at-home orders, with what he calls an “attack” on the middle class. 

“There’s been a systematic attack on our middle class, and the coup de grâce was a lockdown,” he says in an eight-minute campaign video.

The lockdowns, Kennedy told Michael Smerconish during a town hall in Pennsylvania in June, were a “16 trillion dollar expense for which we got nothing.”

“Lockdowns robbed four trillion [dollars] from the middle class and the poor in this country and transferred it to the super rich. We created five hundred new billionaires—a billionaire a day, every day,” he also told the New Yorker. 

As we’ve written, several studies have found the restrictions imposed by the government in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus did reduce COVID-19 cases and/or deaths. (What many people have called “lockdowns” in the U.S. were not true lockdowns, such as the ones seen in China. Stay-at-home orders, for example, limited daily movement to essential activities and were loosely enforced.)

Kennedy did not respond to our requests asking for the source of his figures, but $16 trillion appears in a viewpoint article published by two Harvard economists in JAMA in October 2020. The early estimate, however, isn’t specific to the cost of “lockdowns,” but rather, covers the total cost of the pandemic. It considered all economic losses, including premature deaths and long-term health impairment, and assumed that the pandemic would be “substantially contained by the fall of 2021.”

The 500 new billionaires number likely comes from Forbes, which in 2021 reported a record 493 people joined its “World’s Billionaires” list during the pandemic, “meaning the world on average gained a new billionaire every 17 hours” since March 18, 2020. But contrary to Kennedy’s suggestion that the billionaires are all in the U.S., the number is for the entire globe. China alone had 205 new billionaires, while the U.S. had 98.

The $4 trillion figure could come from a 2022 Oxfam analysis, which found that the net worth of billionaires across the globe increased by $3.8 trillion during the pandemic (a newer Oxfam analysis says billionaires increased their wealth by $5 trillion during the pandemic). But again, the figure isn’t specific to the U.S.

Or, Kennedy could be referring to an approximate figure for the federal response to the coronavirus, which totaled $4.6 trillion as of Jan. 31, 2023, according to the Government Accountability Office. While some of the funds were stolen, wasted or misspent, a good portion of the money went to programs to help lower and middle class people, including unemployment insurance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps.

Claims About Unproven COVID-19 Treatments

Despite the fact that several large, randomized controlled trials have found that neither the antiparasitic drug ivermectin nor the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine benefits COVID-19 patients, Kennedy continues to push these unproven drugs as effective treatments against the disease. 

“They had to destroy ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine and discredit it, and they had to tell everybody it’s not effective because if they had acknowledged that it’s effective … the whole $200 billion vaccine enterprise would have collapsed,” he told Rogan, during his June interview. 

In Kennedy’s logic, “they,” presumably the government and scientists, “had to” lie about the effectiveness of ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine because by law, “you cannot issue … an emergency use authorization to a vaccine if there is an existing medication that has been approved for any purpose and that is demonstrated effective against the target illness,” he said.

One of the legal requirements of an EUA, according to the FDA, is that “there are no adequate, approved, and available alternatives.” But as Georgia State University College of Law professor Allison M. Whelan told us in an email, “RFK Jr. misunderstands what this provision means in practice and how the FDA interprets that provision.”

First, the FDA distinguishes between products that treat a disease and those that prevent a disease, such as a vaccine.

“An EUA for a safe and effective treatment would have no impact on an EUA for a safe and effective vaccine. In broader terms, one EUA does not preclude other EUAs,” California Western School of Law professor Joanna Sax told us in an email.  

And even if a drug had approval, rather than authorization, to treat COVID-19, that would not prevent the FDA from authorizing or approving a vaccine, and vice-versa. Sax mentioned the antiviral Paxlovid as an example, which got an EUA as a COVID-19 treatment in December 2021, even though Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine was already approved.

Kennedy is still wrong even if he is thinking of ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine as preventives. In that case, Whelan said, “the FDA could have still had the flexibility to issue EUAs and, ultimately, approvals, for both.”

As an FDA guidance document explains, the existence of an approved product doesn’t preclude an EUA for another product — the approved product must also be “adequate” and “available.” The guidance explains that, for example, a product may be considered “unavailable” if there’s not enough supply of it, or “inadequate” if the approved alternative has contraindications for specific populations.

Legally, then, Kennedy’s argument is bogus. It’s also predicated on the incorrect notion that these drugs work for COVID-19, when they do not.

As we’ve written, clinical trials of both ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine have shown no evidence of effectiveness against COVID-19.

The National Institutes of Health, which recommends against the use of ivermectin, reviewed at least a dozen randomized controlled trials, including three large ones — the Together trial, the ACTIV-6 trial and COVID-OUT trial — and all of them showed that ivermectin had no significant impact on symptoms, emergency department visits, hospitalization or death associated with COVID-19. 

Hydroxychloroquine was briefly authorized for emergency use in 2020, but as we reported, the agency revoked the EUA after randomized controlled trials found no benefit to COVID-19 patients and it became clear that the risks of using the drug to prevent the disease were greater than the benefits. The Recovery trial in the U.K. found no significant difference in mortality among hospitalized patients using hydroxychloroquine — 27% of them died within 28 days, compared with 25% of the patients who received standard care.

The results of these randomized controlled trials — considered the gold standard in evaluating safety and efficacy — have not stopped Kennedy from promoting these drugs as effective. 

Moreover, in a July 10 interview with Jesse Watters, Kennedy said Fauci, the former NIAID director, “caused a lot of injury” by not providing ivermectin and other unapproved COVID-19 treatments to people in the U.S. 

“[W]e racked up the highest death count in the world. We only have 4.2% of the globe’s population, but we had 16% of the COVID deaths in this country, and that is … that was from bad policy. There’s … countries that did the opposite of what we did — that provided ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine, other early treatments to their populations — and had 1/200th of our death rate,” he told Watters.

The U.S. does have the highest number of total deaths by COVID-19 in the world and the highest rate of deaths among wealthy countries. But there’s no evidence that’s because people weren’t taking unproven treatments such as ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, which, as we’ve said, haven’t been shown to benefit people with COVID-19 in multiple studies.

According to a New York Times analysis, the U.S. did worse than other wealthy countries in part because it had a smaller share of people fully vaccinated. 

It is also worth noting that countries that authorized the use of unproven treatments did not do particularly well compared with the rest of the world. In Peru, for example, ivermectin was used extensively. Yet as of this March, when the data was last updated, the country had the highest per capita COVID-19 death rate in the world, according to a tracker from Johns Hopkins University.

COVID-19 Origins

Kennedy has promoted false theories about the origins of the 1918 flu pandemic, HIV, RSV and Lyme disease. He also brings up unfounded claims about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and has a forthcoming book on the topic.

To summarize the state of the evidence: There is no ironclad proof of how SARS-CoV-2 originated. Four U.S. intelligence community agencies, the National Intelligence Council and many scientists say the virus most likely jumped from animals to humans in a natural spillover. There is a strong case this happened at the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market in Wuhan, China, some scientists argue.

Another theory, that SARS-CoV-2 first infected staff who were doing research on coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, cannot be ruled out. Two intelligence community agencies say they cannot determine the origins of the pandemic, and another two say a laboratory-associated incident is the most likely explanation. However, there remains no evidence that WIV was doing research on SARS-CoV-2 or a close progenitor. 

If the virus did come from WIV, scientists have said, it is unlikely that it was bioengineered. “Almost all” agencies agree that SARS-CoV-2 was not genetically engineered, according to an intelligence community report, and all the agencies “assess that SARS-CoV-2 was not developed as a biological weapon.”

In a June 16 appearance on the Hill’s “Rising,” Kennedy named a WIV scientist who was supposedly among the first humans to become ill with COVID-19. But as we have written before, the scientist in question has denied being ill at the time, and the intelligence community report states that information on sick WIV researchers “neither supports nor refutes either hypothesis of the pandemic’s origins.” 

Kennedy also has said, including on “Rising” and in the Watters interview, that the National Institutes of Health taught WIV scientists how to engineer viruses as bioweapons and funded research at WIV.

As we have said, there is agreement among scientists and intelligence community agencies that SARS-CoV-2 was not engineered as a bioweapon. We have previously covered the lengthy discussion about whether WIV’s work on genetically engineered chimeric viruses, indirectly funded by the NIH, constituted “gain-of-function” research. But regardless, the viruses being used were not similar enough to SARS-CoV-2 to have had anything to do with causing the pandemic.

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.