A widespread rumor circulating online attempts to cast doubt on Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson – the companies that produce the three COVID-19 vaccines authorized in the U.S.
“I am triple vaccinated more left than right on the political spectrum. Something is severely off with these Covid vaccines,” reads a Feb. 14 tweet that accumulated more than 37,000 likes within less than a week.
“Pfitzer (sic) just pulled all remaining applications in 10 plus countries. Moderna CEO just sold 90% of his shares. Pfitzer (sic) is refusing to release info.”
In a subsequent post, the Twitter user, Ron Dineen, also claimed Johnson & Johnson “halted all vaccine production.” A screenshot of the tweets later circulated on Facebook and Instagram, where one Feb. 16 post generated more than 4,900 likes.
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But the claims are based on inaccurate and exaggerated information. Here are the facts:
Pfizer postponed a Food and Drug Administration application to authorize a COVID-19 vaccine for children younger than 5.Moderna’s CEO has sold portions of predetermined shares for years.Johnson & Johnson temporarily paused COVID-19 vaccine production at a plant in a Dutch city.
USA TODAY reached out to social media users who shared the post for comment.
Pfizer didn’t withdraw 10 applications
Pfizer spokesperson Steven Danehy told USA TODAY via email that the claim in the post is false. The rumor stems from a recent announcement made in the U.S.
In a Feb. 11 news release, Pfizer announced that it would postpone its FDA application to authorize a COVID-19 vaccine for children younger than 5. But that’s not because the company is “refusing to release info” on the shot.
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Pfizer said it wanted to wait for data from ongoing clinical trials on a third vaccine dose for children between six months and 4 years of age. The company said in the release that a third shot “may provide a higher level of protection in this age group.”
Pfizer originally wanted to wait for data on a third dose, but it submitted a request for authorization under pressure from the FDA. However, the agency said in a statement that it agreed with Pfizer’s decision to wait for the additional data, which is expected to become available in April.
In an Instagram message to USA TODAY, Dineen cited as evidence a February 2021 article about Pfizer dropping its vaccine application in India. It does not support the claim that Pfizer withdrew vaccine applications in 10 different countries.
Misleading claims about Moderna, Johnson & Johnson
The post’s other two claims about COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers are also misleading.
First, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel didn’t sell 90% of company shares. USA TODAY has previously debunked a similar claim.
Transaction records show Bancel has been selling predetermined shares of Moderna stock on a weekly basis since at least 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic or the company’s rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine. In February, Bancel sold an estimated 38,000 shares – but he still owns 21.8 million shares of Moderna’s common stock, according to Forbes.
In an Instagram message to USA TODAY, Dineen cited as evidence a Forbes article about a Moderna stock crash. It does not support the claim that Bancel sold 90% of his stake in the company.
Fact check:Posts mislead on Moderna CEO Twitter account, stock sales
Second, the post’s claim that Johnson & Johnson halted all vaccine production is misleading.
Production did stop, but only because it’s not needed at the moment.
The company temporarily stopped producing batches of its COVID-19 vaccine at a facility in Leiden, Netherlands, according to a New York Times article that Dineen shared with USA TODAY. CBS News reported that was the only facility where Johnson & Johnson made usable doses of the vaccine.
But Johnson & Johnson told USA TODAY in an emailed statement that the company has millions of finished COVID-19 vaccine doses sitting in inventory and that production planning is being managed “accordingly.”
Production of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine is expected to resume in a few months, the Times reported, noting that it’s unclear whether the pause had a direct impact on supply.
Our rating: Partly false
Based on our research, we rate PARTLY FALSE the claim that Pfizer pulled all vaccine applications, Moderna’s CEO sold 90% of his shares and Johnson & Johnson halted vaccine production. While there’s an element of truth to the post, it contains some factual inaccuracies.
Pfizer postponed an FDA application for a COVID-19 vaccine for children younger than 5 until it has more data from clinical trials. Bancel has sold predetermined Moderna shares on a weekly basis for years, and he hasn’t sold anything close to 90% of his stock. Johnson & Johnson temporarily paused production at one of its Dutch facilities to work on making a vaccine for a different virus. Production is expected to resume in a few months.
Our fact-check sources:
Steven Danehy, Feb. 18, Email exchange with USA TODAYPfizer-BioNTech, Feb. 11, Pfizer and BioNTech Provide Update on Rolling Submission for Emergency Use Authorization of Their COVID-19 Vaccine in Children 6 Months Through 4 Years of AgeUSA TODAY, Feb. 11, FDA authorization of Pfizer COVID vaccine for kids under 5 paused to wait for more dataFood and Drug Administration, Feb. 11, Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Postpones Advisory Committee Meeting to Discuss Request for Authorization of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine for Children 6 Months Through 4 Years of AgeUSA TODAY, Feb. 18, Fact check: Posts mislead on Moderna CEO Twitter account, stock salesInsider Screener, accessed Feb. 18, Stephane BancelSecurities and Exchange Commission, Feb. 11, Statement of changes in beneficial ownershipSecurities and Exchange Commission, Feb. 2, Statement of changes in beneficial ownershipCBS, Feb. 9, Johnson & Johnson halts production of single-dose COVID-19 vaccine, report says//Forbes, Feb. 14, Moderna Stock Crash: Losses Top $140 Billion As Insiders Sell Millions Of Dollars In SharesThe New York Times, Feb. 8, J.&J. Pauses Production of Its Covid Vaccine Despite Persistent NeedRon Dineen, Feb. 18, Instagram exchange USA TODAY
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