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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher July 1, 2021

If Your Time is short

  • An attempted COVID-19 vaccine that contained a fragment of an HIV protein was dropped because it led to some false-positive HIV test results.

  • Researchers said there was no possibility the vaccine caused HIV infection and routine follow-up tests on trial participants confirmed no HIV virus present.

A TikTok video suggests that a COVID-19 vaccine candidate in Australia risked infecting people with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

In the video, a narrator talks about a vaccine that contained a protein that is a "tiny fragment of HIV," and a person interviewed says "there is absolutely no risk from this type of vaccine," and "there is nothing that makes HIV replicate." Then, a voice over that remark says, "F---ing rubbish," suggesting that the protein does pose a risk.

TikTok identified this video as part of its efforts to counter inauthentic, misleading or false content. (Read more about PolitiFact's partnership with TikTok.)

PolitiFact decided to take a closer look at this video. We are not rating this video on the Truth-O-Meter because it does not make a specific affirmative claim, but we’ll provide context that’s lacking in the video. 

The discussion in the video refers to a COVID-19 vaccine candidate that was being developed in Australia last year containing a fragment of an HIV protein. The vaccine was not used after an initial phase of a clinical trial; development was ultimately dropped because during the trial it led to some false-positive tests for HIV.

Keith Chappell, a professor and molecular virologist at the University of Queensland in Australia, confirmed to PolitiFact that he is the person interviewed in the clip. He was the co-leader of a program with the Australian biotech company CSL that worked on this vaccine candidate. 

In December, the university and CSL announced they were ending the vaccine’s development because a protein used to stabilize the vaccine generated antibodies in test subjects that interfered with some HIV tests.

However, "there is no possibility the vaccine causes" HIV infection "and routine follow-up tests confirmed there is no HIV virus present," the announcement said.

Science, the magazine of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, explained that some of the people who received the vaccine in the trial "generated antibodies to an unintended target, the AIDS virus."

"Although the added component didn’t represent an actual infection with HIV," Science reported, "the vaccine developers and the Australian government concluded a widespread rollout of the candidate would interfere with HIV diagnostic tests and decided not to proceed to larger clinical trials that would have measured its protection against COVID-19."

PolitiFact researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

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Our Sources

TikTok, post, June 23, 2021

Reuters, "Fact check: An Australian vaccine trial did not give trial participants HIV," Dec. 17, 2020

Reuters, "Australia halts local COVID-19 vaccine development due to false HIV positives," Dec. 10, 2020

CSL, news release, Dec. 11, 2020

Science, "Development of unique Australian COVID-19 vaccine halted," Dec. 11, 2020

Vimeo, Australian Academy of Science video, "Why was the University of Queensland vaccine scrapped?", accessed June 30, 2021

Email, Keith Chappell, professor and molecular virologist at the University of Queensland in Australia, July 1, 2021

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