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Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke April 27, 2021

No, Bill Gates isn’t fighting to keep vaccine ingredients secret. They’re already public.

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  • Bill Gates has defended intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers, but the ingredients in COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in the United States are already public. 

Wielding a clip from a recent interview that Microsoft co-founder and vaccine advocate Bill Gates gave to the British news channel Sky News, a video circulating on Facebook wrongly claims that Gates is fighting "to keep vaccine ingredients secret." 

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

In the interview, which Sky News posted on YouTube on April 25, the reporter asked Gates if it would be helpful for intellectual property law to change so that companies that developed COVID-19 vaccines — such as Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson — could share their "recipe for these vaccines." 

Gates said no. Asked why not, Gates downplayed the role of intellectual property concerns in restricting vaccine supplies, and pointed to the importance of safe manufacturing.

"There are only so many vaccine factories in the world, and people are very serious about the safety of vaccines, and so moving something that had never been done, moving a vaccine from, say, a J&J factory into a factory in India, that — it’s novel. It's only because of our grants and our expertise that can happen at all," he said. 

"The thing that’s holding things back in this case is not intellectual property. It’s not like there’s some idle vaccine factory with regulatory approval that makes magically safe vaccines," he added. "You’ve got to do the trials on these things, and every manufacturing process has to be looked at in a very careful way. There’s all sorts of issues around the intellectual property having to do with medicines, but not in terms of how quickly we’ve been able to ramp up the volume here."

More than 80 developing countries have called for a temporary waiver of the World Trade Organization’s intellectual property rules to speed COVID-19 vaccine production and distribution by allowing generic or other drug manufacturers to make more vaccines. Some public health officials have said vaccine makers should freely share their technology and data to maximize production, and 10 U.S. senators have urged President Joe Biden to back the effort. 

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Opponents of such a waiver argue it could set a precedent that lets scientists around the world copy American and European research before patents expire. Gates, among others, has noted that companies making COVID-19 vaccines are already trying to make them more widely available — by licensing their technology to other manufacturers, for example. 

But defending intellectual property rights does not mean that Gates is advocating for keeping the ingredients in COVID-19 vaccines secret, as the Facebook post claims. 

That information is already available. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides links for information about the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines on its website

Each overview and safety page for the vaccines includes a link to the "full list of ingredients." 

What are the ingredients in the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine? They include a genetic messenger molecule called mRNA, lipids, potassium chloride, monobasic potassium phosphate, sodium chloride (salt), dibasic sodium phosphate dihydrate, and sucrose (sugar). 

We rate this post False.

Our Sources

Facebook post, April 27, 2021

YouTube, COVID-19: Bill Gates hopeful world ‘completely back to normal’ by end of 2022, April 25, 2021

Insider, Bill Gates disagreed with sharing ‘the recipe’ for the coronavirus vaccines, but it doesn’t mean he’s refusing to expand production in developing countries, April 27, 2021

The Associated Press, Rich, developing nations wrangle over COVID vaccine patents, March 10, 2021

The Associated Press, Senators to Biden: Waive vaccine intellectual property rules, April 16, 2021

World Trade Organization, Members discuss intellectual property response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Oct. 20, 2020

The New York Times, Bill Gates, the virus and the quest to vaccinate the world, Nov. 23, 2020

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Frequently asked questions about COVID-19 vaccination, updated April 27, 2021

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine overview and safety, updated April 16, 2021

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Moderna COVID-19 vaccine overview and safety, updated April 5, 2021

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen COVID-19 vaccine overview and safety, updated April 13, 2021

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No, Bill Gates isn’t fighting to keep vaccine ingredients secret. They’re already public.

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