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An Epoch Times article cited an April study, which has not been peer-reviewed, that found part of a DNA sequence called an "SV40 promoter" in two expired Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine vials. But one of the study’s authors told PolitiFact this is not the same as simian virus 40, or SV40, which can cause tumors in monkeys.
"Promoters" have long been used in molecular biology to drive gene transcription, the process of making an RNA copy of a gene’s DNA sequence. On its own, the SV40 promoter cannot cause cancer, molecular biology experts told PolitiFact.
Monkey DNA and the SV40 virus also are not listed among the ingredients in the COVID-19 vaccines that federal regulators have approved for use. Pfizer told PolitiFact that monkey DNA was not used in its vaccine.
Social media users are claiming a dangerous ingredient has been found in COVID-19 vaccines.
The claim comes from a June 11 Epoch Times article headlined, "Monkey virus DNA found in COVID-19 shots."
A Facebook post that shared the article June 12 said, "Does this amount to genocide perpetrated by Bill Gates, Fauci, Pfizer and governments around the world?" (Fauci is Dr. Anthony Fauci, the former National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director; Gates is the philanthropist and Microsoft Corp. co-founder.)
The post was flagged as part of Meta’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)
The Epoch Times article claims an April study found "massive DNA contamination" in COVID-19 vaccines, including "monkey virus DNA." Simian virus 40, or SV40, is a tumor-causing virus found in monkeys.
The article claims SV40 also has been linked to certain cancers in humans. However, most epidemiological studies do not support this theory. ("Monkey virus" is not the same as monkeypox, or mpox, a virus that spreads primarily through physical contact with an infected person.)
Monkey DNA and SV40 are not listed among the ingredients for the COVID-19 vaccines manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Molecular biology experts also told PolitiFact there was no evidence of "monkey virus DNA" in the COVID-19 vaccines.
Pfizer also said in a statement to PolitiFact that this claim was not accurate.
"The vaccine is a completely synthetic vaccine. There were preclinical animal challenge studies utilizing rhesus macaques; however, no part of our vaccine or studies utilized green monkeys," Pfizer said. (African green monkeys were used in early research on the SV40 virus.)
Researchers at Medicinal Genomics, a Massachusetts-based company that sells DNA testing kits and other equipment for the cannabis industry, conducted the study, which has not been published in a peer-reviewed academic journal.
Kevin McKernan, one of the study’s authors who was cited in The Epoch Times’ article, said the article’s headline is "misleading" and uses "alarmist language." He added that the news site never contacted him or Medicinal Genomics before publication.
The study tested four expired vials of the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines and found elements of the virus, including an "SV40 promoter" in the Pfizer vaccine vials. However, McKernan said they did not find the whole SV40 virus in the vaccines.
"Promoters" are parts of DNA that drive gene transcription, the process of making an RNA copy of a gene’s DNA sequence. They have long been used in molecular biology, McKernan and other experts said. In this case, the "SV40 promoter" is a DNA sequence that was first identified in the SV40 virus.
In the SV40 virus, the SV40 promoter drives the expression of a cancer-causing gene, said Phillip Buckhalts, director of the Cancer Genetics Lab and professor at the University of South Carolina, who was not involved in the study.
The part of the SV40 virus that can potentially cause cancer, known as the T-antigen, is not present in the COVID-19 vaccine, Buckhalts said.
"The fear about the SV40 sequences is total nonsense," Buckhalts said. "The vaccine is not going to cause cancer. There is no cancer-causing gene in the vaccine."
Michael Imperiale, a microbiology and immunology professor at the University of Michigan, also confirmed the T-antigen was not in the vaccine and that the SV40 promoter on its own could not cause cancer.
For decades, there have been erroneous claims linking vaccines to cancer.
From 1955 to 1963, up to 30% of polio vaccines administered in the United States were contaminated with the SV40 virus, which came from monkey kidney cell cultures used to make the vaccine at the time, according to the CDC. However, no vaccines used today contain SV40.
Since then, most studies have found "no causal association" between receiving a SV40-contaminated polio vaccine and developing cancer, the CDC said.
Social media posts shared an Epoch Times article headlined, "Monkey virus DNA found in COVID-19 shots."
There is no evidence to support this claim. Monkey DNA and the SV40 virus are also not listed among the ingredients for the COVID-19 vaccines that federal regulators approved. Pfizer also told PolitiFact that it did not use African green monkey DNA in its vaccines.
The Epoch Times article cited a study, which has not been peer-reviewed, that found part of a DNA sequence called an SV40 promoter in two expired vials of the Pfizer vaccine. But the SV40 promoter is not the same as the SV40 virus and is not cause for concern, molecular biology experts told PolitiFact.
We rate this claim False.
The Epoch Times, "Monkey Virus DNA Found in COVID-19 Shots," June 11, 2023
Email interview, Kevin McKernan, founder and chief scientific officer of Medicinal Genomics, June 20, 2023
Email interview, Phillip Buckhalts, director of the Cancer Genetics Lab and professor at the University of South Carolina, June 20, 2023
Email interview, Michael Imperiale, professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Michigan, June 20, 2023
Email statement, Pfizer, June 20, 2023
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Overview of COVID-19 Vaccines," May 23, 2023
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Historical Vaccine Safety Concerns," Sept. 4, 2020
National Library of Medicine, "Immunization Safety Review: SV40 Contamination of Polio Vaccine and Cancer," 2002
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Mpox," June 5, 2023
National Human Genome Research Institute, "Promoter," June 16, 2023
National Human Genome Research Institute, "Transcription," June 16, 2023
OSF Preprints, "Sequencing of bivalent Moderna and Pfizer mRNA vaccines reveals nanogram to microgram quantities of expression vector dsDNA per dose," April 11, 2023
Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, "Vaccine Ingredients – SV40," April 28, 2020
PolitiFact, "What we know about how monkeypox is spreading — and what we still don’t know," Aug. 6, 2022
The Associated Press, "No, ‘monkey virus DNA’ was not found in COVID vaccines," June 15, 2023
The Associated Press, "CDC did not say the polio vaccine gave millions of Americans a ‘cancer virus’," May 17, 2023
Lead Stories, "Fact Check: No Evidence Cancer-Causing "Green Monkey DNA" Found In mRNA COVID Vaccines," June 4, 2023
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