No, COVID-19 vaccines are not causing H3N2 influenza in India

By: Ankita Kulkarni
April 12 2023

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No, COVID-19 vaccines are not causing H3N2 influenza in India


The Verdict False

COVID-19 vaccines do not contain pig fat or animal extracts. There is no evidence to link vaccines with H3N2 influenza spread in India.

Claim ID 859531f9


Influenza A subtype H3N2 virus was detected in India early in March, with patients reporting flu-like symptoms lasting five to seven days. India Today reports that the country has recorded at least nine deaths from the virus this season. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) has also issued guidelines to prevent the spread of the infection, similar to the ones issued to combat COVID-19.

Several posts on social media have been claiming that "pig blood/fat/extracts present in the COVID-19 vaccines" is responsible for the current spread of the influenza virus in humans. One such post on Twitter read, "Pigs blood tissue & Porcine (Pigs) pancreas tissue have also been used in the Cov-ID-19, due to which the drama of H3N2 is going on." The same Twitter thread also claims that the virus is a side effect of the COVID-19 vaccine. However, this is incorrect, and no evidence exists to corroborate the claim.

In Fact

Health organizations such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Health Service (NHS) of England have extensively refuted the claim that COVID-19 vaccine contains pig fat or animal extracts. A report by Reuters in March 2021 noted that AstraZeneca has also dismissed the assertions while it countered similar concerns made in Indonesia. The report quoted AstraZeneca Indonesia director Rizman Abudaeri as saying: "At all stages of the production process, this virus vector vaccine does not use nor come in contact with pork-derived products or other animal products."

As the claim relates to India, Logically looked into the ingredients of the vaccines administered most widely across the country: Covishield (the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine) and Covaxin. The list of components can be found in the "fact sheet of vaccine recipient," which is publicly available on the website of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO), India's regulatory body for cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices. None mention the presence of pig blood or any animal extracts in vaccines.  

Logically has also previously debunked a claim that pork extract was being used in the vaccines. As noted then, the ingredients specified for COVID-19 vaccines by Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Covaxin did not include pork fat or extracts.

Logically contacted Dr. Jayprakash Mulyil, a National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation in India (NTAGI) member, who dismissed the claim as "rubbish." "Influenza viruses have existed even before the COVID-19 vaccine, and certainly there is no connection between them. The narratives have no base and are being spread despite being refuted by health officials," Mulyil said. He added that influenza viruses do not pose much harm to the general public and can be a cause of concern for people with underlying health conditions and senior citizens. 

The viral post also carries an image purporting to be a list of the ingredients used for the vaccines (it is not specified which one) and a partial screenshot of a United States patent. We found that the initial list of ingredients is actually from an article dated April 29, 2019 (pre-dating the COVID-19 pandemic) published on a website called 'The Truth About Vaccines', discussing the ingredients in vaccines given to children. However, it must be noted that the website is run by a couple named Ty and Charlene Bollinger, who claim to be health researchers. An investigation by AP News on May 14, 2021, showed that the couple closely work with other vaccine skeptics like Robert F. Kennedy Jr, an author and lawyer known for promoting anti-vaccine propaganda and conspiracy theories. AP reported that the couple's social media handles have been among the top vaccine misinformation spreaders. 

The United States patent seen in the viral tweet also refers to a patent granted on February 28, 2012, which, again, pre-dates the spread of the COVID-19 virus and the efforts to create a vaccine for it.

Influenza viruses like H3N2 normally circulate in pigs and are transmitted to humans from the droplets released by infected pigs. This has been used by social media users to claim a link between the disproved presence of pig fat in COVID-19 and the spread of influenza virus. According to the CDC, an outbreak of the H3N2 virus in 1968 led to a pandemic that killed nearly 1 million people worldwide. It also added that the virus to date circulates as seasonal flu around the world and is associated with severe illness in older people. Guidelines on seasonal influenza issued by the Union Health Ministry in India note, "Seasonal Influenza is caused by a number of circulating Influenza viruses such as Influenza A HI N l, H3N2, H2N2, Influenza B."

The Verdict

There is no scientific evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are causing the spread of the H3N2 virus in humans from pigs, as claimed in the viral posts. The vaccines administered in India and elsewhere do not contain pig blood or any animal extracts. Therefore, we have marked the claim as false.

The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to a lot of potentially dangerous misinformation. For reliable advice on COVID-19, including symptoms, prevention, and available treatment, please refer to the World Health Organization or your national healthcare authority.

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