By: Vivek J
March 17 2023
COVID-19 virus was isolated and sequenced within weeks of the first case of infection being detected, kicking off the process of vaccine development.
A video clip has gone viral on social media platforms with claims that the SARS-CoV-2 virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic was never isolated and that there is no evidence that the virus even exists. A video clip of American biotechnology company Illumina's CEO Francis deSouza speaking at a World Economic Forum(WEF) event has been used to justify these claims. In the video, deSouza says, "What's interesting is Moderna has never had the live virus on their site. It was all a software problem." However, his opinions on the importance of digitizing aspects of biology to fast-forward advancement in research have been shared with false narratives.
According to a joint report titled “WHO-convened global study of origins of SARS-CoV-2: China Part” published by the World Health Organization on its website, the SARS-CoV-2 virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic was first detected in Wuhan, China after cases of unexplained pneumonia came to the fore. The report notes, “The causative virus of COVID-19 was rapidly isolated from patients and sequenced, with the results from China subsequently being shared and published in January 2020.” The first SARS-CoV-2 genomes were made publicly available on GenBank, the National Institue of Health’s open-access genetic sequence database; Virological.org, a discussion forum for analysis of virus genomes; and GISAID, the global initiative to provide open access to genomic data of influenza and coronavirus causing COVID-19 on January 10, 2020. The genetic sequence, genome organization, and other related details of the novel coronavirus were also submitted in a report on January 7, 2020, to the leading science journal Nature, which published the open-access report on February 3, 2020.
In the following months, several countries sequenced the genome data of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and the process is still ongoing for the new virulent variants following the virus' mutation. According to an article by the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), till September 2020, over 100,000 full SARS-CoV-2 genomic sequences, along with key contextual information associated with each sequence, were available on the GISAID's SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Epidemiological platform. Thus, it is clear that there is no basis for claims that the SARS-CoV-2 virus has not been isolated.
Furthermore, using the genome sequence data uploaded by China in January 2020, vaccine manufacturer Moderna began researching a potential vaccine candidate. Moderna's response timeline after obtaining the first genome sequence of SARS-CoV-2 can be found on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Bureau (SEC) website.
MRNA vaccines, such as the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, are developed using the genome sequence data of a virus, and there is no need to have a live virus on site for this data. The genome sequence is used to create a final sequence for a potential vaccine candidate, which is then subject to numerous clinical trials before it gets government approval. It is worth noting that the Chinese authorities did the isolation and sequencing of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in collaboration with several health organizations and academic institutions, including the University of Sydney in Australia and the Wuhan Institute of Virology, among others.
The several hundred thousand genome sequences of the SARS-CoV-2 virus obtained worldwide, and the number of universities, healthcare organizations, and research institutes involved in studying the virus have all extensively researched the virus and its genetic code. Thus, it is clear that the virus that killed millions of people worldwide has been detected, and isolated, paving the way for vaccine development. Logically has previously debunked similar claims that were shared on social media platforms to undermine the virus's lethality or to show the pandemic as a planned event.
A video clip of Illumina CEO speaking at a WEF event on the importance of digitizing biological research has been shared with narratives like the SARS-CoV-2 virus has not been isolated and that there is no proof the virus exists. Conspiracy theorists and COVID-19 deniers have given this video a conspiratorial spin by questioning the methodology of COVID-19 vaccine development without any basis. The COVID-19 virus was isolated and sequenced within weeks of the first detected case. Therefore, we mark this claim 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.