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VERIFY: Were COVID-19 vaccines originally developed for SARS, MERS?

A viral TikTok video claims the COVID-19 vaccines aren't new. But, our experts say that is oversimplifying the SARS and MERS vaccines played in vaccine development.

WASHINGTON — The pause on the Johnson and Johnson vaccines has not helped with vaccine skepticism. Many of the people opposed to getting vaccines said they do not want to take a vaccine that has only been around for a short time.

But a viral TikTok video attempts to change that by claiming, these vaccines are not new, they’ve been in development for 20 years.

In the video a woman, who claims to have a PhD, said the coronavirus vaccines are not new. She goes on to say they were first developed for the SARS and MERS epidemics in 2002 and 2012.


Did the current COVID-19 vaccines come from vaccines developed to fight SARS?


Our expert said that is an oversimplification of the role SARS and MERS vaccines played in the development of the current vaccines.

Our Sources:

Dr. William Moss, a vaccines expert from Johns Hopkins University and Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases expert from Vanderbilt University.

What We Found: 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were two coronavirus outbreaks that got international attention.

In 2002, it was SARS. In 2012, we had MERS.

In both epidemics drug companies created vaccines.

“Two went into phase one trials that early step in vaccine development for safety and dosage,” Dr. Moss said. “Then basically it ended."


Both experts said viruses were not as deadly and the epidemics were contained.

“But, that technology was the beginning of studies, scientific studies that led to the technology that we are using today for the COVID vaccine,” Dr. Schaffner said.

Here is where the Video is wrong. Yes, the Johnson and Johnson and the Astra Zeneca vaccines use a technology developed for SARS and MERS.

But, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines do not.

“I do think that experience in developing vaccines against SARS coronavirus, and MERS really helped lay the groundwork for our own COVID-19 vaccines now,” Dr. Moss said.

“But we wouldn't have had a COVID vaccine from them alone,” Dr. Schaffner said. “I don't think we could have gotten the COVID vaccine any sooner than we did.

The video is a bit misleading. Yes, the research and technology from SARS and MERS vaccines went into our current vaccines. But, they aren’t the same vaccines.

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