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Yes, Australia abandoned Covid-19 vaccine after false positive HIV test results

“Australia abandons vaccine attempt, after the shot wrongly gave some people positive HIV test results,” reads a screenshot of what seems to be a social media post by the website Business Insider, shared on Instagram in South Africa on 6 January 2021.

“Australia becomes first country to abandon vaccine attempt,” it adds. The screenshot shows a photo of Australian prime minister Scott Morrison.

But Facebook’s fact-checking system has flagged it as possibly false. Has Australia given up on the development of its own Covid-19 vaccine after people given the shot had false HIV-positive test results?


‘Participants' health not at risk’

The headline is from a real Business Insider article, published on 11 December 2020.

“Australia has become the first country in the world to scrap a coronavirus vaccine project, after a shot developed as part of the $750 million scheme saw trial participants falsely test positive for HIV,” the article reads.

It quotes Australian health minister Greg Hunt as saying the trial vaccine “triggered an antibody response that could interfere with HIV screening”.

The news was also reported by the BBC, which explained that vaccine trial participants’ health status had not changed; the vaccine just made it appear that they had tested positive for HIV.

The vaccine was developed by biotech company CSL and Australia’s University of Queensland (UQ). “CSL and UQ stressed that the positive results were false – meaning trial participants' health was not at risk,” the BBC reported.

The Australian government has now entered an agreement for the Novavax vaccine “and “upped its existing order of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine”, the BBC said.

CSL and UQ said fixing the false positive issues would take about a year, “prompting a decision to abandon the trial”.

‘Vaccine development will not proceed’

In a statement, CSL said the trial participants were “fully informed of the possibility of a partial immune response to this component”.

“But it was unexpected that the levels induced would interfere with certain HIV tests ... There is no possibility the vaccine causes infection, and routine follow up tests confirmed there is no HIV virus present.”

The company confirmed that “CSL and the Australian Government have agreed vaccine development will not proceed to Phase 2/3 trials”. 

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