Fact check: The COVID-19 pandemic was not orchestrated by pharmaceutical companies, investment groups and philanthropists

Reuters

A Facebook post suggesting that pharmaceutical companies, global investment groups and billionaire philanthropists conspired to bring about the COVID-19 pandemic has been shared online.

The post claims there are links between the organisations and invites readers to consider that they are proof of a conspiracy. It ends with the sentence: “Now you understand how a dead bat sold in a wet market in China infected the ENTIRE PLANET” (here, here, here, here).

Many of the claims have appeared in similar posts debunked by Reuters (here) and other fact checkers (here and here) in December 2020.

The claims can be roughly split into two themes, the first focussing on the pandemic’s origins in Wuhan and the second highlighting spurious links between global organisations.

The Wuhan laboratory

“The virus started in the biological laboratory in Wuhan”

No evidence. Unverified theories have suggested the virus that causes COVID-19 was synthesised by the Wuhan Institute of Virology (here). However, at the time of publication, the majority of virologists and infectious disease experts say the new virus most likely evolved naturally. A more extensive Reuters report examining origins of COVID-19 can be read here .

“Winterthur built the Chinese laboratory in Wuhan”

False. Winterthur is a Swiss insurance company bought by AXA, a French insurance company, in 2006 (here). It is not a construction company and there is nothing to link it to the building of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which was originally founded in 1956 as a Chinese national institution (here).

“The Chinese biological laboratory in Wuhan is funded by Glaxosmithkline”

False. The Wuhan Institute of Virology is not funded by the British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). The institute is part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) (here), which is governed by the State Council of the People’s Republic of China (here). In 2019, a CAS member wrote an open letter (here) maintaining that the academy’s funding was split equally between the Chinese government and ‘competitive funding or technology transfer’. The Institute’s partners are listed on its website (here).

“The biological laboratory in Wuhan was funded by Dr. Fauci”

Misleading. Anthony Fauci has been Director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) since 1984 (here). The NIAID is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), an agency of the US health department (here).

The NIH confirmed to Reuters by email that it granted $3.4million to the non-profit organisation EcoHealth Alliance Inc over 6 years to fund research into understanding bat coronavirus emergence. The non-profit then awarded that money to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, alongside East China Normal University (Shanghai), the Institute of Pathogen Biology (Beijing), and Duke-NUS Medical School (Singapore).

US government websites show that the Wuhan institute received $814,608 between 2015 and 2019 (here, switch from “Prime Awards” to “Sub-Awards” in the upper right corner). A spokesperson added that the grant to EcoHealth Alliance was terminated on April 24, 2020 and reinstated on July 8, 2020.

A decision by the Trump administration to cut EcoHealth Alliance funding was reported by Politico in April after obtaining emails between EcoHealth Alliance and the NIH (here).

The NIH website shows that the reinstated budget will run until June 2021 (here), but EcoHealth Alliance wrote in August that the NIH had imposed “impossible and irrelevant conditions that will effectively block us from continuing this critical work”.

It is not just the US government that funds the Wuhan institute: the European Union stated on Jan. 26, 2021 that it had awarded grants to the laboratory since 2015. It added that the institute: “delivered the first SARS-Cov2 genome sequence, which enabled partners of the European Virus Archive to design the widely used polymerase chain reaction ( PCR) diagnostic test for COVID-19” (here).

Pharmaceutical companies, investment groups and philanthropists

Pfizer

“Glaxosmithkline own Pfizer!”

False. While GSK has embarked on joint ventures with Pfizer, the two are separate companies (here and here). In fact, Pfizer does not have one owner, but is owned by members of the public and a range of institutions, with the top shareholder being the Vanguard Group (here)

“Bill Gates is a shareholder of Pfizer”

True, at the time of publication. As outlined above, Pfizer has many shareholders. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has owned Pfizer stocks since 2002 (here here) and a 2019 tax return from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust lists Pfizer among its corporate investments (here , see see Foundation Trust annual tax return 2019). The foundation has also provided research grants to the company (here).

BlackRock

“GlaxoSmithKline is managed by Black Rock finances”

Misleading. BlackRock, the world’s largest asset management firm, owns 7.5% of GSK (fintel.io/so/us/gsk/blackrock) at the time of publication and is their largest shareholder (here). This does not mean GSK is “managed” by BlackRock, as GSK has 1553 institutional owners and shareholders (fintel.io/so/us/gsk).

“Black Rock is also a major share-holder of MICROSOFT, the property of Bill Gates”

Misleading. BlackRock is the second largest shareholder of Microsoft at the time of publication (here) but Microsoft is not property of Bill Gates. In 2014, media outlets reported that Gates was eclipsed as Microsoft’s largest individual shareholder by the company’s other former CEO, Steve Ballmer (here).

When Gates stepped down from Microsoft’s board in 2020, news reports said he owned 1.3% of the company’s shares (here and here).

“Vanguard is a shareholder of Black Rock”

True. Vanguard, another global investment company, is the top shareholder of BlackRock at the time of publication (here).

“Black Rock controls the central banks”

False. The US central bank hired BlackRock in March 2020 to manage commercial mortgage-backed securities in an effort to shore up the economy (here). This means BlackRock assists the Federal Reserve, it does not control it.

George Soros and Winterthur

“Black Rock manage the finances of the Open Foundation Company (SorosFoundation)”

False. Open Society Foundations is the world’s largest private funder of charities and non-governmental organisation (here) owned and funded by billionaire George Soros (here). The foundation has no connection to BlackRock.

Soros Fund Management, however, is an investment fund run by Soros that had shares in BlackRock (here), but sold them in 2020 (here).

“The SorosFoundation serves the French AXA”

False. There is no evidence of a connection between Open Society Foundations and the French insurance company AXA (here). However, financial research website Fintel recorded last year that Soros Fund Management disclosed ownership of more than 450,000 shares of AXA Equitable Holdings (here), a US-based company (here) partially owned by French AXA (here).

“Soros owns the German company Winterthur”

False. Winterthur is a Swiss insurer (here) bought by AXA in 2006 (here).

“Winterthur was built by the German Allianz”

False. Winterthur and Allianz are both insurance companies, but the only connection between them is the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance (ICHEIC), a non-profit association founded in 1998 by US insurance regulators and representatives of Israel to settle outstanding life insurance policies from the Nazi era.

The ICHEIC’s website states that negotiations led to settlements with AXA of France and Winterthur of Switzerland (here) and Allianz’s website says that the German industry accepted responsibility for the involvement of German companies during the Nazi regime (here). This connection may explain why Allianz, AXA and Winterthur are mentioned in this social media post.

“Vanguard is a shareholder of German Allianz”

True. Vanguard is the second largest shareholder of Allianz (here).

VERDICT

False. This post claims to reveal links between the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, pharmaceutical companies involved in COVID-19 vaccine research, global investment groups and billionaire philanthropists George Soros and Bill Gates. It implies these connections, many of which are fabricated or misleading, are evidence that the pandemic was deliberately orchestrated. There is no evidence to support this, nor that the virus was created in a laboratory.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .

https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-factcheck-pharmaceuticals-philanthrop-idUSKBN29Z0TM

 

2 thoughts on “Fact check: The COVID-19 pandemic was not orchestrated by pharmaceutical companies, investment groups and philanthropists

  1. Authored by Reuters staff, yeah, sure. Reuters has had exactly zero credibility for decades and they expect us to believe this tripe?

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