Fact-check: Remdesivir is Not a COVID-19 Vaccine

Senior Researcher at Africa Check
The claim that Remdesivir is a coronavirus vaccine produced to be tested in African countries is false.


The claim that Remdesivir is a coronavirus vaccine produced to be tested in African countries is false.

Since September 2020, some social media users have been sharing posts showing medication with a label that reads “Not for distribution in the United States, Canada and the European Union.” 

Many have claimed that this label on the images is proof that the global North is testing vaccines against Covid-19 in the developing world.

The photo started circulating on social media in several countries in Africa. “Wake up Afrika, this is not a cure but a trap to kill you or use you as ‘laboratory rat,” reads a tweet published in September last year.

In January 2021, images that seem to be a variation of the previous post showed up on Facebook, making similar claims.

One post on Facebook in Kenya questioned Covid-19 experts  why the alleged vaccine was restricted to African countries, adding that, “we have only one Covid-19 affecting both Africa, EU, Canada and the US.” 

The post had two images of drugs. The first image showed the front of the box, labelled: “Remdesivir for Injection 100 mg/vial”. With notice: “Not for distribution in US, Canada, or EU.”

In the second image, the back of the box has a notice: “For use in the below countries only.” It lists 47 countries, all in Africa.

The post making the claims has been shared in groups with large followings and has had very high interactions since it started in September. 

But are the claims of Remdesivir being a Covid-19 vaccine and it only being distributed in African countries true?

Not a vaccine

The World Health Organisation(WHO) says a vaccine stimulates the body’s immune system for it to produce antibodies against the disease that are causing germs such as viruses and bacteria. 

Remdesivir is not a Covid-19 vaccine, and it is an antiviral drug developed to treat infection by a range of viruses. The Covifor seen on the first images shared is the generic brand of Remdesivir drug.

According to the Hetero healthcare, Covifor is an injection to treat Covid-19 patients with severe symptoms of the disease but not a vaccine. 

In a statement released on 24 June 2020, the company said that with Covifor, they hope to reduce patient’s time of treatment in a hospital, adding that by ” reducing the increasing pressure on the medical infrastructure, overburdened currently due to accelerating covid-19 infection rates. 

The pharmaceutical company added, “Covifor is the first generic brand of Remdesivir which is indicated for the treatment of COVID-19 patients in adults and children, hospitalised with severe symptoms of the disease”. 

Researchers have tested and found that the medication showed some efficacy against coronaviruses such as MERS and SARS.

The FDA gave emergency approval in October 2020 for the use of Remdesivir to treat severe cases of COVID-19. The drug was shown in a clinical trial to reduce recovery time for some COVID-19 patients.

In November 2020, WHO, a specialised United Nations agency in charge of international public health, issued a conditional recommendation, which said Remdesivir should not be used on the Covid-19 patients who are hospitalised. 

WHO added that “There is currently no evidence that Remdesivir improves survival and other outcomes in these patients.”

On 12 February 2021, the CDC published guidelines and recommendations based on scientific evidence on clinical management and treatment for patients infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Licenced for distribution worldwide 

The Gilead website explains that licensing agreements permit the manufacturers to produce the drug Remdesivir (the generic name for Covifor) for distribution in 127 mostly lower and middle-income countries around the world. 

There is also a list of the countries on their website, which includes the 47 African countries listed on the images shared on social media with the claims, as well as countries in South America, Europe, and Asia.

Canada, the US, and the EU are not on the list, but this doesn’t mean Gilead isn’t distributing the drug in those countries.

In August 2020, Canada approved the drug for use in Covid-19 patients making the drug available through its public health system.

The drug company, on 8 October 2020, signed a joint procurement agreement with the European Commission to distribute it to the EU member states. 

Using the evidence stated above, the claim that the antiviral drug Remdesivir is a vaccine produced to be tested in African countries is false. 

This publication was produced as part of IWPR’s Africa Resilience Network (ARN) programme, administered in partnership with the Centre for Information Resilience (CIR), the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), and Africa Uncensored. For more information on ARN, please visit the ARN site.

Senior Researcher at Africa Check

Kenyan based Fact Checker

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