Fact check: Merck discontinues COVID-19 vaccine work over weak immune response

The claim: US pharmaceutical company Merck said it scrapped its COVID-19 vaccine trials because it was more effective to contract the virus and recover

Amid the race to vaccinate millions of Americans, pharmaceutical giant Merck recently dropped out and ended its COVID-19 vaccine trials. One article, however, distorted the company's statement explaining why it scrapped the trials.

An article circulating online falsely claims that Merck halted development of its COVID-19 vaccines because it was more effective to contract the virus and develop antibodies.

The article, "Merck Scraps COVID Vaccines; Says It’s More Effective To Get The Virus And Recover," was published by the website Summit News on Jan. 26.

Media Bias/Fact Check rates Summit News as a “questionable” source based on “extreme right-wing bias" and "promotion of conspiracies." Summit News could not be reached for comment.

Other social media posts have picked up the claim.

While Merck did end its COVID-19 vaccine trials, the reason was not as purported.

More:Fact check: Satirical post claims Biden has labeled Libertarians as terrorists

Merck said the article was false

In a statement to USA TODAY, Merck said the article is false.

Merck announced Jan. 25 it would halt development of its two COVID-19 vaccines following Phase 1 trials after both generated fewer neutralizing antibodies than other candidates, USA TODAY reported.

While Merck did say its vaccines produced an inferior immune response to those who survived "following natural infection," the company did not say its vaccines were less effective than "just contracting the virus itself and developing antibodies," as the article purports.

Merck said in its announcement that it would submit its vaccine Phase 1 study results "for publication in a peer-reviewed journal" and would concentrate on developing possible treatments for the virus.

COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 26, 2021, in New York City.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines were authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December. About 25.6 million shots had been administered in the U.S. as of Jan. 28, according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker.

Johnson & Johnson is expected to announce results from its COVID-19 vaccine trial around the end of January, according to USA TODAY

More:Fact check: COVID-19 can cause worse lung damage than smoking

Our rating: False

The claim that Merck said it ended its COVID-19 vaccine production because it was more effective to contract the virus and recover is FALSE, based on our research. A Merck spokesperson confirmed that the claim is false. Merck halted development of its COVID-19 vaccines because both produced fewer neutralizing antibodies than other candidates. 

Our fact check sources: 

Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or electronic newspaper replica here.

Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.