Fact Check
min read

Pharmaceutical companies did not create monkeypox virus to profit off vaccine sales

July 1, 2022


The global spread of monkeypox is bioengineered and planned by pharmaceutical companies to generate greater profits by selling vaccines.


This is false. Monkeypox was first discovered in 1958. Smallpox vaccines, in use since before monkeypox, are effective against the virus.


Just as the world is coming to grips with COVID-19, and interest around the two year long global event teeters off, a new virus has begun making the rounds.

Monkeypox, first discovered in 1958, is a zoonotic disease (transmitted to humans from animals) is now being used as a vehicle for misinformation.

Normally associated with Central and West Africa as an endemic disease, this virus has gone global.

In this multi part fact check, we investigate the various misinformation that is being spread about monkeypox and resolve its veracity.

To better understand the complexities of the emerging virus and provide a clearer picture of it, Faqcheck Lab spoke to molecular virologist Dr Vinod Balasubramaniam, who is also co-lead of Infection and Immunity Research Strength with Malaysia’s Jeffrey Cheah School of Medicine and Health Sciences. He is part of a team focused on understanding viruses and their impact on human immunity.


As the number of infections from the monkeypox virus are growing, questions about possible solutions began cropping up.

“There are two types of vaccine which are really potent. You're looking at what, 85% efficacy,” Dr Vinod explained.

The two vaccines are Imvamune and Imvanex, smallpox vaccines that have been in use in the United States to combat monkeypox infections since 2003.

“[The vaccines] cross react with monkeypox. The antibody you get also works with monkeypox. So it’s not all doom and gloom,” he said.

But in light of this information being publicly available, claims about whether major pharmaceutical companies had a hand in the virus’ spread began surfacing.

Language used in the claims fit into a familiar theme that the virus had been created in a “Chinese laboratory in Wuhan”, similar to what was alleged at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A BBC fact check on 30 May, 2022 debunked claims that the monkeypox virus was created in a lab. Geneticist Fatima Tokhmafshan was quoted as saying that the genetic sequences available so far for the virus all trace it back to the strain of monkeypox which commonly circulates in West Africa.

When asked if monkeypox was a bioweapon driven by the pharmaceutical industry to sell more vaccines, Dr Vinod explained.

“For those who love conspiracy theories, you know they're really getting excited, right after one pandemic.”

Dr Vinod said the media tend to sensationalise issues around zoonotic diseases, particularly during a pandemic or epidemic where large scale infections are inevitable.

Furthermore, he pointed out that the virus has been around since 1958, where scientists found “pox-like” disease in laboratory monkeys. The first human case was discovered in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1970s.

He added that there were many similarities between the current anti-pharmaceutical narrative with monkeypox and the one that was pushed during the COVID-19 pandemic and its vaccines. Dr Vinod concluded:

“Whether we like it or not, big pharma has the technology to make the vaccines. And whether we like it or not, vaccines do work - fortunately. [Like we saw] with SARS-CoV-2, right. Without the vaccines, I think things will be really really really bad.”


Xiamen University Malaysia: Siew Tong En, Sean Elijah Tan, Liu Zihan

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia: Ong Wei Chin, Seri Haidah Jaapar, Nurul Hidayah, David Win & Kuroshini

University of Nottingham Malaysia: Nathaniel Chan Jia Yoong, Nursarah Mohammad Firdaus Aloysius, Dayana Salim, Farah Aina Azaharuddin, Soh Annjo & Nur Ain Nabila


Dr Vinod Balasubramaniam (Monash) & Susan Tam

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