There is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine was in development before the outbreak.

(Reuters) - Social media users are sharing a document from 2019 about an mRNA vaccine to claim baselessly that the US government knew about COVID-19 before its first outbreak.

The claims appear to stem from articles such as this one with the headline: “Secret Docs Reveal Moderna Sent Coronavirus Vaccine To North Carolina University Weeks Before Pandemic”.

The document mentioned outlines a “Material transfer agreement” between the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Moderna and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It was signed by officials between the dates of Dec 12 and Dec 17, 2019.

The COVID-19 response timeline by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that patients in Wuhan, China began to feel ill on Dec 12, 2019, and that the WHO China Country Office was informed of cases of pneumonia with unknown cause in Wuhan on Dec 31, 2019. The virus was isolated on Jan 7, 2020, by Chinese authorities.

However, the document shared online focuses on MERS-CoV, the coronavirus that causes Middle East respiratory syndrome, which was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. The SARS-CoV-2 virus, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 disease, is not mentioned anywhere in the document.

The claim misinterprets the word “coronavirus” to mean COVID-19. However, there are a number of different types of coronaviruses. The first kind was identified in the 1960s.

NIAID did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Thus, there is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine was in development before the outbreak.