Image of packaging for AstraZeneca vaccine was digitally altered with false date

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A screenshot of a package for the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca has been shared on Facebook in South Africa alongside a claim that a purported date stamp on the box shows it was manufactured in July 2018 – more than a year before the novel coronavirus was discovered. But the claim is false: the image of the packaging has been digitally altered to include a false date stamp.

The image was published here on Facebook on July 21, 2021, and has since been shared more than 1,300 times.

It shows a flattened package for 10 multidose vials of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, with a pink arrow pointing to a date on the side of the box that reads: “2018.07.15.”

Screenshot of the false post, taken on August 2, 2021

“Do you smell it too?” reads the post, translated from Afrikaans into English. “It’s definitely not the soles of my shoes.”

The sentiment in the post mirrors the suspicion expressed in the text alongside the image, which reads: “Ok so it’s Covid 19 but the vaccines were made a year before ‘discovering’ it. I keep smelling shit but my shoe soles are clean (sic).”

The claim, that the vaccine was developed ahead of, and possibly in anticipation of, the pandemic, plays into broader Covid-19 conspiracy theories, among them the idea that global powers planned an outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

The same thinking is expressed in another post shared on Facebook on July 24, 2021, with the same image and a caption that reads: “AstraZeneca Covid-19, 10 vial box. For those who cannot see, manufacture date shown is 2018.07.15 (July 25, 2018)...Figured it out yet? WAKE UP SHEEPLE (sic)”.

But the claim that the AstraZeneca vaccine was developed before the novel coronavirus was discovered is false.

False date stamp 

A reverse image search found that the original image of the vaccine packaging was shared on Twitter by the Citizen Journalist’s Network on November 15, 2020.

The same image appeared here a few days earlier on Facebook.

Both show that the pink date stamp was digitally added to the picture and did not exist on the original box.

A spokesman for the Oxford Vaccine Group confirmed to AFP Fact Check that the company had not created packaging for its Covid-19 vaccine in 2018.

“The package is for the AstraZeneca vaccine but the dateline has been digitally added to give a false impression that the vaccine was manufactured early which is not true.”

The spokesman added that the agreement with AstraZeneca to manufacture the Oxford vaccine was only made on April 30, 2020, and so the manufacturing of their branded version could only have legally begun after that date. 

Cases of SARS-CoV-2 were first reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) on January 4, 2020, and it was declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020.

The AstraZeneca vaccine was first approved for emergency use in the UK by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) on December 30, 2020.

AstraZeneca in South Africa

The AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and Johnson &Johnson Covid-19 vaccines have received approval from the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA).

The South African government initially halted use of the AstraZeneca vaccine as it was said to be less effective against the Beta Covid-19 variant that was spreading in the country in early 2021.

However, local media reported on August 1, 2021, that the country was reconsidering the AstraZeneca vaccine since new research had shown it to be effective against the Delta Covid-19 variant that is currently dominant.