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PolitiFact: No, the first volunteer in a UK COVID-19 vaccine trial hasn’t died

Elisa Granato, the first volunteer to be injected in a COVID-19 vaccine trial in Europe, is “100% alive.”
Workers keep their distance during a break from producing medical ventilators at AMRC Cymru in North Wales as they help the UK in the fight against coronavirus or COVID-19, Broughton North Wales, on April 30.
Workers keep their distance during a break from producing medical ventilators at AMRC Cymru in North Wales as they help the UK in the fight against coronavirus or COVID-19, Broughton North Wales, on April 30. [ JON SUPER | AP ]
Published May 5, 2020

As scientists race to develop a vaccine against COVID-19, a screenshot of a frightening headline has been shared on social media.

"First volunteer in UK coronavirus vaccine trial has died," it says above an image of a woman smiling as a health care worker appears to place a small bandage on her upper arm.

An April 25 Facebook post sharing the image was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The screenshot comes from a WordPress blog called News NT.

"Elisa Granato, the first volunteer who availed herself in Oxford for a jab in the first Europe human trial of a vaccine to protect against the coronavirus pandemic has died," the story says. "She died two days after the vaccine was administered, authorities have said and added that an investigation into the cause of the death has been initiated."

Elisa Granato is a real person. She is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oxford’s zoology department. But as her Twitter bio says, she’s "100% alive."

The image in the Facebook post is authentic, and shows Granato after she was injected as part of a coronavirus vaccine at the University of Oxford. She was the first of more than 800 people who were recruited for the first human trial in Europe of a coronavirus vaccine, according to the BBC.

Granato, who was the first volunteer to be injected, told the BBC: "I’m a scientist, so I wanted to try to support the scientific process wherever I can."

The Department of Health and Social Care in the United Kingdom also used Twitter to dispel misinformation about Granato’s death.

"News circulating on social media that the first volunteer in a UK #coronavirus vaccine trial has died is completely untrue," the April 26 tweet says.

That same day, Fergus Walsh, a medical correspondent for the BBC, tweeted that he spoke to Elisa Granato over Skype and that "she is very much alive and she told me she is feeling ‘absolutely fine.’"

In a video clip Walsh tweeted of Granato, she says, "I’m very much alive, thank you."

The University of Oxford has said that any updates about its COVID-19 vaccine trial will appear on its website.

"We are aware there have been and will be rumours and false reports about the progress of the trial," an April 26 post on the site says. "We urge people not to give these any credibility and to not circulate them."

Considering the attention paid to the fake news about her death, Granato’s actual passing would have certainly drawn media coverage. But as we prepared to publish this fact-check, the most recent report we could find about her was a May 5 story in the Oxford Student, a student newspaper at Oxford. It quotes Granato saying she was randomly chosen as the first person to be vaccinated, resulting in “a lot of attention from the media, countless emails from all over the world and — sadly — some pretty vicious online attacks by individuals and groups opposed to vaccines.”

We rate this Facebook post False.

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