Did Trump Try to Poach Coronavirus Vaccine from Germany?

Confusing and unsubstantiated reports said the United States offered large sums of money to secure a COVID-19 vaccine for exclusive U.S. use.

  • Published 17 March 2020
As governments fight the COVID-19 pandemic, Snopes is fighting an “infodemic” of rumors and misinformation, and you can help. Read our coronavirus fact checks. Submit any questionable rumors and “advice” you encounter. Become a Founding Member to help us hire more fact-checkers. And, please, follow the CDC or WHO for guidance on protecting your community from the disease.

In March 2020, as the COVID-19 coronavirus disease continued to spread around the globe, various news outlets reported that the United States was lagging behind on testing for the new disease. A report from The Atlantic, for instance, noted that there was a fault in the initial test from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that delayed the United States’ ability to test patients.

That wasn’t the only roadblock to containing the disease. Other reported problems included a lack of equipment, political red tape, and poor management. According to a report in the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag, the Trump administration hoped to bypass some of those hurdles by offering scientists at the German company CureVac “a large amount” of money for exclusive U.S.A. access to a new COVID-19 vaccine. This report has not been confirmed.

German government sources told Reuters that the U.S. “was looking into how it could gain access to a potential vaccine being developed by a German firm, CureVac,” but they did not confirm that the U.S. offered large sums of money to secure a vaccine for exclusive use. 

Similarly, a spokesperson for the German Health Ministry confirmed that the country’s government was “very interested in ensuring that vaccines and active substances against the new coronavirus are also developed in Germany and Europe” and that the government has been involved in an “intensive exchange with the company CureVac.” They did not, however, accuse the U.S. of attempting to “poach” this vaccine. 

As of the time of this writing, U.S. President Donald Trump had not commented on these reports, but a U.S. official told Reuters that “this story is wildly overplayed.”

Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, wrote on Twitter that “the Welt story was wrong.” 

The company CureVac also released a statement on Twitter disputing the Welt report:

The U.S. may have expressed interest in acquiring CureVac and its ongoing research into a COVID-19 vaccine, but reports that the Trump administration offered large sums of cash for the exclusive rights to this vaccine have not been confirmed.

However, The Associated Press reported on March 16, 2020, that the European Union was investing millions of dollars into the company in an effort to fund research for a COVID-19 vaccine for use “in Europe and beyond”: 

The European Union on Monday announced a multimillion-dollar investment in a German company that is working on a potential vaccine for the new coronavirus amid reports that the U.S. government was interested in acquiring the firm.

The funding is part of a coordinated EU response to COVID-19, making use of public and private funding to support research, the European Commission said. COVID-19 is the name for the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

“I am proud that we have leading companies like CureVac in the EU,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Germany’s former defense minister. “Their home is here, but their vaccines will benefit everyone, in Europe and beyond.”