On Jan. 25, 2023, Project Veritas tweeted a video of what it referred to as an undercover investigation with the caption, "BREAKING: Pfizer Exploring 'Mutating' COVID-19 Virus For New Vaccines." The footage featured a man who the outlet claimed to be named Jordon Trishton Walker, a purported representative of Pfizer giving behind-the-scenes information about the company's practices. The video made the underlying claim that Pfizer was exploring the idea of actively "mutating" the COVID-19 virus itself in labs in order to prepare vaccines ahead of time for the possibility of future mutations.
Project Veritas also published an article with the headline, "Pfizer Executive: 'Mutate' COVID via 'Directed Evolution' for Company to Continue Profiting Off of Vaccines … 'COVID is Going to be a Cash Cow for Us' … 'That is Not What We Say to the Public' … 'People Won't Like That' … 'Don't Tell Anyone.'"
Our readers emailed us to ask if we could look at this subject. When we first looked at this claim, it had several characteristics that were often indicative of misinformation — that is, details to confirm the identity of its purported source, Walker, were initially unavailable, including if, or to what extent, he's connected to Pfizer.
During our research, we noted that Project Veritas said its YouTube upload of the video was removed for purported policy violations. As such, we approached this claim with some caution, as publications including The New York Times have referred to Project Veritas in the past as being "a conservative group known for its deceptive tactics." Still, this was a new story and was not connected to any past reporting from the website, so we looked at every piece of related data that we could find.
Since our initial publication of this report, we have looked at various pieces of data that appear to show photos of Walker or mention his name. Among that evidence is a YouTube video slideshow and webpage listing associated with The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, both from 2018, as well as a since-deleted LinkedIn profile and medical license in New York. Also, we found that an email inbox appeared to exist at Pfizer for someone with Walker's name. This lended credibility to the claim that a man with that name has a background in medicine and is employed by the pharmaceutical company. Pfizer has not confirmed Walker's employment.
We contacted Project Veritas to request the raw footage from its investigation in an effort to see if it contained any further clarifying information. Our article will be updated in the future if we receive the video files. Also, on Jan. 27, COVID-19 vaccine maker and pharmaceutical giant Pfizer posted a public statement in response to the Veritas content, saying in part that it had "not conducted gain of function or directed evolution research." We'll define these terms later in this story. The company did not respond to Snopes' requests for answers on specific questions related to the video and article.
Before we begin, we should note the video did not look to challenge whether COVID-19 vaccines work. Instead, it appeared to investigate claims of purported virus mutation experimentation. To be clear, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have both advised that the vaccines are "safe and effective." The CDC also published that "hundreds of millions of people have safely received a COVID-19 vaccine."
Note: As we initially reported, this story is developing. We have made several updates and noted them at the end of the article. Earlier versions of this story have been archived.
Three main people participate in the Veritas video. One man was only identified as an undercover journalist for the publisher. The website's founder, James O'Keefe, served as a narrator.
The third person in the video was referred to as Jordon Trishton Walker. The title visible on the screen identified him as purportedly being Pfizer's director of research and development for strategic operations and mRNA scientific planning.
According to the video, the man identified as Walker, whom we will refer to simply as "Walker" for the rest of this story, believed he was on a date with the man later identified as an undercover journalist with a hidden camera.
The article on the publication's website began as follows: "Project Veritas released a new video today exposing a Pfizer executive, Jordon Trishton Walker, who claims that his company is exploring a way to 'mutate' COVID via 'Directed Evolution' to preempt the development of future vaccines."
We transcribed part of the video below. Again, we reached out to Project Veritas to request raw video, one reason being that we wanted to check whether any context was missing from various parts of the video's conversations:
Project Veritas (PV): What is Pfizer doing, I guess to optimize, you know, the vaccines now?
Walker: Oh, we actually had a meeting about that today. So, there's a lot.
Walker: We're doing, ugh, I don't know if I should say this.
O'Keefe (narrating): Our undercover journalist asked Walker how Pfizer is handling the fact that their COVID vaccines are ineffective against virus variants. What he said is disturbing. Listen to this.
Walker: We're exploring like - you know how the virus keeps mutating.
Walker: Well, one of the things we're exploring is like, why don't we just mutate it ourselves so we could focus on - so we could create and preemptively develop new vaccines, right? So we have to do that. If we're gonna do that though, there's a risk of like, as you could imagine, no one wants to be having a pharma company mutating f**king viruses.
PV: Yeah. Okay.
Walker: So, we're like, do we want to do this? So that's like one of the things we're considering. For, like, the future, like maybe we can like, create new versions of the vaccines and things like that.
PV: Okay. So, Pfizer ultimately is thinking about mutating COVID?
Walker: Well, that is not what we say to the public. No, that's why it was, it was a thought that came up in a meeting and we were like, why do we not -- it was like, we're going to consider that with more discussions.
Walker: That exactly, actually. We're like, wait a minute, like, people won't like that.
O'Keefe: That's right. It appears that Pfizer is internally discussing the possibility of mutating the COVID virus themselves in order to tailor a vaccine to sell to the public.
The discussion between the two men included talk of whether the mutation idea would be considered gain-of-function research or directed evolution. Gain-of-function research is defined as "research that improves the ability of a pathogen to cause disease." Meanwhile, directed evolution is defined as "the laboratory process by which biological entities with desired traits are created through iterative rounds of genetic diversification and library screening or selection." Walker appeared to argue that the company was engaging in directed evolution, not gain-of-function research.
In one part of the video, Walker mentioned that if the company did move forward with these supposed plans, it would use monkeys for mutation experiments. He also mentioned, "Which I suspect is the way that the virus started in Wuhan," referring to the lab leak theory, which Snopes reported on in the past.
On an apparent separate date between the two men shown later in the Project Veritas video, Walker said that the purported mutation idea was "an exploratory thing" and "just like, something we're trying." He added that, "it depends on how the experiments work out," and said, "they are still kind of conducting experiments on it, but it seems like, from what I've heard, they're kind of optimizing it, but they're going slow cause everyone's very cautious."
While Walker did claim to have knowledge of a meeting taking place about "optimizing" the vaccines, he also said the words, "from what I've heard." These words could possibly be interpreted as indicating that he did not have direct involvement but had simply overheard various chatter about supposed discussions happening at the company.
After this moment, Walker referred to COVID as being a "cash cow" for Pfizer. The undercover journalist then said the "ultimate cash cow" would be mutating the viruses, to which Walker said, "Yeah, it'd be perfect."
Note: There's additional content in this video and the next one that was not transcribed for this article.
The Second Video
On Jan. 26, Project Veritas posted a second video in which O'Keefe and a camera crew entered a pizza parlor to confront Walker about the undercover investigation. One of the prominent replies under the tweet claimed, without presenting evidence, that it had been "staged."
The tweet's caption read, "SHOCKING: Pfizer Director Physically Assaults James O'Keefe & Veritas Staff; Destroys iPad Showing Undercover Recordings About 'Mutating' Covid Virus; NYPD RESPONDS!"
At one point during the encounter, which involved pushing and shoving, as well as an apparent attempt to break an iPad that was being handled by O'Keefe to show Walker his own remarks from what would ultimately become the first video, Walker claimed that he said the things he said about mutating the virus as a way of "lying to impress a date." He added, "Why are you doing this to someone who's just working at a company to literally help the public?"
The second video appeared to have been recorded inside of Ignazio's Pizza in Brooklyn, New York, just under the span on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Jordon/Jordan Trishton Walker
We have so far been unable to contact Walker in order to ask him questions about the content in the videos.
For example, Twitter users claimed to have found a YouTube video (archived page) that showed Walker in a white lab coat at the 4:02 mark, plus other photographs as well. That video was titled, "UT Southwestern Medical School-Class of 2018 Slideshow." It was uploaded in 2018.
The man in the video and photographs had similar physical characteristics as the person featured in the Project Veritas video.
A page on the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center's website mentioned a man with a very similar name, only with a slight spelling difference (Jordon/Jordan) in the first name. The page included the information, "Jordan Trishton Lee Walker, U Southern California (Preliminary-Surgery, Tufts Medical Center-Mass.)." We confirmed on the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine that this name had been on the page since 2018. We also reached out to the school to ask questions, but have not yet heard back.
Another purported piece of data from Project Veritas was a picture that claimed to be "an image of Jordon Trishton Walker's internal Microsoft Teams profile showing he is still an active employee of the pharmaceutical giant."
We were unable to obtain any comment from Pfizer to establish the veracity of this or other pieces of data. At the same time, we did reach out by email to the other three people named in the apparent screenshot, but have not yet heard back.
O'Keefe also posted three screenshots that were said to have provided further evidence of Walker's work for the company. One of the screenshots mentioned the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, the same school referenced in the YouTube video slideshow above.
In a test, we emailed Walker with both the names "Jordon" and "Jordan" included in the Pfizer email address. Neither email came back as an error. As a further test, we sent an email with the misspelled first name "Jordn" in the address, to which we very quickly received a bounceback that indicated that mailbox was not active. In other words, email addresses appeared to be active at Pfizer for a person (or two people) with the names Jordon Walker and Jordan Walker.
On Jan. 31, Project Veritas tweeted a thread with links to several scientific papers that showed the author name of a person named Jordon Walker. Some of the papers were hosted on the .gov website for the National Institutes of Health and were filed under the National Center for Biotechnology Information with the National Library of Medicine.
Additionally, we received information from readers after this story was published that showed DuckDuckGo search results that mentioned Walker as being, "Director, Worldwide R&D Strategic Operations and mRNA Scientific Planning at Pfizer" in New York City. That very same LinkedIn profile URL was linked with Walker's name as a consultant under an article on the Boston Consulting Group website. The article's headline was, "The Near-Term Outlook for COVID-19 Therapeutic Treatments." Further, a person with the same name was listed as having a medical license on the New York State Education Department .gov website.
This section and the other sections of this story will be updated as we receive more data, email responses included.
Contacting Pfizer and Company Statement
After the first video was released, we contacted Pfizer to ask about the content. We sent two subsequent inquiries in the days that followed. One of our main questions in our brief emails was to ask if anyone with Walker's name had ever worked for the company.
We did not receive a response to our email, nor did the company mention or reference Walker in a public statement posted on its website.
In Pfizer's statement, which was posted on Jan. 27 (a Friday) and showed a time of 8 p.m., the company said the following:
New York, N.Y., January 27, 2023 – Allegations have recently been made related to gain of function and directed evolution research at Pfizer and the company would like to set the record straight.
In the ongoing development of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, Pfizer has not conducted gain of function or directed evolution research. Working with collaborators, we have conducted research where the original SARS-CoV-2 virus has been used to express the spike protein from new variants of concern. This work is undertaken once a new variant of concern has been identified by public health authorities. This research provides a way for us to rapidly assess the ability of an existing vaccine to induce antibodies that neutralize a newly identified variant of concern. We then make this data available through peer reviewed scientific journals and use it as one of the steps to determine whether a vaccine update is required.
In addition, to meet U.S. and global regulatory requirements for our oral treatment, PAXLOVID™, Pfizer undertakes in vitro work (e.g., in a laboratory culture dish) to identify potential resistance mutations to nirmatrelvir, one of PAXLOVID's two components. With a naturally evolving virus, it is important to routinely assess the activity of an antiviral. Most of this work is conducted using computer simulations or mutations of the main protease–a non-infectious part of the virus. In a limited number of cases when a full virus does not contain any known gain of function mutations, such virus may be engineered to enable the assessment of antiviral activity in cells. In addition, in vitro resistance selection experiments are undertaken in cells incubated with SARS-CoV-2 and nirmatrelvir in our secure Biosafety level 3 (BSL3) laboratory to assess whether the main protease can mutate to yield resistant strains of the virus. It is important to note that these studies are required by U.S. and global regulators for all antiviral products and are carried out by many companies and academic institutions in the U.S. and around the world.
Fact-based information rooted in sound science is vitally important to overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic and Pfizer remains committed to transparency and helping alleviate the devastating burden of this disease.
From what we can tell, the man shown in the videos may really be named Jordon/Jordan Walker. The video and website for the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center also may have shown and referenced the very same person. Further, Pfizer did not answer questions or provide information about the man identified as Walker either by email or in its statement, and email inboxes appeared to be active at the company for someone with the same name.
In an effort to see what other news organizations had found about the Project Veritas story, we noticed that Newsweek had established a rating of "Unverified."
Meanwhile, Medical Marketing and Media (MM+M) reported that its team had been "unable to verify that Walker works for Pfizer — or even exists," adding that "he lacks a digital presence on every major technology platform." (The article did not appear to make mention of the claims about the video or website listing for the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.)
The MM+M story continued with, "It's worth noting that Project Veritas, while claiming to conduct investigative journalism, has a lengthy history of using ethically dubious tactics and deceptively editing videos to fit a conservative narrative."
Again, we have reached out to Project Veritas to obtain access to all of the raw footage so that we can look for clarifying information, and will update this article accordingly if we receive the video files.
If any readers have data that would be valuable to this story, please contact us.