Social media posts claim the next global pandemic is being publicly planned by global health and economic bodies with a mystery contagion called Disease X.
The claim is false. Disease X is not an actual disease. It is a hypothetical concept used by scientists, health organisations and world leaders since 2018 to prepare for the probable emergence of another virus that could impact global health.
The posts claim Disease X is an actual, planned disease. They also claim that a Bill introduced in the US Congress last year is evidence “Disease X is planned” and many posts claim COVID-19 was also planned.
The panel discussion, called “Preparing for Disease X”, was recorded and is available online. The description on the video refers to ongoing work to prepare for a “so-called Disease X”.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), was one of the speakers and said (5min 37 sec mark) that “Disease X” is “a placeholder” term in use since 2018.
It is described by the WHO as representative of “the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease.”
It was added to the WHO’s list of priority diseases for research and development in emergency contexts in 2018.
Professor Paul Young, a molecular virology expert at the University of Queensland, said the term emerged from a review panel set up to assess responses to future outbreaks after criticism of the WHO’s response to the 2014-15 Ebola epidemic.
“One of the approaches this review panel came up with was to identify a list of exotic pathogens that may emerge as the next pandemic (such as Ebola, Zika).
“Amongst the list of seven known pathogens was an eighth, referred to as Disease X being any unknown pathogen.”
COVID-19 became the first Disease X that emerged after the list was published.
“That’s the whole point of being prepared,” he said.
Professor Nolan described the idea that Disease X was a real disease planned to be inflicted on the world as “ridiculous lunacy”.
Edward Holmes, a professor of virology at the University of Sydney, added: “What the WHO are doing when they highlight Disease X is simply to say ‘look, we need to prepare for pandemics now because something in the future – Disease X – is definitely going to occur.'”
“It is hypothetical, and no disease is currently known as a probable pandemic,” he said.
Many of the posts also point to a US Congress Bill called Disease X Act of 2023 as evidence that a mysterious pathogen has been planned – and is even already circulating.
But Professor Young said the bill is simply concerned with establishing a research program for developing medical countermeasures for viral threats that have pandemic potential.
“It is essentially setting up a funded program that meets the proposals made by that WHO committee. In addition to countermeasures against known pathogens it specifically addresses Disease X,” he said.
As for the claim in the posts that COVID-19 was planned, this has been debunked repeatedly by fact-checkers.
Kate Kelland, chief scientific writer at Norway’s Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, wrote the 2023 book DISEASE X – The 100 Days Mission to End Pandemics, in which she describes Disease X as “the knowledge of what we don’t know”.
While not a real disease or an actual virus, she told AAP FactCheck it is “a very real threat”.
“Disease X is the name — a placeholder name, if you like — given by many scientists, including experts at the WHO, to an unknown pathogen that will emerge in future and could cause a serious international epidemic or pandemic.
“It is an extremely important concept for scientists and public health experts to have as a focus of their work, and of the work the world needs to do, in preparing to face future pandemic threats.”
Referencing the claims, she added: “The idea that ‘elites’ and/or governments would plan a global disease pandemic that would paralyse their economies and potentially kill millions of people is bizarre for a start.
“And then to suggest they would give it a name and start talking about it in advance with the aim of preparing people to accept authoritarian rule and halt international travel and trade is beyond all sense.
“What would they be hoping to achieve? Endless economy-crushing lockdowns? Endless expensive vaccination campaigns? Why would they want that?”
The claim that global elites have planned the next pandemic and will use a disease known as Disease X is false.
Several experts told AAP FactCheck that Disease X is a placeholder term used by global organisations and governments to prepare for the future emergence of a disease with devastating potential.
The Disease X US Senate bill is concerned with preparations to counter such disease as and when it emerges.
False — The claim is inaccurate.