A highly viewed Facebook video distorts a CNN interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci to falsely suggest that a COVID-19 vaccine authorized in the U.S doesn’t “protect you from covid.” The vaccine does protect against COVID-19, which is the disease caused by the coronavirus; Fauci was simply cautioning that it may not prevent someone from contracting the virus.
A popular video that adds a voiceover to footage from a television interview with National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci inaccurately questions the efficacy of one of the COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the U.S.
“So the vaccine don’t protect you from covid ???” reads the Facebook video post title. In fact, as Fauci explained in the interview, the vaccine does protect against COVID-19, which is the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. It may not, however, protect against infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which sometimes does not make people sick.
The video, which has racked up more than 468,000 views and 14,000 shares, was posted by TAHO, a group that claims to be a non-governmental organization “to encourage the youth in farming activities.” The group’s Facebook photo includes an image of a map of Africa, and the group is managed by individuals in Ghana and the United Kingdom. Many of its posts, including the Fauci video post, end with the phrase, “African Youth Reflect.”
The video runs about two minutes long and contains a segment of an interview CNN’s Chris Cuomo did with Fauci on Dec. 10. The interview followed news that an independent advisory committee to the Food and Drug Administration had voted that the benefits of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine outweigh its risks — all but ensuring the agency would greenlight the vaccine. The next day, the FDA followed through and granted the vaccine an emergency use authorization, the first for any COVID-19 vaccine in America.
The clip begins with Cuomo asking Fauci why it will still be necessary to wear a face mask even after a person is vaccinated. Fauci explains this is because while the vaccine does an excellent job at protecting people from falling ill, it might not prevent infection — and initially there will still be a lot of virus circulating in the population.
“You could be prevented from getting clinical disease, and still have the virus that is in your nasopharynx because you could get infected,” he said. “We’re not sure, at this point, that the vaccine protects you against getting infected.”
Here, a voiceover cuts in to repeat Fauci’s last sentence in a suggestive tone, before allowing him to continue: “We know for sure it’s very, very good, 94%, 95% in protecting you against clinically recognizable disease.”
At this point a voiceover interjects, “Clinically recognizable disease, but not COVID?” The question insinuates that there is something suspicious about what Fauci said, but there isn’t. He’s only making a distinction between disease and infection.
Specifically, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was tested in a phase 3 randomized trial in which people were counted as having COVID-19 if they developed at least one symptom of the disease, such as a fever, cough or shortness of breath, and tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus within four days.
Using this definition, which is quite inclusive, the vaccine was 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 disease in adults.
Moderna’s vaccine, for which the general results were known at the time of the CNN interview, was similarly effective — 94.1% — based on a COVID-19 case definition of at least two systemic symptoms, such as fever, chills or headache, and one respiratory symptom, along with a positive test for SARS-CoV-2.
The trials, however, did not immediately evaluate how well the vaccines were able to prevent infection. This is particularly relevant for COVID-19, because while many people develop at least some symptoms, some proportion of people do not. It therefore remains possible the two-dose shot keeps people healthy — the primary goal for the vaccines — but that vaccinated people can still become infected and unwittingly transmit the virus. Hence, Fauci’s advice, at least for now, to continue to wear a mask and follow public health precautions, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also endorsed.
As we’ve written before, there is a good chance that the authorized COVID-19 shots will help limit transmission to some degree, as that is still common with vaccines that cannot shield against infection but do defend against illness. But it nevertheless remains an open question for the COVID-19 vaccines.
The video misleads again when the voiceover repeats Fauci’s statement that the vaccine protected people against “severe disease” and then asks, “Well, then, what does he call COVID, if that’s not serious?”
That misunderstands COVID-19 and how differently it affects various people. As we’ve already noted, infection with SARS-CoV-2 does not always produce symptoms in people. For most individuals, the symptoms are relatively mild. But in some patients, particularly those who are older or who have certain health conditions, COVID-19 can be deadly — and for others, symptoms can linger.
Fauci was referring to the ability of the vaccine to prevent a severe case of COVID-19. In both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna trials, severe disease was defined as having confirmed COVID-19 and at least one sign of serious illness, such as a blood oxygen level below 93%, respiratory failure or admission to the intensive care unit.
In the Moderna trial, all 30 cases of severe COVID-19 occurred in the placebo group at the time of the FDA’s evaluation. One severe case was later identified in the vaccine group. Few volunteers in the Pfizer/BioNTech trial developed severe disease, making it difficult to come to firm conclusions, but as the FDA noted in its briefing, “the case split does suggest protection from severe COVID-19 disease.”
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