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Fact Check-Fauci’s comments on the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines misconstrued in video

A highly edited video shared on Instagram misrepresents comments made by Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States’ top infectious disease expert, on why individuals with the COVID-19 vaccine should still wear masks in public until the country achieves herd immunity. Fauci explains that it is not yet clear how effective the current vaccines are at curbing the spread of the virus from an immunized person to others. In other words, a vaccine will prevent the recipient from getting sick, but that person may still carry the virus and expose those who have not received the vaccine.

Posts sharing this video can be found here , here and here .

The clip in the posts comes from an interview Fauci did with CNN’s Chris Cuomo on December 10, 2020 (here). Provided by CNN, the full transcript of the interview is available here .

In the interview, Fauci answers Cuomo’s question of “Why do I have to keep wearing the mask after I get the vaccine?” by stating that those who are vaccinated “could be prevented from getting clinical disease,” but may “still have the virus that is in your nasopharynx because you could get infected.”

After Fauci says, “We’re not sure, at this point, that the vaccine protects you against getting infected,” the edited Instagram clip plays a record scratch sound effect and a voiceover asks in disbelief, “We’re not sure? At this point? That the vaccine protects you against getting infected?”

As stated here on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, “We’re still learning how well COVID-19 vaccines keep people from spreading the disease.”

“Early data show that the vaccines may help keep people from spreading COVID-19, but we are learning more as more people get vaccinated,” the CDC website states.

In other words, there is a difference between getting infected with SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and experiencing COVID-19 illness. The Cleveland Clinic explains here that “those who have been vaccinated may still be asymptomatic spreaders,” as the vaccines prevent illness, but “more research is needed to determine if the vaccines also prevent transmission.”

After Fauci says that the vaccines are “very good, 94%, 95% in protecting you against clinically recognizable disease, and almost a 100% in protecting you for severe disease,” the edited clip pauses again with a record scratch sound, and a voiceover that misleadingly says, “Clinically recognizable disease? But not COVID?”

It is clear by reading the wider interview transcript that the terms “severe disease” and “clinically recognizable disease” here refer to COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, and not another disease.

As clarified here by the World Health Organization (WHO), “Viruses, and the diseases they cause, often have different names. For example, HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. People often know the name of a disease, but not the name of the virus that causes it.”

In this context, Dr. Fauci is describing severe or clinically recognizable cases of COVID-19, which the vaccines are highly effective at fighting.

The voiceover’s question of, “Well then, what does he call COVID if that’s not serious?” thus misconstrues Fauci’s comments by conflating infection with the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 illness.

Lastly, the voiceover expresses surprise at Fauci’s comment that the United States is only just “starting a vaccine program.” At the time the CNN interview aired, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had only just authorized the first COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech, making it available for emergency use (here).

Since then, the FDA has also approved the Moderna and Janssen COVID-19 vaccines (here). As of March 7, the United States had administered 90.35 million vaccine doses (here).

Fauci’s statement that “We still have a long way to go, and we’ve got to get as many people as possible vaccinated, of all groups,” speaks to the fact that the United States has not yet reached herd immunity status.

According a March 5 NPR report, 18.4% of the total U.S. population has received at least one vaccine dose (here). For the nation to reach herd immunity, 50% to 80% of the population must be fully vaccinated (here).

VERDICT

False. The edited version of the video shared on Instagram conflates SARS-CoV-2 infection with COVID-19 illness, misrepresenting Dr. Fauci’s statements about the effectiveness of available vaccines in preventing clinically recognizable or severe coronavirus disease.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here . 

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