Clinical and real-world studies have shown that the COVID-19 vaccines are effective in preventing serious disease, and there is a long history of vaccine requirements in the U.S. But a list of bogus claims, shared around the world in recent months, falsely attribute unique characteristics and requirements to COVID-19 vaccines.
How effective are the vaccines?
A social media post spouting a list of false claims about the COVID-19 vaccines has saturated right-wing pockets of the internet over the last seven months, sowing doubts about vaccines that have proven to be safe and effective.
The list repeats some broad claims about the vaccines that we’ve addressed before and includes some new ones, which we’ll explain below.
It has shown up in all kinds of forums online — pasted in the comment section of a news website, published as a letter to the editor, posted on Reddit, featured on the website of a British neo-Nazi and self-described “white rights veteran,” used as the primary text for an Australian website called antivaxxs.com. And, of course, it’s been ubiquitous on social media, from far-right sites like Gab to mainstream sites like Facebook.
It’s also been posted in Filipino, Portuguese, Spanish and French.
We don’t know where the list originated, but the earliest versions we could find started circulating in the summer of 2021. We reached out to some of the first posters on Facebook, but we didn’t hear back. None of them credit the original source and, over time, the posts started to be attributed to an unnamed nurse.
Recently, posts attributing it to a doctor affiliated with Johns Hopkins Hospital — with the name of the hospital spelled wrong — have been going around. One is in English, and the other is in Portuguese — but they each cite a different person as the author. The English version claims it’s from a virologist named James Kelly, but there’s nobody with that name and description licensed to practice medicine in Maryland, where Johns Hopkins is located.
The text from that version of the post is below, with the claims we’ll address highlighted in bold:
“Among all the vaccines I have known in my life (diphtheria, tetanus, measles, rubella, chickenpox, hepatitis, meningitis and tuberculosis), I want to also add flu and pneumonia I have never seen a vaccine that forced me to wear a mask and maintain my social distance, even when you are fully vaccinated. I had never heard of a vaccine that spreads the virus even after vaccination. I had never heard of rewards, discounts, incentives to get vaccinated. I never saw discrimination for those who didn’t. If you haven’t been vaccinated no one has tried to make you feel like a bad person. I have never seen a vaccine that threatens the relationship between family, colleagues and friends. I have never seen a vaccine used to threaten livelihoods, work or school. I have never seen a vaccine that would allow a 12-year-old to override parental consent. After all the vaccines I listed above, I have never seen a vaccine like this one, which discriminates, divides and judges society as it is. And as the social fabric tightens… It’s a powerful vaccine! She does all these things except IMMUNIZATION. If we still need a booster dose after we are fully vaccinated, and we still need to get a negative test after we are fully vaccinated, and we still need to wear a mask after we are fully vaccinated, and still be hospitalized after we have been fully vaccinated, it will likely come to “It’s time for us to admit that we’ve been completely deceived.”
We’ll address each claim here:
“I have never seen a vaccine that forced me to wear a mask and maintain my social distance.”
It’s not the vaccine that compels people to wear masks, but the disease that does.
Public health officials began recommending that people wear masks in an effort to slow the spread of the respiratory virus in the spring of 2020, when vaccines were not yet publicly available. They’ve adjusted their recommendations about safety measures like wearing a mask or staying six feet away from others as the pandemic has evolved.
For example, in May 2021, after vaccines had become widely available in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its recommendation to say, “Fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.”
Then, in July, after the delta variant arose and vaccination rates lagged in some areas, the CDC responded by recommending that everyone, including those who were fully vaccinated, wear face masks indoors in areas of substantial or high transmission rates.
Similarly, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, emphasized his organization’s global guidance in the fall, saying, “even if you are vaccinated, continue to take precautions to prevent becoming infected yourself, and to infecting someone else who could die. That means wearing a mask, maintaining distance, avoiding crowds and meeting others outside if you can, or in a well-ventilated space inside.”
As the WHO explained at the time, it recommended wearing a mask and keeping a safe distance from others after vaccination because not everyone could be vaccinated and no vaccine is 100% effective.
“I had never heard of vaccine that spreads the virus even after vaccination.”
As we just said, no vaccine is 100% effective, which means that some people who are fully vaccinated can be infected with the pathogen they’ve been vaccinated against and spread it to others. It’s called a breakthrough infection.
“While the term might be unfamiliar to most people, breakthrough infections have been seen many times before with other vaccines that protect against other diseases,” Dr. Devang Sanghavi, a critical care specialist at the Mayo Clinic, explained in a piece for the American Medical Association.
“It’s kind of more mainstream now because of COVID, the pandemic and how it’s created global attention … but traditional vaccines in the past also have had their breakthrough infections, so this isn’t new,” he said.
Flu vaccines, for example, are most associated with breakthrough infections, according to an article in Scientific American. Tara Smith, an epidemiology professor in the College of Public Health at Kent State University, explained that if breakthrough cases of the flu were tracked as closely as breakthrough cases of COVID-19, the number would be much higher. Breakthrough cases of COVID-19, she said, are “just another Wednesday,” compared with those that occur with other vaccines.
As we’ve explained before, the COVID-19 vaccines that have been authorized or approved in the U.S. have been highly effective at preventing symptomatic disease – until omicron became the dominant variant. But early studies on omicron show that booster doses substantially increase protection against the new variant.
For example, a recent CDC study found a third dose of mRNA vaccines increased effectiveness against hospitalization when omicron was predominant from 57% at six months or more after a second mRNA dose to 90% at least 14 days after the third dose.
A recent review of breakthrough cases from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health found that the vaccines kept patients alive and out of the hospital in nearly 97% of breakthrough cases. It also found that those who were unvaccinated were 31 times more likely to become infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 than those who were fully vaccinated and had received a booster shot.
That review covered the year since vaccines became available — from December 2020 to the beginning of December 2021. So it didn’t include data from when omicron had become the dominant variant in late December.
According to the CDC, the vaccines are still effective in preventing severe disease, but recent data suggests their effectiveness wanes over time, especially for those who are 65 or older. The agency stressed the importance of vaccination and booster shots to fight the omicron variant.
“I had never heard of rewards, discounts, incentives to get vaccinated.”
Incentive programs — including those that have offered baby products, gift certificates for groceries, or cash payments — have been used for decades and research has shown that they are effective in increasing immunization.
“Vaccine incentives are rooted in the psychology of how people make economic and health decisions,” the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development explained in an information sheet about the programs. “Studies on vaccine incentive programs show that they result in a higher adherence to recommended immunizations,” HUD said, citing six examples.
In 2015, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Community Preventive Services Task Force recommended the use of such programs, citing an economic review of seven studies that evaluated various offers.
“The evidence indicates even small incentives can be effective in increasing vaccination rates and the reach can be substantial when such incentives are provided as part of benefits within health plans,” the task force recommendation said.
In June, the Blavatnik Institute’s Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School published an evaluation of the potential for incentives to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates, and it included the same review.
“There is strong evidence to suggest that incentive reward programs for vaccination may be effective in increasing COVID-19 vaccine uptake,” the evaluation found.
“However,” the paper warned, “states are tasked with designing and implementing incentive program structures that effectively target their respective vaccine hesitant populations — considering variations in incentive types and amounts (monetary vs. non-monetary), targeted populations (adolescent vs. elder population; patient vs. provider), and length of reward programs.”
Indeed, states across the country have offered incentives to encourage COVID-19 vaccination. They included park passes in several states, a chance to dine with the governor of New Jersey, and amusement park passes in Illinois, among other things.
“I have never seen a vaccine used to threaten livelihoods, work or school.”
This claim appears to be a reference to COVID-19 vaccine requirements, which have been politically divisive.
But vaccine requirements — for both school and work — existed long before COVID-19.
In fact, the first requirement for inoculation in the U.S. came more than 200 years ago and predates modern vaccination. In 1777, George Washington ordered all soldiers fighting in the Revolutionary War to be inoculated against smallpox, which was ravaging the Continental Army. Inoculation was done by a process called variolation, which meant either inhaling or inserting under the skin puss taken from smallpox sores on patients who were sick with the disease.
In 1809, after vaccines were developed, Massachusetts became the first state to mandate vaccination, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service. In 1827, Boston became the first city to mandate vaccination for public school students. Other states followed.
Those early mandates addressed smallpox, which was a recurring problem in early America and killed an average of three in 10 people who got it, according to the CDC. By the end of the 20th century, though, a global vaccination campaign had eradicated the disease.
Now all 50 states require students to have various vaccinations in order to go to school, although each one offers medical exemptions and 44 (plus Washington, D.C.) grant religious exemptions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. States generally follow federal guidance on the recommended vaccination schedule, according to a report from the Policy, Practice and Prevention Research Center in the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois Chicago.
Some states also require workers in medical or long-term care facilities to have various vaccinations. For example, 15 states require hospital health care workers to have a measles, mumps or rubella vaccine, according to data from the CDC.
There are also some local ordinances requiring hepatitis A vaccination for restaurant workers. St. Louis, Missouri; Franklin County, Missouri; Ashland, Kentucky; and Boyd County, Kentucky all require that shot.
So, contrary to what’s claimed in the post, vaccination requirements for work and school are nothing new.
“I have never seen a vaccine that would allow a 12-year-old to override parental consent.”
The CDC recommends that everyone ages 5 and older to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is currently the only one authorized in the U.S. for children.
In almost all states, parental consent is required for minors to get that shot, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis that was last updated in October.
A few states allow those under 18 to get vaccinated without permission from their parents, but only five of them (and the District of Columbia) allow those as young as 12 to do so.
Here’s the breakdown:
- Washington, D.C., sets the age at 11. Alabama sets the age at 14. Oregon sets the age at 15. Rhode Island and South Carolina set the age at 16.
- Arkansas, Idaho, North Carolina, Tennessee and Washington all follow the mature minor doctrine, which allows minors who are mature enough to understand the implications of their decisions to choose to get vaccinated without a parent’s consent.
Those laws apply to most vaccines, including those for COVID-19.
Two cities — Philadelphia and San Francisco — have made allowances specifically for COVID-19 vaccines. In Philadelphia, those who are 11 and older can get a COVID-19 vaccine without a parent’s consent, and in San Francisco, those who are 12 and older can do so.
So, in most cases, the rules for parental consent aren’t different for COVID-19 vaccines than for other vaccines and, in most states, minors need parental consent.
“It’s a powerful vaccine! She does all these things except IMMUNIZATION.”
Two types of vaccines are available in the U.S. There are mRNA vaccines, like those from Pfizer and Moderna, and there’s a viral vector vaccine from Johnson & Johnson.
While there are differences in the specifics of how each of those types of vaccines work, both types generally work by telling the immune system how to recognize key features of the virus that causes COVID-19 and prompts the immune system to make antibodies that would fight it off.
We know that they are effective in creating immunity because clinical trials showed more than 90% efficacy for the mRNA vaccines and 66% efficacy for the viral vector vaccine. Further studies have shown that they are effective in real-world settings and that they remain highly effective in preventing serious disease.
Also, data from the CDC shows that the number of deaths from COVID-19 began decreasing markedly as vaccines became more widely available, a trend that continued until the delta variant arose and vaccination rates slowed.
Editor’s note: SciCheck’s COVID-19/Vaccination Project is made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation has no control over FactCheck.org’s editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation. The goal of the project is to increase exposure to accurate information about COVID-19 and vaccines, while decreasing the impact of misinformation.
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