The claim: The COVID-19 vaccine won’t stop you from getting or spreading the virus, so it can’t protect others
More than 70% of adults in the US have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Kids got their vaccines in early November, and for most Americans, booster shots may still be on the way.
The number of COVID-19 cases fell after the vaccines were introduced in the spring. But on Facebook, some still doubt whether the shots work.
“Since the (vaccine) doesn’t stop you from getting it or spreading it… How… are you actually protecting others,” reads a Nov. 13 post from a page called The Lion’s Roar.
The post amassed more than 69,000 shares within four days. Similar claims have fueled tens of thousands of interactions on Facebook and Instagram in the past month, according to CrowdTangle, a social media insight tool.
In clinical trials, all three vaccines approved in the US were found to be safe and effective in preventing severe cases of COVID-19. Since then, public health officials have acknowledged that the injections are not 100% effective at preventing infection — and research suggests that immunity wanes over time.
But that doesn’t mean the COVID-19 vaccines are worthless. Experts and public health officials say they are protecting people from being infected and spreading the virus.
Checking facts:COVID-19 vaccine protects both the vaccinated person and those around them
“This is false information,” Akiko Iwasaki, a professor of immunobiology and molecular, cellular and developmental biology at Yale University, said in an email. “Vaccines offer significant protection against ‘getting’ – infection – and ‘spreading’ – transmission – even against the delta variant.”
USA TODAY reached out to The Lion’s Roar for comment.
Vaccines reduce the risk of infection, transmission
All three COVID-19 vaccines approved in the US are designed to prevent serious infection, hospitalization and death. But experts and public health officials say the shots also protect people from contracting and spreading the virus.
“What we know is that individuals who have been vaccinated are much less likely to get infected and therefore much less likely to spread the virus,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, in an email.
Data from clinical trials indicate that Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are approximately 95% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infections. Johnson & Johnson’s injection was found to be approximately 72% effective in preventing moderate to severe disease. (That number is lower, in part because of the higher number of COVID-19 cases in the general population during the trial period.)
The vaccine rollout has confirmed those findings.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 9% of reported COVID-19 deaths in 13 U.S. jurisdictions were from fully vaccinated people between April and July. CDC studies have also shown that unvaccinated people are 10 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19.
Checking facts:Have you been infected with COVID-19 in the past? You still need the vaccine, experts say
The agency says on its website that while breakthrough infections are possible, “most people who get COVID-19 have not been vaccinated.” Experts told USA TODAY that the injections provide significant protection against infection and transmission.
“Yes, it is true that vaccinated individuals can also be infected by and spread SARS-CoV-2 to others,” Shweta Bansal, an associate professor of biology at Georgetown University, said in an email. “However, the evidence is crystal clear that the risk of transmission for a vaccinated person is significantly lower than for an unvaccinated person.”
Bansal pointed to data from the United Kingdom showing that the COVID-19 vaccines reduce the chance of infection by 50-75%. A preprint study, also conducted in the UK, found that two doses of the Pfizer vaccine are 80% effective against preventing all infections with the delta coronavirus variant.
Data on how COVID-19 vaccination affects transmission is more complicated, but still promising.
“Within the breakthrough infections with delta, the viral load is comparable to those who became infected and were not vaccinated,” Iwasaki said. “This can be the source of confusion about the claim that vaccines don’t stop you from spreading the virus.”
Research indicates that vaccinated individuals who become infected with COVID-19 can transmit the virus at a comparable level to unvaccinated people. But data also shows that they get better faster than unvaccinated people, meaning they may be less likely to spread the virus to others. Several studies pending peer review support that.
And, of course, the vaccinated are much less likely to contract COVID-19, as noted earlier.
More:Would you like more clarity about the news? Join a text chat with USA TODAY’s expert fact-checkers.
Public health experts worry that some people who received the COVID-19 vaccine months ago may see their protections diminish over time. But that’s not uncommon for a vaccine, and booster shots have been shown to dramatically increase protection against the virus.
“The COVID-19 vaccines undeniably reduce (the) spread of the virus,” said Adalja. “Just because they’re not 100% doesn’t mean it’s nothing.”
Our rating: False
Based on our research, we rate the claim that the COVID-19 vaccine won’t stop you from getting or spreading the virus, FALSE, so it can’t protect others. Although vaccinated individuals can get COVID-19, experts and public health officials say they are less likely to contract the virus than unvaccinated people. That means they are also less likely to spread the virus to others. When vaccinated people do become ill, the risk of serious illness, hospitalization or death is small. Research shows that they also get better faster than their unvaccinated counterparts.
Our fact-checking resources:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed Nov. 16, COVID Data Tracker: COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States
- USA TODAY, Nov 3 Fast start, COVID-19 vaccinations for children aged 5-11 will increase in the coming days
- US TODAY, Nov. 16, Booster shots could be available to all adults over the weekend; Pfizer Seeks OK for Promising Antiviral Pill: COVID Updates
- US TODAY April 19, America hits milestone with COVID-19 vaccine widely available to those who want it, but hesitation still casts a shadow
- USA TODAY, open November 17, USA COVID-19 Map: Tracking Cases and Deaths
- US TODAY, Aug 24, ‘Keep your guard up’: CDC studies show declining efficacy of COVID-19 vaccine as delta variant sweeps US
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 9 November COVID-19 Vaccines Work
- Akiko Iwasaki, November 16, email exchange with USA TODAY
- CrowdTangle, accessible November 17th
- USA TODAY, March 27, Comparison of the COVID-19 Vaccines
- Yale Medicine, Nov. 3, Comparison of the COVID-19 Vaccines: How Do They Differ?
- USA TODAY, June 21, Fact check: COVID-19 vaccines provide safer, more consistent immunity than infection
- Food and Drug Administration, consulted Nov. 17, COVID-19 Vaccines
- US TODAY, Oct. 22, ‘A Modern Miracle’: Experts marvel at CDC data showing fully vaccinated account for less than 1% of COVID deaths
- US TODAY, Sept. 11, Unvaccinated people are 11 times more likely to die from COVID-19, CDC studies show: Latest updates
- Shweta Bansal, Nov. 16, E-Mail Exchange with USA TODAY
- United Kingdom Office for National Statistics, October 18, Coronavirus (COVID-19) Infection Survey Technical article: Impact of vaccination on testing positive in the UK: October 2021
- MedRxiv, Aug 24, Impact of Delta on viral load and vaccine efficacy against novel SARS-CoV-2 infections in the UK
- MedRxiv, Jul 31, Virological and Serological Kinetics of SARS-CoV-2 Delta Variant Vaccine Breakthrough Infections: A Multicenter Cohort Study
- MedRxiv, Aug 25, Viral dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 variants in vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals
- The Lancet, October 29, Community transmission and viral load kinetics of the SARS-CoV-2 delta (B.1.617.2) variant in vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals in the UK: a prospective, longitudinal cohort study
- Healthline, opened Nov. 17, vaccinated people can transmit coronavirus, but it’s even more likely if you’re not vaccinated
- Healthline, consulted Nov. 17, vaccinated people may be even less likely to transmit COVID-19 than previously thought
- MedRxiv, October 14, Vaccine efficacy against SARS-CoV-2 transmission to household contacts during Delta variant dominance (B.1.617.2), August-September 2021, The Netherlands
- MedRxiv, October 15, The impact of SARS-CoV-2 vaccination on transmission of alpha and delta variants
- USA TODAY, November 12, Is this the fifth COVID-19 wave? Experts fear we’ll just call it ‘winter’
- USA TODAY, Nov. 3, Fact check: Booster shots are normal, no evidence of vaccine failure, experts say
- USA TODAY, Oct. 21, Research Shows 3rd Pfizer Injection Dramatically Improves Protection; CDC panel votes to expand booster options: COVID-19 updates
- dr. Amesh Adalja, November 16, E-mail Exchange with USA TODAY
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Sept. 17, Monitoring the Incidence of COVID-19 Cases, Hospitalizations, and Deaths, by Vaccination Status – 13 US Jurisdictions, April 4 – July 17, 2021
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Accessed Nov. 17, COVID Data Tracker: Rates of COVID-19 Cases and Deaths by Vaccine Status
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