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Posts misattribute statements to FDA advisory panel

September 22, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: “FDA vaccine advisory board said Friday unvaccinated are more educated on the vaccine than most people who have gotten it, and ‘we cannot adequately refute their concerns, which should make us all very uncomfortable.’”

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory committee did not make these statements. Similar comments were made by a speaker who is not affiliated with the FDA or the committee during the open public hearing portion of its Sept. 17 meeting. Posts online have also misquoted portions of that speaker’s statements.

THE FACTS: The Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee is a 15-member panel of outside experts charged with evaluating data on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, and advising the FDA. The committee held an eight-hour streamed meeting Friday to discuss the use of booster doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

Following the meeting, a number of social media posts began circulating online falsely attributing statements to FDA officials and vaccine advisory committee members, when they were actually made by independent speakers during the meeting’s public-comment period.

A post that was first shared on Instagram, and later appeared on Facebook and Twitter, falsely suggested the FDA advisory panel had said unvaccinated people are more educated on the vaccine than the vaccinated, and that experts cannot disprove concerns made by anti-vaccine advocates.

However, none of the individuals who commented during the open public hearing session were FDA employees or members of the advisory committee, FDA press officer Abby Capobianco confirmed in an email to The Associated Press.

“The open public hearing portion of the meeting is open to anyone who is interested and signed up per the meeting announcement,” Capobianco wrote. “FDA does not screen remarks from speakers during the open public hearing portion of the meeting in advance.”

She added that the FDA does not endorse comments made during the public hearing section.

Comments suggesting that unvaccinated people are more educated on the vaccine than those who have received the shot were made by Dr. Joseph B. Fraiman, an emergency medicine physician in New Orleans.

Fraiman confirmed to the AP that he is not affiliated with the FDA or the vaccine advisory committee and said some of his wording was changed and taken out of context in the online posts.

In his comments to the committee, he urged the FDA to pursue larger booster vaccine trials that he argued could help counter vaccine hesitancy.

“I know that many think the vaccine hesitants are dumb or just misinformed. That’s not at all what I’ve seen,” Fraiman said. “In fact, typically, independent of education level, the vaccine hesitant I’ve met in the ER are more familiar with vaccine studies and more aware of their own COVID risks than the vaccinated.”

Fraiman shared the case of a young, unvaccinated nurse he works with who he said was not convinced that the risk of possible rare side effects from the vaccine outweigh the risk of contracting COVID-19. He said to persuade more young people to get the shot, larger trials are needed that can generate data to compare the risk of rare vaccine side effects against the risk of COVID-19 hospitalization in young, healthy, unvaccinated people.

The data Pfizer submitted to get full FDA approval showed the vaccine was 97% effective in preventing severe disease up to six months after people received their second shot. The study defines “severe disease” as including complications such as intensive care unit admission, respiratory failure and liver, kidney and neurologic dysfunction, among other issues. The data was collected by mid-March, before the rise of the highly contagious delta variant, but other data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the vaccine is still doing a good job preventing severe disease.

While making his point to the advisory committee, Fraiman said: “We need your help on the front lines to stop vaccine hesitancy. Demand the booster trials are large enough to find a reduction in hospitalization. Without this data, we, the medical establishment, cannot confidently call out anti-COVID vaccine activists who publicly claim the vaccines harm more than they save, especially in the young and healthy. The fact that we do not have the clinical evidence to say these activists are wrong should terrify us all.”

In addition to misidentifying Fraiman as an FDA advisory board member and presenting his message out of context, posts online have also inaccurately quoted the last part of his statement.

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Associated Press writer Terrence Fraser in New York contributed this report.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.