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Vaccinated people do not carry more coronavirus than unvaccinated

September 28, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: People who are vaccinated against COVID-19 carry a “heavier viral load” if infected with the disease than those who are unvaccinated.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The erroneous information grew from comments a doctor made in an interview discussing the delta variant, which is more contagious than other strains of the virus. Scientists have found that vaccinated people who get so-called breakthrough infections carry about the same amount of coronavirus as those who did not receive the shots.

THE FACTS: Social media users are misrepresenting comments made by Dr. Leana Wen, former Baltimore health commissioner, to support the idea that those who are vaccinated carry more of the virus that causes COVID-19.

An Instagram post circulating widely on social media shares a screenshot from Twitter that falsely states, “Dr. Leana Wen, one of the MSM’s biggest lap dogs, is confirming what has been said by us all along. The vaccinated carry a heavier viral load.” In the image, a syringe is used rather than the word vaccinated.

The post supports the false claim by using a short clip from a 25-minute interview Wen did with the news program Democracy Now! In the segment, she discusses the delta variant and the new issues surrounding it.

“We know that a person infected with the delta variant carries a thousand times the viral load than someone infected with the previous variant,” Wen said. “What that means is the person can transmit a lot more virus.”But the post leaves that information out, using only a portion of the video where she discusses how the vaccinated can also spread the disease.

“Those who are vaccinated, we now know based on the CDC, are now able with the delta variant, because they carry so much more virus, they could transmit it to their unvaccinated family members,” Wen said. “I, for example, even though I’m fully vaccinated, my children are not because they’re too young to be vaccinated. So I need to be careful for my children because of all the unvaccinated people around us.”

Previously, vaccinated people who got infected were thought to have low levels of virus and to be unlikely to pass it to others. But, according to AP reporting, more recent data shows that is not the case with the delta variant.

In July, after the delta variant began spreading more widely, the CDC highlighted a study that found that the vaccinated can carry just as much of the coronavirus as the unvaccinated. The federal health agency also recommended indoor mask wearing for the vaccinated, a reversal from earlier policy exempting them from masking indoors.

According to the CDC, the greatest risk of coronavirus transmission is among the unvaccinated, who are much more likely to get infected, and therefore transmit the virus.

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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.