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Posts mislead about vaccine outreach report

November 14, 2020 GMT

CLAIM: A member of President-elect Joe Biden’s COVID-19 task force recommends “withholding food stamps and rent assistance from those who refuse coronavirus vaccines.”

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The claim mischaracterizes the recommendations of a working group that includes a member of Biden’s COVID-19 task force. The group put out a July report with recommendations for how to ensure widespread, voluntary access to a COVID-19 vaccine once there is a safe, available option. Nowhere in the report does it suggest withholding social assistance to those who decline to be vaccinated.

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THE FACTS: On Nov. 9, Biden announced a team of more than a dozen public health and science experts to develop a plan to fight COVID-19.

A widely shared post on Instagram falsely claims: “Joe Biden’s Covid-19 task force member recommends withholding food stamps and rent assistance from those who refuse coronavirus vaccines.”

Included in the Instagram post is a link to a longer article on the site, Distributed News, that makes clear the allegation is about task force member Dr. Luciana Borio, who has held leadership positions at the FDA and the National Security Council during the Obama and Trump administrations. Borio is a vice president with In-Q-Tel strategic investment firm. 

Borio also serves on a working group of scholars and medical experts that issued a report in July titled, The Public’s Role in COVID-19 Vaccination, about how to prepare for widespread access to and acceptance of a COVID-19 vaccine once a safe vaccine is available. 

But neither Borio, nor the working group, which is convened by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Health Security and Texas State University, is on record recommending withholding food stamps or rent assistance to people who refuse a COVID-19 vaccination.

Instead, the report simply recommends offering vaccines alongside other services. “Bundling services (eg, food security, rent assistance, free clinic services) that are already being provided to particularly vulnerable populations in the context of COVID (eg, older adults, low-income adults, Black and minority communities) could be a way to build trust and streamline vaccine provision,” the report reads.

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The Instagram post and Distributed News article contain “factual inaccuracies and misleading statements” according to the co-conveners of the working group and lead report authors, Monica Schoch-Spana, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, and Emily K. Brunson, a professor of anthropology at Texas State University. 

“We also take exception to the singling out and professional misrepresentation of Dr. Luciana Borio, an accomplished infectious disease physician who has expertise in medical countermeasures, including vaccines,” Schoch-Spana and Brunson wrote in a statement to The Associated Press.

The email went on to clearly detail the recommendations outlined in working group’s July report.

“We support voluntary vaccination during the pandemic, once safe and effective SARS-CoV-2 vaccines become available. We argue that SARS-CoV-2 vaccines should NOT be mandated,” reads the statement. 

Schoch-Spana and Brunson wrote that the working group is in favor of making the vaccine accessible to anyone who wants it when it is available. In order to make a future vaccine readily available to low income people, they recommend providing them at WIC clinics and food banks, and alongside other existing services.

“We do NOT advocate that such social supports ever be withheld in connection with an individual’s vaccination status,” Schoch-Spana and Brunson wrote.

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536