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Vaccines are needed to end the pandemic, prevent serious illness

March 4, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: There is absolutely no need for vaccines to extinguish the pandemic and people who aren’t at risk from the disease should not be vaccinated. 

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The claim, which comes from an op-ed article written by a former vice president in Pfizer’s allergy and respiratory research division, ignores that the vaccine is effective in preventing people from developing serious illness from COVID-19. 

THE FACTS: A quote by Michael Yeadon, a retired British doctor who previously worked for Pfizer, found new life on Facebook this week, circulating on a widely shared post. The quote was taken from an op-ed Yeadon wrote in a U.K.-based blog in October that made false claims while arguing against government restrictions for the coronavirus. 

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The post, which was shared over 5,000 times, falsely states: “There is absolutely no need for vaccines to extinguish the pandemic. I’ve never heard such nonsense talks about vaccines. You do not vaccinate people who aren’t at risk from a disease. You also don’t set about planning to vaccinate millions of fit and healthy people with a vaccine that hasn’t been extensively tested on human subjects.”

The quote almost perfectly matches a passage from Yeadon’s op-ed, though the post misidentifies him as a former vice president and chief scientist at Pfizer, when in fact he was a former vice president and chief scientist of Pfizer’s allergy and respiratory research. 

David Hamer, professor of Global Health and Medicine at the Boston University School of Public Health and School of Medicine, explained to The Associated Press in a call that aggressive vaccination even with populations who may not appear to be at high risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19 — is critical to decreasing circulation of the virus. 

Hamer said that the reality is we can’t tell who among seemingly healthy people is at risk for getting sick from COVID-19, how severe the case will be or whether it will lead to long-term illness.

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This pandemic is far from over,” Hamer said. “There’s still large populations that are not immune, so the risk of continued transmission remains.”

Hamer said that historically vaccines have been used for viral infections for people that “may not have been at risk or may have been at low risk,” like for measles, mumps and rubella. “Not immunizing a portion of the population means that you have that population serving as a sort of a pool for continued transmission.”

Viruses can mutate when they infect people, making reinfection more likely, Hamer said. 

“Having a lot of virus circulating gives the virus more opportunities to mutate and to be able to basically change enough that reinfection is more feasible,” Hamer explained. That is why medical experts say it is critical to vaccinate the population as quickly as possible before further mutations develop and spread.

Around the world, health officials are trying to vaccinate enough people to stop the spread of COVID-19 and to achieve “herd immunity,” where enough people have immunity, either from a past infection or vaccine, to stop uncontrolled spread. Many experts say that the threshold for herd immunity is 70% or higher. 

Yeadon left Pfizer nine years ago, when the company phased out some of its research and development activities in Sandwich, the town in southeast England where he worked, the AP reported. Yeadon does not speak for the company and was not working for Pfizer when the company was developing its vaccine for COVID-19.

Yeadon did not respond to a request for comment.  

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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