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Video misrepresents Fauci’s comments on vaccine effectiveness

March 6, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: Dr. Anthony Fauci said on CNN that COVID-19 vaccines will protect you 94-95% against clinically recognizable disease and almost 100% against severe disease, but did not say the vaccine will protect against COVID. 

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. A review of Fauci’s comments on CNN captured in the video show he was referring to vaccines protecting against clinically recognizable and severe cases of COVID-19.

THE FACTS: A video misrepresenting Fauci’s comments about COVID-19 vaccines that began spreading in January found new life in recent days after it began circulating on Instagram. It has garnered more than 330,000 views since it appeared on the platform late Thursday.

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The video uses a clip from a Dec. 10 interview CNN host Chris Cuomo did with Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert. The video is edited to include inaccurate commentary to falsely suggest Fauci’s words mean vaccines are not effective against COVID-19. The narrator repeats certain words Fauci says and adds comments that distorts the meaning of Fauci’s statements.

The CNN footage begins with Cuomo asking Fauci to explain why people who get vaccinated should still wear masks in public.

Fauci responds that while it is clear the vaccine will prevent people from suffering from COVID-19 illness, it is not yet understood whether people who are vaccinated are also protected from the virus infecting them. 

Fauci goes on to say, “We know for sure it’s very, very good, 94%, 95% in protecting you against clinically recognizable disease...” At this point, the narrator interjects repeating, “Clinically recognizable disease,” and then adds, “But not COVID?”

The narrator’s comment offers a false interpretation of Fauci’s statement, since it is clear from the full context of the interview that Fauci’s is referring to vaccines protecting against clinically recognizable COVID-19 illness. Furthermore, Fauci’s statements match clinical trial data for vaccine effectiveness against COVID-19. 

At the time of the December CNN interview, Pfizer was the only vaccine that had received Food and Drug Administration emergency use authorization, and Moderna’s vaccine was just days away from receiving that clearance. Clinical trials showed the Moderna vaccine was more than 94% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 in people 18 and older, and the Pfizer vaccine was 95% effective.

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Fauci then says the vaccines offer “almost a 100% in protecting you for severe disease.”

The narrator interjects again to falsely suggest Fauci is referring to protection for a disease that is not COVID by asking, “And almost 100% from severe disease? Well then what does he call COVID if that’s not serious?” 

But there is nothing in Fauci’s comments to suggest he is talking about any other disease besides COVID-19, and Fauci’s statements match clinical data that show the two vaccines protected against cases of severe COVID-19. 

In an earlier part of the video clip Fauci describes the distinction between the COVID-19 vaccines protecting against illness versus protecting against infection.

“You could be prevented from getting clinical disease, and still have the virus that is in your nasopharynx because you could get infected,” Fauci says, referring to the area behind the nose in the upper part of the throat. “We’re not sure, at this point, that the vaccine protects you against getting infected.”

The narrator repeats just a select portion of Fauci’s comment to suggest something is wrong. “We are not sure at this point that the vaccine protects you from getting infected,” the narrator says, emphasizing each word.  

In fact, the full context shows Fauci was describing the difference between being infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus versus falling ill with COVID-19. Scientists have cautioned that more data is needed to understand whether vaccinated people can still have asymptomatic COVID-19 infections they could spread to others.

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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